Udon in Japan

Japanese Noodles

If you ever travel to Japan, at some point you’ll most likely find yourself eating some type of noodle dish. There are noodle shops on almost every street corner selling everything from cheap bowls of udon to fine dining restaurants specializing in artisan, handmade noodles.  Ramen, a chewy, alkaline pasta served in a rich, creamy pork stock is now popular across the world.

Late in the evening at izakayas  across the town, the word “Shime” is the term used to describe the act of eating a bowl of noodles after a long session of drinking and socializing.

This is the first of several guides on Japanese noodles you’ll find in Japan, and this one is all about the udon.

Tanpopo Noodle Shop

Udon Noodles-Thick and Chewy Wheat Noodles

Udon is a popular, hearty noodle made from refined wheat flour. It is believed that the ancestor of Udon was a dough made with flour, water and salt and was brought to Japan from China around 1200. Around the time of the Edo period (1603 -1868), people started to serving strips of udon noodles in a soup stock.

Noodle Pride.
The people in Kagawa prefecture take great pride in being number one in the country for consuming and producing Udon noodles.

The recipe of Udon has not changed much since it first arrived to Japan from China. Today, udon is still made from wheat, salt (2-6%) and water. The ingredients are combined and undergo a kneading and maturation process to bring out the most flavor and texture. The texture and the chewiness of udon is called Koshi, the more Koshi the better the Udon. After this process the dough is rolled out, folded and cut into noodles with the desired thickness. The most common way of eating Udon is to serve it in a traditional dashi soup stock with toppings such as tempura, seasoned tofu, poultry, mushrooms and other vegetables. In the summer, it is common to eat chilled udon along with a savory dipping sauce.

There are many types of udon noodles such as somen, sanuki udon, inaniwa udon, kishimen and hiyamugi. These are all wheat noodles in the family of udon but differ in thickness and length.

Nabeyaki Udon

Making Nabeyaki Udon

Below is a dish called Nabeyaki Udon and the recipe adapted from former the Tanpopo Noodle Shop. This dish is served in traditional Japanese earthenware and cooked directly on stove top. Perfect to serve on a chilly winter night (in Minnesota). We’ll start by making a few essential stocks and seasonings that are widely used in Japanese cooking.

Dashi Recipe (出汁)

Dashi forms a foundation for Japanese soup broth, miso soup, ramen soup and sauces. It is very simple and this recipe consists of only three ingredients: water, kelp and smoky, shaved bonito flakes. Because of its simplicity, the quality of ingredients used and the method to make dashi is crucial. In addition, unlike our western counterpart chicken stock, dashi has shorter shelf life and does not freeze well as its aroma diminishes rapidly over time.

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 10-inch piece dried kelp
  • 40-50 grams dried bonito flakes

Directions:

  1. In a stockpot soak kelp in cold water for 2-3 hours.
  2. Slowly bring the water to a gentle simmer and turn off heat as soon as it starts to boil.
  3. Add bonito and steep for 15 minutes.
  4. Strain the dashi through a sieve to remove bonito flakes and use.

Kaeshi Recipe (かえし)

Kaeshi is what is added to dashi to make tsuyu, soup broth for noodles. This kaeshi recipe has only two ingredients; equal parts mirin and light soy sauce.  Using light or thin soy sauce (usukuchi) is recommended for the best flavor and color.
In a large stock pot, heat equal parts mirin and light soy sauce, gently mix and let it mature in room temperature for a day or so before using. This will results in more complex smooth flavor with no “sharp edges”.

Tsuyu-Soup Broth for Noodles (汁)

The soup broth for noodles is called Tsuyu and is easily made by mixing the dashi and kaeshi.
Mix four parts dashi and one part kaeshi to make delicious soup stock to serve with udon or soba. Enjoy.

Nabeyaki Udon Recipe

Now that you’ve got your dashi, kaeshi and soup stock made, you are now ready for the final step. At this point, you’ll combine everything together and cook on the stove top. There is a a lot of freedom to be creative with Nabeyaki, so feel free to experiment with different ingredients and toppings. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 8 oz cooked udon noodles
  • Tsuyu (see recipe in Soba section), enough to fill a single serving nabe bowl
  • 1 piece shrimp tempura
  • 2 pieces cooked chicken
  • 2 pieces sliced kamaboko fish cakes
  • 2 slices tamagoyaki or 1 raw egg
  • 2 pieces simmered shiitake mushroom
  • Chopped green onion and wakame for garnish
  • Shichimi pepper as needed

Directions:

  1. Add pre cooked udon in a single serving nabe bowl.
  2. Fill ¾ of the nabe with Tsuyu. Place the nabe directly on stove top and turn the heat high.
  3. When udon is warm, arrange all topping except shrimp tempura and green onions, on top of Udon.
  4. When tsuyu starts to boil garnish the dish with green onions shrimp tempura then put the cover.
  5. Serve immediately with shichimi pepper.