Udon is a representative dish in Japanese cuisine. These thick, white noodles are appearing on restaurant menus around the world, gaining in popularity. The overseas opening of Marugame Seimen, a famous Japanese chain restaurant, typifies this trend. Udon has different characteristics depending on the region they are made, accounting for all the different types of udon found accross the nation. We take a tour of the types and features of this beloved noodle.
Inaniwa udon is a type of udon from southern Akita Prefecture. It is a dried variety made by stretching the udon noodles by hand. Inaniwa udon is one of the three representative types of udon in Japan.
It is thicker than hiyamugi udon and has a slightly yellowish color. The production process is more like somen noodles rather than udon. It is characterized by the use of starch as batter and its flat shaped finish. Due to the unique method of twisting while kneading, the noodles are filled with air bubbles. This gives the noodles a smooth texture.
Inaniwa Udon is generally distributed as dry noodles, but semi-fresh noodles are also sold locally and outside of the prefecture. According to the "Inaniwa Kokin Jiseki Shiki", which describes the history of Inaniwa udon, the first inaniwa was made by Ichibe Sato in the village of Ozawa, Inaniwa Village, Akita Domain (present-day Aza Ozawa, Inaniwa Town, Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture) before the Kanbun era. In Akita, there is also "Inaniwa Somen" made by the same method as the udon.
In 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries selected inaniwa somen as one of the 100 best local dishes of farming, mountain and fishing villages.
Sanuki udon hails from Kagawa Prefecture, and can be found at stores as well as made from scratch at home. Udon is a popular local in Kagawa Prefecture with the sanuki variety being a proud speciality of the locals.
According to Kagawa Prefecture's website, as of 2016, the number of udon stores per 1,000 people was the highest in all prefectures in Japan. The amount of wheat used for udon backs up this statistic, and is also the highest in Japan. According to a survey by Nikkei Research, udon is the number one reason why tourists choose Kagawa Prefecture as their travel destination, making sanuki udon the number one attraction of the region. Incidently, Kagawa Prefecture is famous for its wheat, salt, soy sauce, and dried fish called iriko, which are all important ingredients in udon. There are several udon shops depicted in one folding screen painting from the Genroku era.
Sanuki udon is also served in restaurants all over Japan, and can be easily purchased as frozen food. Sanuki udon has spread throughout Japan as a food that is available and enjoyed outside of Kagawa Prefecture. The expression "second Sanuki udon" is sometimes used when introducing udon from other parts of Japan to emphasize its deliciousness.
Mizusawa udon is a hand-made udon that is a specialty of the area around Mizusawa, Shibukawa City, Gunma Prefecture.
Along with Sanuki and Inaniwa udon, Mizusawa udon is sometimes referred to as one of the top three udon in Japan. Mizusawa udon is thought to have been first made near Mizusawa Temple (Mizusawa Kannon), where it was served to worshippers.
The noodles are slightly thin, firm, elastic, smooth and white with a translucent appearance in places. It is often served as cold zaru udon. The dipping sauce varies from store to store, with soy sauce sauce or sesame sauce commonly used. The noodles are made by repeatedly connecting, stretching before cutting to the desired length. In Gunma and other parts of the Kanto region, packaged, refrigerated fresh noodles are sold in supermarkets.
Himi Udon is a local dish from the Himi City area of Toyama Prefecture.
Like Inaniwa udon, it is made by hand, using a bamboo stitch. The himi udon's roots come from the somen noodles of Wajima, and it is said that a shop called Takaokaya began making himi udon back in 1751, after learning the technique from Wajima.
Originally, himi was called "Ito Udon", but unlike other hand-pulled noodles, it is twisted by hand until the end. As the name suggests, the method of making this udon was handed down from generation to generation.
Today, there are two types of Himi Udon: the traditional type and the hand-pulled type. Himi udon is made by kneading the dough with a lot of force, so it has both the smoothness of hand-pulled udon and the firmness of traditional udon.
Himokawa Udon is a wide and flat udon.
It is also called hirauchi udon (flat udon) because its shape is different from that of ordinary udon. The width of the noodles varies from 5.0 mm to over 15 cm. In Kiryu City in Gunma Prefecture, it is treated as one of the local dishes, and extremely long or wide noodles are the specialty.
Since the dough is stretched thin, the noodles are longer, thinner, and flatter than regular udon, so boiling time is shorter. It is the same as udon in that it is made by kneading water, flour, and salt. Because it is stretched flatter than regular udon, it may break in the middle. It is not as firm as regular udon, and the surface is smooth and slippery.
Flat udon has different names in several regions of Japan. Typical examples include "Kishimen" in Aichi Prefecture, "Shinodon" in Okayama Prefecture, and "Konosu Kawabata Udon" in Konosu City, Saitama Prefecture.
Mimi udon is one of the local dishes of Semba, Sano City (formerly Kuzuu Town), Tochigi Prefecture. "Mimi" literally translates as "ear" in Japanese, explaining the shape of the mimi udon, and has been handed down in the Sano City Semba area for centuries.
The texture is similar to suiton and the ingredients are similar to those of gomoku udon, and the soup has a Kanto-style thick soy sauce flavor.
Mimi udon was created around the end of the Edo period (1603-1868) and was originally made as a preserved food for the New Year. Later, in the Taisho era (1912-1926), it came to be eaten to ward off evil spirits.
There is a strong association with mimi udon and leftover Osechi (New Year's Day) dishes, and for this reason, some udon noodle shops sell mimi udon with Osechi dishes.
To make Mimi Udon, you knead flour with salt water and let it sit for an hour or two. After that, shake out the flour and roll out flat with a rolling pin. Cut the stretched noodle into a rectangle of about 7 x 4 cm and shape it into an ear. Make soup stock with dried bonito flakes or dried sardines, add soy sauce and mirin to taste, and add green onions cut into small pieces and carrots cut into strips. For guests, it is common to add egg as a final topping to the dish.
Oshibori Udon is a local dish from the area around Sakaki-machi, Nagano Prefecture.
It is made by grating nezumi-daikon, a very spicy radish, squeezing it through a cloth, and dissolving shinshu miso to make a soup. It is very spicy, but after a while, your body becomes warm and toasty.
In addition to nezumi daikon, other spicy radishes such as nakanojo daikon, ueno daikon and togakushi daikon are also used. For condiments, chopped green onions and shavings are added. The reason for this way of eating lies in the fact that Shinshu is far away from the sea. Seafood such as kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) were hard to come by in Shinshu and could not be used for soup stock. Soy sauce also did not become popular in eastern Japan until the late Edo period (1603-1868), so in the countryside it was too expensive to use. Spicy oshibori udon was not well suited to the preferences of the people of Edo at that time, as it is today. For this reason, it was said, "Soba is delicious, but take the dipping sauce from Edo".
Japan's National Noodle
We took a quick tour of the types and characteristics of udon in different parts of Japan. The characteristics of udon differ from region to region, and there are many different types of udon available throughout the country.
We hope you have a chance to try the unique udon varieties of each region.