What is Udon?
Udon is a Japanese or Japanese dish cooked with thick noodles made of long, kneaded slices of wheat flour.
In Japanese it is generally written in hiragana as "うどん" but is sometimes written in kanji as "饂飩" as well.
Udon has been eaten all over Japan since ancient times as a simple, easy-to-prepare meal for the common people, as a substitute for rice, and as a food for "Hare" (ハレ, celebratory occasions).
The recipes and ingredients used vary from region to region.
Noodles thinner than udon are generally divided into "hiyamugi" (冷麦, thin udon noodles served chilled) and "somen" (素麵) but there are no strict rules for kanmen (乾麺, dried noodles) except for the thickness of the noodles.
There is also inaniwa udon which is made with thin noodles, and kishimen and himokawa which are thin noodles, are also included in the kanmen category.
The History of Udon
There are many theories about the origin of udon.
・One theory suggests that the origin of Udon is derived from wontons brought over from China during the Japanese missions to Tang China in the Nara period.
・Another theory is that wonton, written "餛飩" and pronounced "konton" in Japanese was accidentally written as "饂飩," pronounced "unton," and eventually became "udon."
・Further, there is a theory that Udon was introduced to Shikoku by Kukai, who was a part of the envoys to Tang China during the Heian period, and Sanuki Udon was born.
In any case, while there are many other theories about the origin of udon, what is known today is that it was widely eaten during the early Edo period.
There are two methods of making udon: Te-uchi (手打ち) and Te-nobe (手延べ). Te-uchi noodles are generally cut with a knife so they are square, whereas Te-nobe noodles are round. In the past, hand-made was the most common way to make udon, but nowadays, the mainstream method of making udon is to use a noodle-making machine or to carry out the entire process by machine.
The name of the dish changes depending on the dish with which the udon is served. If served in a bowl it is called "kake udon," if served on a zaru it is called "zaru udon," and if served in a pot (鍋, nabe) it is called "nabe-yaki udon.
The Top 3 Udon of Japan
Nowadays, there are three major styles of Udon in Japan. While there are no specific organizations, such as the Japanese Udon Association, that recognize the three major types of udon, each region has certain udon that they refer to as such.
・Sanuki Udon "讃岐うどん" (Kagawa Prefecture)
Udon is a specialty of Kagawa Prefecture, so much so, that it is also known as the "Udon Prefecture."
The wheat, salt, soy sauce, and dried sardines that are used in Kagawa's udon are what make it special.
Udon became a specialty when Kagawa Prefecture was called Sanuki Province, and "Sanuki" was used as the name of the regional brand.
It is characterized by a unique te-uchi and stamping method.
・Inaniwa Udon "稲庭うどん" (Akita Prefecture)
Inaniwa udon refers to dried udon noodles made with a te-nobe method in southern Akita Prefecture.
It is thicker than hiyamugi and has a slightly yellowish color.
It is said to be made more like somen than udon, and is characterized by the use of starch for the flour and its flat shape.
In 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries selected it as one of the "Top 100 Local Dishes in Mountainous and Fishing Villages" as a regional dish that has been handed down throughout Japan.
・Goto Udon "五島うどん" (Nagasaki Prefecture)
Goto udon noodles are produced on the Goto Islands in Nagasaki Prefecture.
They are slender noodles characterized by their unimaginable strength and are coated with camellia oil and left to age.
Nagasaki is said to be the place where udon noodles were introduced to Japan from China, and it is said that this method of making udon noodles may have been introduced by the Japanese envoy who came from the Chinese mainland.
・Mizusawa Udon "水沢うどん" (Gunma Prefecture)
Udon is a local specialty near Mizusawa, Gunma Prefecture.
Mizusawa udon is counted as one of top 3 udon of Japan.
It was first served to worshippers at Mizusawa Temple, and now it's a hand-made udon dish.
The dipping sauce, which soy sauce, sesame seed sauce, and other varieties, differs from store to store, making it a new experience each time you try it.
・Himi Udon "氷見うどん" (Toyama Prefecture)
Udon is one of the local cuisines of Himi, Toyama.
The origin of Himi udon is said to be Wajima somen, which was first made in 1751 by Takaoka-ya in Wajima, as the technique for making Himi udon was adopted from Wajima.
Himi udon is generally made with a te-nobe style and is characterized by the softness of te-nobe noodles but the strength found in te-uchi noodles, which is achieved by kneading it with great force.
・Kishimen "きしめん" (Aichi Prefecture)
Kishimen is an umbrella term for thin Japanese noodles and the dishes that usem.
Kishimen is flatter than normal udon and the noodles are longer than udon, so it takes less time to cook.
Because it is flat, it is sometimes called "hirauchi udon" (平打ちうどん, lit. "flat udon"), and is also called "himokawa udon" in Gunma Prefecture and "shino udon" in Okayama Prefecture.
Types of Udon and the Different Ingredients Used Throughout the Country
①Types of Udon by cooking method
・Kake Udon & Su Udon
Kake udon and Su udon are udon noodles in a bowl with warm dipping sauce poured over them.
In Japan's Kanto region it's called "kake udon" if there are no ingredients other than the sauce, and in Western Japan, except for Kagawa Prefecture, it is called "Su udon."
There are two types of dipping sauces: light soy sauce and thick soy sauce.
Zaru udon refers to noodles boiled and then chilled in cold water and served on a zaru.
It is generally dipped in a sauce and eaten.
Like Zaru soba, it is distinguished by the presence or absence of shredded nori (dried seaweed), and is sometimes called "Mori udon."
Bukkake udon is eaten by draining the boiled noodle, placing it in a bowl, and pouring pure soy sauce or a little bit of soup over it.
Kama-age udon is noodles eaten by dipping them in soup or pouring raw soy sauce directly over them after boiling them.
This type of udon with a raw egg is called "kamatama udon," and "yudame udon" refers to noodles that have been submerged in hot water after being soaked in cold water.
・Tsuke-shiru Udon (Dipping Udon)
Tsuke-shiru udon, written "つけ汁うどん," refers to boiled noodles served in a bowl and dipped in broth made of pork or mushrooms.
It is also written "つけうどん" or "汁つけうどん" in Japanese.
Nikomi udon is made by stewing raw udon noodles in dashi or tsuyu.
Because it is served as it is stewed together with other ingredients, it can be eaten hot, and the noodles and ingredients are infused with the flavor of the broth.
Similar to yakisoba, the udon noodles are stir-fried with meat, vegetables, and other ingredients and seasoned.
It is very similar to yakisoba in terms of cooking method and ingredients.
②Types of Udon by Ingredients
Kitsune udon is udon noodles with sweetened deep-fried tofu on top.
In the Kansai region, "kitsune" means "topped with friend tofu," so as long as the udon is topped with deep-fried tofu, it's called kitsune udon.
Udon noodles topped with finely chopped and deep fried tofu that has had the oil removed.
It is similar to the Kizami Udon of the Kansai region, but is a different dish.
The same as kake udon but with a raw egg cracked over the top.
It is called "Tsukimi" (月見, "moon viewing") because the egg white looks like clouds and the yolk resembles the moon.
In some cases, seaweed is laid down to look like the night sky.
Udon noodles with yams on top.
There are two types of yamakake udon, bukkake and hiyashi (chilled), and they are sometimes topped with a raw egg or chopped seaweed.
It is also called "tororo udon" in some areas.
Udon in egg soup.
If you use chicken and top it with the same ingredients as oyakodon it's called "oyako udon."
Udon noodles with tempura or kakiage on top.
Unless otherwise noted, shtimp tempura or kakiage is generally used.
When kakiage is used, it is sometimes called "kakiage udon."
Tanuki udon is famous for being served with vastly different ingredients depending on the region, and is generally considered to be sprinkled with tenkasu.
Udon with mochi.
It is also called "kachin udon" in the Kansai region.
・Kayaku Udon・Gomoku Udon・Okame Udon
The ingredients vary from spinach to chicken, with the basic names being "Kayaku udon" and "Gomoku udon," and in some areas it is called "Okame udon."
Similar to Gomoku Udon, but the ingredients and broth vary from region to region.
It was originally invented in the Keihan (Kyoto-Osaka) area under the influence of Shippoku cuisine in the Edo period.
Udon noodles made with tsuyu (a dipping sauce) thickened with starch or potato starch and topped with thickened red bean paste.
When mixed with a beaten egg, it is called "Kairan udon."
An udon dish that uses the same ingredients as chawanmushi.
It is called "Odamaki-mushi" when directly combined with chawanmushi.
Curry flavored udon noodles made by adding curry powder to udon broth or using Japanese curry as dipping sauce.
・Kamo Nanban・Chicken Nanban・Kashiwa Udon
A type of udon noodles made with "nanban" chicken.
It is called one of these three names depending on the region you are in.
Udon noodles with beef or pork boiled in a sweet and spicy sauce.
Udon noodles stewed in an earthenware pot.
It is characterized by the use of many kinds of ingredients, such as tempura, egg, kamaboko, chicken, and vegetables.
・Miso Nikomi Udon
Udon noodles whose soup is made of miso and cooked in an earthenware pot.
If soybean miso is used, it becomes a local dish of Aichi Prefecture.
It is called by different names due to the use of local miso.
A local specialty of Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture, this udon is a mixture of yaki udon and yakisoba.
The combination of noodles of different thicknesses has made it famous for its interesting texture.
Yose-nabe style udon noodles with a variety of ingredients cooked in dashi broth.
It is also called "Suki udon," and was conceived by the soba restaurant "Mimiu" (美々卯) in Osaka City.
A combination of salad and udon.
It's different from other udon noodles in that it is healthy.
③Udon From Different Parts of Japan
A local dish of Sano City, Tochigi Prefecture characterized by ear (耳, mimi)-shaped noodles.
It is generally eaten on New Year's Day in the Senba area of Sano City, Tochigi Prefecture.
Udon noodles handed down in the birthplace of Tatebayashi Flour Milling, the predecessor of the Nisshin Seifun Group's head office.
Since 1994, it has been used as a tourist attraction to promote the town.
Udon eaten in Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture.
It's characterized by its wide himogawa noodles.
Kumagaya udon is characterized by its noodles made from Kumagaya wheat, which is produced in Kumagaya City, Saitama and boasts the largest production in the prefecture.
The flavor of wheat and the ease with which the soup soaks into the dough makes it a dish enjoyed by many.
Udon is a local cuisine of Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, and in 2007 it was selected by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as one of the "Top 100 Local Dishes in Mountainous and Fishing Villages."
Other local specialties include Toyohashi Curry Udon, Gamagori Udon, Ise Udon, Kasu Udon, Horumon Yaki Udon, Bokkake Udon, Ume Udon, Tsuyama Horumon Udon, Kurehoso Udon, Tarai Udon, Ogura Beef Udon, Maruten Udon, and Sara Udon, all of which are popular throughout Japan.