Day 18: Udon
The main differences between the three is the size of the noodle and what it’s made from. Udon is the thickest of them all and you can really tell the difference. It’s made from wheat-flour (as opposed to the buckwheat of soba) and you can also taste the difference.
The most common way to serve udon is in a big bowl of warm broth with a collection of added flavours and foods. There will almost always be some spring onions on top because that’s the standard udon recipe, but the other bits and pieces can vary depending on the region and your preferences. Common additions are prawn tempura, kamaboko (that weird pink and white fish-flavoured thing that tastes like rubber), tofu or seaweed.
It’s a dish that has been in Japan for centuries. There are various stories about when it was first eaten but one tale claims it can be traced all the way back to the ninth century when a Buddhist priest travelled to China to study and brought back the recipe with him.
The udon I had in the Akusaka suburb of Tokyo was a particular type called ‘nikomi udon’. It’s a heartier bowl than some of the others and is closer to a stew in some ways. It came with mushrooms, seaweed, pork and leek. There was also a semi-raw egg that slowly cooks itself unless you quickly stir it into the broth with your chopsticks.
This bowl of udon cost 800 yen (US$8.15) at a small but very popular restaurant (it was packed when I arrived but I ended up being the last to leave!). It should also be noted that one day I grabbed a quick and very simple bowl of udon with no extra food for just 350 yen (US$3.55), so there are much cheaper options if you’re looking for them.