Udon is one of Japan’s most famous culinary exports. The thick, chewy noodle is a popular comfort food, particularly when enjoyed the traditional way, in a light broth. Kake udonis the simplest and most common way to enjoy udon. Here, udon noodles are simply paired with a clear broth and topped with extra ingredients like tempura vegetables, shrimp or fish.
However, there are other ways to enjoy this famous comfort food. Udon is a very versatile noodle, and diners in Japan and abroad have developed a taste for how it can be created in many styles and combined with different flavor combinations.
Stir-fried success story
If you think thin noodles are always the stir-fry chef’s number one choice, you haven’t tried yaki udon. This delicious dish of stir-fried thick udon noodles was developed in southern Japan at the end of World War II when classic soba noodles were in short supply.
It was a happy accident, and today yaki udon is enjoyed all over Japan and beyond. The dish is easy to create – just a combination of meat and vegetables stir-fried quickly with udon noodles. However, it’s the sauce that lifts the stir-fry to great heights. Both sweet and savory, yaki udon shines as a combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce, mirin and brown sugar.
Why thick spicy sauces could be the udon cook’s best friend
Udon has become a food phenomenon all over the world. And, while this delicious ingredient travels, it picks up perfect pairings along the way. One idea is combining udon with thick and spicy curry sauces.
Udon is ideally matched with these sauces because it has a large surface to coat, giving diners a flavor-packed bite with every mouthful. Udon takes spice well because it is thick enough not to get overwhelmed by the heat. What’s more, udon can be cooked into the sauce without disintegrating, taking on all the taste of the sauce whilst remaining plump and delicious.
Coast to coast, see Japan through the changing styles of its favorite noodle
Udon comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and in many ways, you can trace the geography of Japan and its unique prefectures by following the changing shape and size of the udon served.
Himokawa udon from Gunma is wide and flat, almost like lasagna pasta sheets. Musashino udon from the Tokyo/Saitama region is regular in shape, but slightly brown in color with a rougher texture. In Tochigi you’ll find ear-shaped mimi udon, while hippari udon from Yamagata and inaniwa udon from Akita are thin and long.
Gosetsu udon from Hokkaido is made from potato starch instead of wheat flour, while ise udon from Mie is cooked for a long time, making it soft and tender. Kishimen from Aichi is slightly wide. Kinchaku kitsune udon from Nara is encased in fried tofu parcels. Naruchuru udon from Tokushima is deliberately uneven. And goto udon from Nagasaki is exceptionally thin and elastic.
Overall, udon is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed in many ways across Japan and even abroad! In fact, even Italy has taken these noodles under its wings and given udon an Italian twist.