In any Japanese city, it doesn’t take long to find a corner restaurant (some with seats, some just standing counters) where you can enjoy a quick bowl of udon. Popular for century upon century, udon is a white, thick noodle, made from wheat flour. By itself, the flavor is plain, but as a vehicle for a fragrant broth and a variety of toppings, it fits the bill perfectly.
The freshly made (not dried) noodles are boiled in plain water, and then put into a bowl with a soy sauce and mirin (rice wine) based soup in it. It’s understood that there is a flavor divide between east Japan and west Japan, most easily identifiable by the soy sauce flavor strength. In the east (this includes Tokyo), it is a strongly flavored soy sauce broth, whereas in the west (this includes Osaka and Kyoto), it is a milder broth with a more prevalent katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) imparting.
Although the udon can be enjoyed as simply noodles in soup, it is most often adorned with some vegetables, tempura, or some variety of tofu. Perhaps the most popular rendition is called “kitsune,” which means red fox, and is indicative of the color of the sweetened, fried tofu “pockets” laid on top. “Kakiage,” which is tempura patty usually comprised of tiny shrimp and vegetables, is another type of food you may find placed on top of the udon. Other popular ways to eat udon include cracking a raw egg into the soup (it ends up getting poached in the broth) or just with a simple pinch or two to wakame, a type of wet seaweed.
Udon noodles alone sometimes find themselves enlisted as a “shime,” or carbohydrate ending to a meal. For instance, as a final step in a motsu nabe (innards hot pot) or sukiyaki meal. However you enjoy the noodles, their slightly firm, thick form is sure to make for something satisfying.
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