It’s safe to assume that practically everyone in New York has tried ramen. But what about Japan’s other noodle, udon?
Udon is a thick, wheat flour noodle that is served warm or cold in a simple broth. Just as with ramen, udon has several varieties based on the region. There are four styles of udon: Standard, Tokyo, Okayama, and Sanuki. The broth can contain iriko (sardine) and kombu (kelp), katsuo (bonito) and kombu, or shiitake. Broth with shiitake are most frequently found in areas of Japan that are not close to the sea. Toppings can include scallions, sesame, grated ginger, egg, tempura, abura age (fried tofu), and so on.
Sanuki udon was voted most popular by Japanese in a recent survey. It is also the style prepared by udon master Chef Osamu Miyoshi of Kagawa Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, where Sanuki udon is famous and has been made since the year 800.
Chef Miyoshi was at Japan Society on May 21 to give a lecture and demonstration about his favorite noodle. He says that if you have wheat flour, salt, and a little bit of water, anyone can make udon. What he didn’t mention is that you need an entire day to prepare it. While there are only three ingredients in the dough, making udon is a labor-intensive process, requiring hours of kneading and resting and more kneading and rolling. After that’s done, it’s time to slice the dough into strips that are three millimeters wide and three millimeters apart.
The result of that hard work is a delicious dish of noodles. While I do get satisfaction from cooking from scratch, I think I’ll leave udon to experts such as Chef Miyoshi. But there aren’t many places in New York to enjoy authentic udon. Unfortunately Onya recently closed (sad news!), so that leaves Udon West as one of the only places in New York that specializes in Japan’s other noodle. Perhaps one day udon will reach ramen status!