Nuances of the noodle >>Find Udon RestaurantsUdon is a type of thick wheat-based noodle that's popular in Japanese cuisine. Its wholesome taste and texture contributes greatly to its popularity. Part of its popularity owes to ease of preparation, and it is often served as a substitute for rice. In fact, according to some statistics, people in Kagawa prefecture, where Sanuki Udon (a top udon brand) is very famous, consume 59.4 lbs annually per person. The national average, by the way, is about 15.4 lbs per person. For comparison, the average Japanese consumes about 132 lbs of rice annually. Udon is also readily available and cheap. This is evidenced in “standing and eating” style restaurants which are plentiful, especially at train stations. Usually, these are franchised restaurants. These restaurants are probably the ultimate cheep, quick meal; a bowl of udon here costs about 300 yen. On top of that, even though they're cheap, they're not unhealthy. Zaru udon, or plain udon, has a grand total of 250 calories, so you're not really likely to eat yourself into an early grave with udon. In case you're curious or you're a soba person, zaru soba clocks in second at 260 calories.
Being such a common food, there are a couple of interesting customs associated with it. First, it's traditional to eat cold udon in the summer and hot udon in the winter. At most noodle restaurants, you'll be able to choose between hot and cold noodles. In the sweltering Japanese summer, and it's a time tested way to beat the heat. Also, udon recipes and toppings are influenced strongly by regional tastes and folk customs. While udon varies from one region to another, there isn't nearly as much variety as is seen in ramen.
“Handmade” mattersOf course, the noodle itself is the most important component of udon. The taste of udon also depends on whether it was made by hand or by machine.
Teuchi, which means “by hand” in Japanese, is the handmade way of preparing udon noodle. When you eat teuchi style udon, you can experience udon's optimal firm texture, or “koshi” in Japanese. However, teuchi takes time to prepare, and therefore teuchi style udon restaurants are relatively expensive.
In contrast, udon made by machine is cheaper, and there are many popular franchised udon restaurants.
Udon's better half The broth The soup broth served with udon also plays a significant role. The particular soup used influences the udon's taste. For example, udon soup in the Kanto region (Tokyo) and Kansai region (Osaka) are radically different. The difference is in the soy sauce. Kanto udon relies heavily on soy sauce for the soup base, and as a result, it has a bold, rich flavor. Kansai udon is lighter, since less soy sauce is employed in making the broth. As a result, Kanto and Kansai udon have completely different visual appeals. As you might expect, since the Kanto style uses more soy sauce, the soup is darker. Kansai style broth is usually transparent.
Udon lingo, or what you're likely to see on the menu. >>Find Udon Restaurants
Kake UdonThis is basic, no bells, no whistles style Udon. The only ingredients are sliced green onions and perhaps a slice of kamaboko ( aprocessed seafood product). With this style, you can enjoy the bare bones taste of udon.
Kitsune UdonThe name means"fox udon." in Japanese, and this is another common, no frills approach to udon. It's topped with Aburaage, sweetened deep-fried slices of tofu.. Why, you ask, is it called "Fox udon?"
Tuskimi UdonThis kind of udon is topped with a raw egg, which poaches in the hot soup. Through perfectly safe, it may still be a dish reserved for the adventurous.
Tempura UdonAs the name implies, this udon comes topped with tempura. Usually the accompanying tempura is shrimp, or kakiage, a type of mixed ingredient tempura fritter.
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Tanuki UdonThis kind of udon is topped with tenkasu, basically shavings of deep-fried tempura batter.
Curry UdonThis is udon served in a soup made of Japanese curry. It may also be accompanied by meat or vegetables.
Niku UdonTopped with soy sauced flavored meat. As a rule, you'll find beef in Western Japan and pork in Eastern Japan.
Chikara UdonChikara means “power” in Japanese, and this udon is topped with toasted mochi rice cakes. It is said in Japan that eating mochi bestows power on the eater.
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Noodle rivalriesAmong noodles, soba and udon are long time rivals. Asking a Japanese person, "soba or udon?" is roughly analogous to asking the "Pepsi or Coke" question in the United States, though perhaps not as emotionally charged. That being said, most every person has a preference, and when asked, everyone will eagerly argue the high points of their beloved noodle. It's something of a controversy, which might be the reason that many soba and udon restaurants serve the other noodle as well. Seek out one of these restaurants, try both and take a side in the rivalry.
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