At the mention of Kagawa Prefecture which is the smallest prefecture in Japan in terms of land area, what comes to your mind first? Tourist hot spots such as the giant sand painting Zenigata Sunae or Marugame Castle? Natural sights such as Angel Road at Shodoshima which is said to bless couples who walk on it? Or how about getting some art inspiration from Naoshima? Actually, the number 1 signature item synonymous with the name Kagawa would have to be its Sanuki udon. Let’s find out more about this dish and why it has come to represent Kagawa!
Generally speaking, Sanuki udon (讃岐うどん) refers to udon that is produced in Kagawa Prefecture. In case you are wondering, the name Sanuki is actually the historical name of the prefecture as it used to be called Sanuki no Kuni (讃岐国).
In terms of using this name within Japan, there are no specific restrictions thus, there have been udon restaurants which call their products Sanuki udon even though it may not originate from Kagawa. However, when it comes to the raw udon, there are tighter regulations on the use of the name when words such as meibutsu (名物, famous product), honba (本場, genuine) and tokusan (特産, specialty) are listed on the packaging. As such, the udon must be:
- the amount of water added must be more than 40% of the wheat flour’s quantity
- the amount of salt added must be more than 3% of the wheat flour’s quantity
- the maturing time must be more than 2 hours
- the amount of time taken to boil the udon must be about 15 minutes
Due to the lack of restrictions, this has given rise to some issues in the past where merchants within and outside of Japan have attempted to register the name as their own trademark or passed off inferior products as Sanuki udon. As such, it is recommended to be more careful when eating Sanuki udon outside of Kagawa Prefecture so that you are indeed getting the real deal.
Kagawa boasts of the highest udon consumption on a per person basis and among all prefectures which goes to show how much its people love this dish. The increased popularity of Sanuki udon has also brought about a boost to its tourism industry, the increase in udon production volumes and the overall awareness of the prefecture. In fact, Sanuki udon was cited as the number one reason why tourists wanted to visit Kagawa which then led to the subsequent promotional campaign in which Kagawa called itself the Udon Prefecture (うどん県) since 2011.
In terms of its geographical location and climate, there is plenty of sunshine and lots of flat land in Kagawa thus making it a very suitable place for agriculture. In particular, wheat, salt, and soy sauce became the signature agricultural products representative of the prefecture. Coincidentally, these items are used in the production of udon and the dish can also be easily made at home thus fueling its popularity. It was until the 1960s when udon first became recognised as a signature dish of the prefecture. As seen from a survey conducted on the people in Kagawa by the prefectural government, as many as 90.5% of the respondents said that they eat udon once or more than once a week.
In Kagawa, there is a custom to eat udon on 2 July which is Sanuki Udon Day. This day is also called Hangeshou (半夏生) meaning the 11th day after the summer solstice and the last seed-sowing day. During festive occasions such as the beginning of that day and on New Year’s Eve, there are people who choose to eat udon rather than the usual toshikoshi soba.
Although there are many types of udon which can be found in Kagawa, here are eight of the most common types which you can look out for while travelling there:
Kake udon (かけうどん, pictured above) is the simplest type of udon with no toppings except for spring onions and grated ginger and is said to be the most popular and common in Kagawa. The clear soup is usually made from either dried sea cucumber (イリコ) or dried bonito flakes (かつお節).
Bukkake udon (ぶっかけうどん) uses a broth which is poured into the bowl containing the udon noodles rather than being used as a dipping sauce as per Zaru Udon. This dish can be eaten hot or cold.
Zaru udon (ざるうどん) is especially suitable for the hot summer as the udon is cooled in cold water after being cooked. The udon and dipping sauce are served separately unlike Bukkake udon.
Kamatama udon (釜玉うどん) features a raw egg placed on top of the cooked udon before the condiments and soy sauce are poured into the bowl.
Shoyu udon (醤油うどん) features boiled udon with shoyu as its soup while grated radish or lemons are used to adjust the taste.
Shippoku udon (しっぽくうどん) is a representative dish in the winter where various ingredients are cooked first before being placed on top of the boiled udon noodles with other vegetables.
Gesoten udon (げそ天うどん) features deep-fried squid legs as its topping but may also include other ingredients depending on the restaurant you visit.
Kamaage udon (釜揚げうどん) is served in a pot together with the water used to boil it and the dipping sauce in a separate cup. As it is usually prepared when there are orders, you may have to wait up to 15 minutes for the dish to be served.
Before you head to a udon restaurant in Kagawa, it will be good to know the following:
- There are three main types of udon restaurants – the usual restaurants, the self-service restaurants and those attached to an udon-making factory. In the first category, the staff will usually come to take your order after you are seated and the variety of items on the menu is quite wide. As for the self-service restaurants, you are expected to get your bowl where you will fill it up with the udon noodles, your favourite toppings, and the soup. Most of the time, the udon noodles will already have been cooked but you may need to heat it up by putting it into the strainer which is to be dipped into the hot water provided. As it is self-service, you can get your udon at a relatively cheaper price and you don’t have to wait to be served. Last but not least, the restaurants at the udon-making factory are somewhat a hybrid between the first two types where some are full-service while some are self-service. The range of toppings differ as well but prices are generally low. However, the catch is that such factories are usually located at hard-to-find or inaccessible places so it can be difficult to get to them.
- Oden is usually served in udon restaurants at all times of the year.
- The soup used in Sanuki udon is always called “dashi” instead of “tsuyu”, even for the udon which uses dipping sauces instead of soup poured directly into the bowl.
There was a movie shown in 2006 featuring Sanuki udon and was shot almost entirely in Kagawa Prefecture. The movie which is aptly named “UDON”, featured actor Yusuke Santa-Maria who plays Kosuke, the son of a family in Kagawa who makes udon noodles and aimed to become a comedian but failed and ended up in debt. He returns to his hometown where he is welcomed by his friends but given the cold shoulder by his father. By chance, he meets a reporter Kyoko (Konishi Manami) who works at the town magazine and ends up helping her in a series of articles highlighting udon dishes which are even unknown to the locals. This leads to a udon boom in Kagawa and beyond.
How about heading to Kagawa to find a bowl of udon that suits your taste and discover why it is the soul food of the people there?