Almost everyone must be rather familiar with udon (うどん) – the white, thick, and chewy Japanese noodle that can be served either hot or cold. Udon can be easily found in many places, from convenience stores to restaurants. Did you know that in Japan, there are namely three types of udon that are known as the three greatest udon in Japan? Udon lovers are probably itching to know them!
This noodle is named after the Inaniwa area of Inakawa Town in Akita Prefecture where it came from. Physically, Inaniwa udon is thinner than regular udon but thicker than somen. Described as being chewy and smoother than regular udon, it was originally served only to the Imperial Family.
The whole process of making this udon takes up to four days, with each noodle painstakingly made. The dough is first kneaded by hand, then flattened by two rods before being stretched and finally air-dried. The process also involves repeated hand kneading after being shaped and left to age. It is believed that the air bubbles formed through the aging and repeated hand kneading are what makes the noodles chewy and easy to slurp.
Inaniwa udon can be served hot or cold. Dried and packed noodles are also available for sale in Akita Prefecture.
The most popular type of udon in Shikoku, Sanuki udon can also be found in its neighboring region, Kansai. It was named after Kagawa Prefecture’s former name, Sanuki Province. There are more than 700 Sanuki udon restaurants in the prefecture alone as it produces good-quality wheat flour, salt, and soy sauce, making the noodle popular nationwide.
This noodle is described as being firm and chewy with flat edges and square-shaped. Usually served as a noodle soup with broth made from iriko (dried sardines), there is a variety of ways to enjoy this noodle. Some examples include Kamatama udon (beaten egg with condiments, fish broth, or soy sauce poured onto udon) and Bukkake udon (served in fish broth with soy sauce and some toppings).
Sanuki udon is also widely promoted as it can be seen at the Takamatsu Airport baggage claim conveyor belt.
Kishimen is another type of udon notable for its flat shape. Kishimen, when written in kanji (碁子麵), literally means “chess piece noodle.” There are many theories on the origin of this udon.
Kishimen is a specialty in Nagoya, the capital of Aichi Prefecture. The ingredients for making this noodle is basically the same as other regular noodles. The special point of this udon lies in its thin and flat shape, requiring less time for boiling.
Kishimen can be enjoyed in hot soup, in stewed miso paste, or cold. Recently, eating Kishimen with pasta dressing has also been a thing. A variety of packaged Kishimen udon are also available for purchase to bring back home and cook.
Udon, together with ramen and soba, is one of the three types of Japanese noodles that you have to try when you visit. Out of many types of udon, these three mentioned above managed to climb to the top of the ladder. Therefore, do not forget to include them on your to-eat list!