Consuming udon in Kagawa – Lonely Planet

Video Consuming udon in Kagawa – Lonely Planet

Author Brian Ashcraft travels to Kagawa Prefecture with an empty abdomen and a singular mission: Eat noodles.

It is nearly 7am and I’ve already been driving for 2 hours. The morning solar glows sizzling over the water as my Volvo races throughout the Onaruto Bridge, a pearl-colored crossing suspended over a slim strait. In a couple of hours, the vacationer boats will arrive, bringing individuals to view the Naruto whirlpools that swirl beneath. The youngsters are asleep within the backseat and my spouse snoozes on the passenger aspect. I’ve one factor on my thoughts: noodles.

Scotland may need the malt whisky path and Kentucky a bourbon one, however I, a whisky author, am not heading to Kagawa searching for one thing to drink. I’m right here to stuff as a lot Sanuki udon in my abdomen as humanly attainable.

Situated on the island of Shikoku in Japan’s Island Sea, Kagawa, or “Sanuki” because it was as soon as recognized, is the smallest of the nation’s 47 prefectures. It’s additionally certainly one of Japan’s most lovely spots, full of conventional villages and overflowing with wonderful sake. I reside a couple of hours away in Osaka, the place I’ve referred to as residence since 2001, so this pilgrimage is inside simple driving distance – and lengthy overdue.

The udon-making course of: rolling the dough, rinsing and cooking the noodles, letting the cooked noodles relaxation within the solar © Stated Karlsson / Lonely Planet

Welcome to Udon-ken

As of late Kagawa is usually referred to as “Udon-ken” or “Udon Prefecture,” as a result of it’s a place that’s synonymous with wheat flour noodles. Though Kagawa did not invent udon, one principle suggests {that a} forerunner arrived there from China within the eighth century. The earliest depiction of udon eating places in Kagawa date to a folding display screen from the early 1700s. In it, a shirtless man with a topknot is seen kneading flour, whereas in a thatched-roofed store up the road, a person with a knife slices the white dough into noodles. This isn’t the one place in Japan the place the udon noodles are made or eaten, however Kagawa makes extra udon than anyplace else within the nation.

In Takamatsu, the executive capital of Kagawa, it may possibly look like there’s a noodle store on each nook © Stated Karlsson / Lonely Planet

In 2009, Japan’s agriculture ministry introduced that the tiny prefecture used 59,643 tons of wheat flour for udon, which was double the second-place Saitama Prefecture. Kagawa, with its wheat fields and salt mines, has traditionally had what it wanted to make the perfect noodles attainable. Though the overwhelming majority of wheat flour is now imported from Australia to avoid wasting yen and meet demand, the approach and know-how are ceaselessly Kagawa’s.

The partitions of Udon Baka Ichidai are lined with signatures from celebrities who’ve visited the restaurant © Stated Karlsson / Lonely Planet

I spent the evening earlier than my highway journey poring over suggestions on Japanese web sites, but it surely’s not like discovering a spot to eat Sanuki udon is troublesome. You can not stroll down the streets of any city in Kagawa with out stumbling upon a noodle store. They’re simple to identify: Simply search for the eating places with “udon” written in Japanese (うどん) or, simpler nonetheless, the locations with lengthy traces out entrance. There are an estimated 600 to 800 udon eating places in Japan’s smallest prefecture, which, at 725 sq miles, might simply slot in Rhode Island. Because of this there are extra udon eating places than comfort shops in Kagawa, a formidable feat in konbini-crazy Japan. For the connoisseurs, the reputations of sure institutions have grow to be legendary.

Udon: It’s what’s for breakfast

Since that is an all-day affair and lots of outlets don’t open till 10 or 11, we make a beeline to our first cease, Udon Baka Ichidai, down an not easily seen aspect avenue within the metropolis of Takamatsu. It opens at 6am and is just closed on New Yr’s Day. You’d assume that may satiate the demand, however after we present up a bit after 8, there’s already a line out entrance. Inside, the partitions are lined with superstar autographs. The devoted patiently wait for his or her morning bowl.

The three sizes of udon:

When devoting a whole day to udon, you should know methods to order. Some outlets are self-serve, whereas others serve you. For those who’re planning on hitting a number of eating places, concentrate on out there sizes. Sho is small, or one serving to of noodles, whereas chuu, or “center,” is 2 serving to of noodles, and dai is three. Some eating places may do one and a half helpings for chuu, or won’t even have sho on provide. Typically, for those who’re planning to pattern quite a lot of Sanuki udon, tempo your self by going with the smallest measurement. The excellent news? Udon is reasonable! One little bowl may cost as little as a greenback, with a chunk of tempura thrown in for an additional buck.

Company can select from a collection of toppings and sides so as to add to their udon order, together with freshly fried tempura © Stated Karlsson / Lonely Planet

Crack! I watch my youngest son open a uncooked egg right into a small bowl. He beats the egg along with his chopsticks after which pours it over the noodles, sprinkling inexperienced onions on high. Not dangerous for an 8-year-old. He slurps down some noodles, wanting up solely to smile. Sanuki udon is served in a handful of how. This model is kamatama udon, with kama brief for kamaage or “simply from the boiling pot” and tama brief for tamago or “egg.” This model is so fashionable in Kagawa that Takamatsu’s skilled soccer workforce known as Kamatamare Sanuki and includes a bowl of noodles on its crest.

Different fashionable kinds embrace kake udon, which is noodles in a soup broth, and bukkake udon, which is served with much less broth or splashed with soy sauce. In Kagawa, the helpings of chopped inexperienced onions are beneficiant, and the tempura sides are nearly obligatory. As soon as we end our morning snack, we’re out the door searching for the subsequent spot.

A chef ready a bowl of niku (meat) udon at Udon Baka Ichidai © Stated Karlsson / Lonely Planet

Will journey for noodles

I might eat udon all day. I’m consuming udon all day. However udon wasn’t at all times my first alternative for noodles. I spent a great deal of my twenties hunched over bowls of ramen, however because the years have passed by, udon’s savory broth and silky noodles have received me over. The dashi soup is delicate and savory, and the noodles are massive and chewy. Produced from wheat flour, salt and water, udon is a deceptively advanced dish. Adjustments within the temperature and humidity can impression how agency and chewy the noodles are, for instance, which is why Kagawa’s most discerning udon outlets will regulate their ratios accordingly. Over repeated bowls, there are nuances to be found.

From higher left (clockwise): bukkake udon, kamatama udon, niku udon and kitsune udon © Stated Karlsson / Lonely Planet

After stopping by Udon Sakaeda, only a few minutes away from Udon Baka Ichidai, we’re again within the automobile and heading to the third cease of the morning, Sanuki Udon Gamou, the place one other lengthy line has fashioned. In accordance with the Japanese meals weblog Tabelog, Gamou is the preferred Sanuki udon restaurant within the nation, and the road snaking up the road is proof of that. I am handed a bowl, and a fragile umami aroma from the broth tickles my nostril as I begin slurping. Gamou’s udon is an ideal steadiness of chewy noodles, crunchy inexperienced onions,and savory soup. That is well worth the wait.

Whereas slurping my noodles, I hear prospects speaking in dialects starting from Kyushu to Hokkaido, a testomony to how fashionable Sanuki udon has grow to be throughout the nation. It wasn’t at all times like this. The remainder of Japan did not actually go gaga for Sanuki udon till the Eighties and early Nineteen Nineties, when the dish was featured in magazines and on Japanese TV. This began an udon-fueled vacationer increase which continues to at the present time. Despite the fact that they’ll get it elsewhere, individuals journey from throughout Japan to eat the prefecture’s thick, at all times al dente noodles. Kagawa, and Shikoku in a bigger sense, excel at serving Japan what it needs, whether or not that’s untouched pure magnificence, conventional Japanese tradition, a few of the finest sake within the nation or, sure, simply actually tasty noodles.

The kitchen at Udon Sakaeda © Stated Karlsson / Lonely Planet

Wanting by the restaurant’s window, I see a taxi pull up. It seems to be like another Japanese cab, white-gloved driver and all. However atop the Toyota is a bowl with the phrase “Udon” spelled out in plastic noodles. Two younger girls hop out and get in line.

Sanuki udon isn’t solely a vacationer draw; it’s now a model. Marugame Seimen, based in 2000, has unfold throughout the nation, serving up scrumptious udon at affordable costs. It is gone international, with outposts in London, Moscow and Texas. Whereas it takes its identify from Marugame Metropolis right here in Kagawa, the chain is definitely headquartered in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture. There are solely two Marugame Seimen eating places in all of Kagawa, even because the identify of the city doubles as a model additional afield. Marugame is sweet. However sitting right here on an outdated metallic stool in rural Shikoku, bowl of udon in hand, is a lot better.

“Are you able to go to the subsequent place?” my spouse asks. I examine my watch. It isn’t but 11. Oh, sure. You guess I’m.

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Shikoku is on our 2022 Finest in Journey checklist. For extra tales from a few of the world’s most enjoyable locations click on right here.

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