Mm! Mm! Udon is one of those soups that people go absolutely crazy for in Japan because each shop has their own unique recipe, their own unique style, and their own unique flavor. People even travel to far off regions and islands in Japan just to study how to make the best udon. It’s such a rich part of the Japanese culture that I felt honored to be able to try some and I got a recommendation from my host for the best udon shop in Himeji.
Now, the chef (who doesn’t speak English) wasn’t about to give away any trade secrets, but apparently the most important part in making the flavor of udon is in dashi. Dashi is a soup stock traditionally made from kombu (edible kelp) and kezurikatsuo (shavings of dried, fermented tuna fish.) However, many Japanese can find storebrand dashi and no longer make their own when cooking homemade meals. It’s the restaurants who keep to their secret recipes and even modify them to create their own unique flavors.
The one I tried in Himeji was dashi made from sardines. The vital part in making the dashi from sardines is cutting off the heads because it removes the bitterness from the stock. (Please note there was a giant jar of sardine heads on the dining table for all the eaters to see. :p Hope you’re not easily grossed out. I thought it was cool!)
While that sounds simple, there are dozens of other factors that play into how the fish are killed, chopped, and prepared for the stock, which is why there are so many varieties. Frankly, it sounds rather involved, but I am mesmerized by the time and effort these chefs put into honing their skills and making the best food they can make even when they own just a tiny shop on a back street. That’s a sure sign of the Japanese pride and honor right there.
Oh! And if you’re in a hurry and are just looking for some udon, but don’t have the time to wait while it’s delicately prepared, there are fast-food udon places. Haha! Now I realize that sounds funny, but let me explain. In Kyoto, there are dozens of little standing udon restaurants. You pop in, order, pay, and have your soup in front of you in like… two minutes if not less. It’s piping hot (enough to burn your tongue 0.0!) and while not the best udon I’ve had, it was still a great way to try a different type of udon!
Have you tried udon before? What are your experiences with it?