What is Udon?

There are few traditional Japanese dishes more universally adored than Japanese udon noodles. One of the three main types of noodles eaten in Japan (alongside soba and ramen), udon noodles are made from wheat flour, salt and water, and are thick and chewy in texture when prepared correctly. As well as being an easy-to-use ingredient for home-cooked meals, there are also speciality udon bars and udon restaurants all over Japan and in other countries.

Udon noodles can be served in a variety of different ways, the most common being in the form of a hot noodle soup, where prepared udon noodles are served in a savoury broth with various meat, protein, and vegetable garnishes placed on top. Other ways of serving udon include cold on a zaru tray with tsuyu dipping sauce and other garnishes, hot as part of a nabe hot pot, or in a yakiudon stir fry. There are also certain udon dishes that are considered specialities in different parts of Japan.

Click through the other tabs to find out more about this most delicious of Japanese noodles, including how to make your own udon noodles from scratch, what sort of dishes can be made using udon noodles, what are some of the different regional udon dishes, and a little about the Japan Centre Group’s own Hakata udon house in London, Ichiryu.

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How to Make Udon Noodles


120g udon flour
70cc water
12g salt
udon flour for dusting

1. Combine water and salt to make a brine solution. Add udon flour to a separate bowl and slowly add brine little by little. 

2. Gently mix in brine by hand until completely absorbed into the flour. When the consistency is dry and crumbly, form the dough into a ball. 

3. Place dough on a flat surface lightly dusted with flour. Knead the dough.

4. When the dough is a nice, stretchy consistency, cover with plastic wrap (to prevent drying) and allow to rest for two hours. 

5. Place rested dough on a floured flat surface and roll out into a square shape. Wind the rolled out dough around the rolling pin and proceed to roll again on the pin to flatten further. Unroll the dough from the pin, and continue using the rolling pin to flatten until the dough reaches 3mm in thickness.

6. Fold dough gently into thirds. Slice across folded dough with a large chopping knife in 3mm increments, being as consistent as possible, so each slice is a folded up udon noodle. To make sure that the noodles all finish cooking at the same time, ensure the width of the noodles are as similar in size as possible. To prevent the noodles from sticking to each other after cutting, unravel them and place them flat before boiling.

7. Boil noodles for 15-18 minutes in about 4L of water. Make sure to not let the noodles boil over. Drain and rinse in water, then use in any udon dish. 

Types of Udon

Here are some of the most common ways of serving udon noodles.

Hot Udon Soup

The most common way to serve udon, hot udon soup is any dish where udon noodles are served in a hot savoury broth called kakejiru, which is made from a mixture of soy sauce, dashi stock, and mirin rice wine. This noodle soup is then topped with several meat, protein, or vegetable toppings, some of the most common of which being chopped spring onions, tempura prawns, deep fried tofu pockets (known as abura age in Japanese), and slices of kamaboko (a type of fish cake shaped like a semi-circle). Many hot udon soups have unique names depending on their toppings, including:

- Kake Udon: topped with chopped spring onions and sometimes a slice of kamaboko.

- Kitsune Udon: translated as ‘fox udon’, this udon is topped with a piece of abura age.

- Tanuki Udon: translated as ‘raccoon dog udon’, this udon is topped with tempura batter pieces.

- Tsukimi Udon: translated as ‘moon-viewing udon’, this udon is topped with a raw egg, which cooks in the hot soup and looks like a full moon.

- Chikara Udon: translated as ‘strength udon’, this udon is topped with toasted mochi rice cakes.

Nabeyaki Udon

This is a special type of udon noodle soup, where udon noodles, a kakejiru broth seasoned with miso, soy sauce, kimchi, and/or other savoury seasonings), and various meats and vegetables (the most common of which include mushrooms, spinach, carrot, chicken, and kamaboko fish cake), are cooked together in a nabe hot pot or saucepan, then topped with other toppings that need to be prepared separately, such as freshly fried prawn tempura or blanched spinach leaves.

Nabeyaki udon is a more complex dish than most udon dishes, and particularly ideal if you are after something with lots of different flavours.

Zaru Udon

A favourite summer dish, zaru udon is so named because of the bamboo tray (called a zaru) upon which the udon is placed. Udon noodles are prepared as normal before being cooled by rinsing in cold water.

The noodles are then placed on a zaru tray, which has spaces between the bamboo sticks that act like a drain for any excess water.

This cold udon is served with a dipping sauce called tsuyu, which is made of mirin, soy sauce, and very concentrated dashi stock.

Additional garnishes, including chopped spring onions, sliced ginger, and wasabi, may also be served alongside zaru udon in separate sauce dishes.

Bukkake Udon

Another great udon dish for enjoying during the summer. Bukkake refers to any dish that is made by pouring a broth over something.

Bukkake udon is made by preparing cold udon noodles, adding them to a large noodle bowl, and pouring cold tsuyu over them in a similar ratio to pouring milk over cereal.

A variety of garnishes can then be added on top, the most popular of which being chopped spring onions, boiled eggs, grated mooli (or daikon) radish, bonito fish flakes, nori seaweed, and tempura batter pieces.

Yaki Udon

This udon dish is very similar to yakisoba (a summer barbecue favourite in Japan) except that udon noodles are used instead of the egg noodles used in yakisoba.

To make yakiudon, udon noodles are added to a wok or hot plate with sliced meats and/or vegetables (popular choices for which include prawns, carrot, cabbage, and pork) and a barbecue sauce, and then barbecued until the meats and/or vegetables have cooked.

Yakiudon is then often topped with pickled ginger or bonito fish flakes before serving.


Udon Specialities

Udon noodle dishes are widely available all over Japan, and there are some dishes that are only available in particular regions of Japan. Here are a couple of the most noteworthy regional udon dishes.

Hakata Udon, from Hakata

It is widely believed that Hakata, in Fukuoka prefecture, was one of the first places in Japan to start producing udon, with the early udon-making practitioners in Hakata claiming to make their noodles based on the recipe provided by Enni, the Buddhist monk who originally introduced flour milling to Japan.

Hakata udon is known for being thick and soft in texture. It is traditionally served in a broth of dashi and light soy sauce, with toppings of burdock tempura, surimi fish paste, and/or meat slices.

* photo credit from: http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1319/A131905/13182289/

Sanuki Udon, from Kagawa

Sanuki udon is one of the most famous varieties of udon in Japan. Originally from Kagawa Prefecture (previously known as Sanuki Prefecture) in Shikoku, it is the uniquely firm, chewy texture of Sanuki udon that makes it so popular.

To achieve this texture requires the use of a special kind of wheat that was originally cultivated in Kagawa/Sanuki.

While still considered a Kagawa speciality, Sanuki udon is now widely available all over Japan.

Mizusawa Udon, from Gunma

Above all else, Japanese food is about using the best ingredients.

Mizusawa Udon, a speciality of Gunma prefecture, is considered to be one of the three most delicious varieties of udon in all of Japan.

Made from Gunma wheat flour, pure water, and specially selected salt, mizusawa udon noodles are firm, thick, and turn out slightly transparent when cooked.

To enjoy these udon at their full capacity, they are best served cold as zaru udon.

Ippon Udon, from Kyoto

Normally when one asks for a bowl of udon, one can expect to find more than one udon noodle in the bowl. In Tawaraya, a famous noodle house in Kyoto, however, a bowl of udon contains just one very thick, incredibly long udon noodle in a simple and lightly seasoned kakejiru soup. As this long udon noodle is even thicker than standard udon, with a chewy texture reminiscent of dango or mochi rice cakes, eating it requires a fair amount of chewing. This udon is famous throughout Kyoto, and because Tarawaya makes their udon fresh every morning, it is not uncommon for them to run out before the end of the day. Once you have mastered the art of udon-making, perhaps you should set yourself the challenge of making an Ippon Udon.

* photo credit from: http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/mana_big/13552598.html

Miso-Nikomi Udon, from Aichi

This udon noodle dish is a well-known delicacy in Nagoya and the surrounding regions of Aichi prefecture.

Similar to nabeyaki udon, miso-nikomi udon is made by diluting Hatcho miso (a Nagoya speciality) with dashi stock in a nabe hot pot or large saucepan, then adding firm udon noodles as well as various meats and vegetables (with chicken, mushrooms, fishcakes and leeks being particularly common) and simmering slowly. A raw egg will be cracked into the middle of the udon 1-2 minutes before serving.

Mimiudon, from Tochigi

Most udon noodles are long and string-like in shape, similar to spaghetti. Mimiudon, however, are shorter, flatter noodles folded over in the middle to look a little like ears. Their name, mimiudon, literally means ‘ear udon’.

These unusually-shaped udon noodles are normally served in a hot udon soup with fish cakes, wakame seaweed, and other toppings. Their shape represents the ears of bad Shinto gods, and it is said that if these udon are eaten, the eater will be protected from the influence of the bad gods for a whole year.