It’s wintertime in Japan, so why not treat yourself to an “udon tsooa” (udon tour)! Udon, the thick, chewy Japanese noodles made from wheat flour, are a favorite winter food and it is not uncommon for the Japanese people to make a day of eating udon. These self guided tours are really just hopping from restaurant to restaurant eating bowl after bowl of udon.
The best place to go for an udon tour is on the island of Shikoku, the place in Japan for “sanuki udon” found only in Kagawa prefecture. Kagawa is said to have over 700 udon restaurants. Many small towns have clusters of noodle restaurants where you can walk from restaurant to restaurant. Go to any tourist area such as Kotorhira, the location of one of Japan’s most popular shrines, or to an onsen town, where hot springs abound, and you are bound to find many udon restaurants.
You don’t need to worry about spending too much money eating in udon restaurants, as a bowl of noodles in Shikoku is 350 to 400 yen. The noodles are served in earthenware bowls and you can choose from a few different udon types. A good one to start with is kake udon, which is the basic, simple udon, which you can then add ingredients to later such as tempura. Some udon shops may offer just two or three kinds of udon while others may offer even more options. One chain of restaurants offers a basic bowl of udon for 100 yen, and then each ingredient you add to it costs 100 yen. Top off your bowl of udon with condiments found on the table such as ginger, slices of green onion, or sesame.
While you will find the same basic offerings at each udon restaurant, each place makes udon with it’s own specially flavored broth. This is what keeps people hopping around from restaurant to restaurant, to discover new subtly different flavors. Many people make a day of eating udon, thus the name “udon tsooa” and eat up to 5 or more bowls over the course of a couple hours.
Japanese people think nothing of lining up outside their favorite udon restaurant to wait for a table, so if you want to find a good place, just look for the lines of people waiting to get in!
Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com