The number of regional udon noodle dishes can be overwhelming without a basic introduction to the ingredients. Made from only flour, salt and water, udon noodles are comparable to some of the more well-known types of noodles, soba and ramen. Thicker than their cousins, however, udon noodles are chewier and have various presentations throughout Japan.
This udon is famous in Sanuki Area — the province now known as Kagawa prefecture, in the northeastern part of Shikoku — Sanuki is the most common type of udon you’ll find in Japan. This especially chewy variety is one of the most popular udon noodle dishes, and you can enjoy this in myriad ways. This udon is cheap, so various Japanese udon restaurants serve this kinds of udon in one of their menus.
Traditionally, Mizusawa udon was served to pilgrims on their way to Mizusawa Kannon, a more than 1,300-year-old temple near Ikaho Onsen in central Honshu’s Gunma Prefecture. In modern times, people serve this firm and slightly transparent type of udon cold in zaru style, alongside a soy-base or sesame dipping sauce. Sometimes it even comes with both types of sauce so you can try different flavors at once.
A product of northern Honshu’s Akita Prefecture, Inaniwa udon is handmade. It is a slow process that takes about four days until completion. First, the chefs hand knead the dough. Then they wrap the dough around two rods before flatten and stretch the dough out. Lastly, its air-drying process ultimately produe smooth, thin udon noodles.
Popular in southern Honshu’s Mie Prefecture, Ise udon is notable for its toppings. It’s sprinkled with green onions and katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and a rich, dark sauce (tsuyu) is poured on top. This condiment consists of soy sauce, kelp and smoked fish (usually bonito or small sardines). You can enjoy this dish hot or cold.
A specialty of central Honshu’s Yamanashi Prefecture, Hoto is flatter and wider than most udon noodles. You usually cook Hoto in a cast iron hot pot, incorporating seasonal vegetables (like pumpkin) in a miso-base soup. One of the udon noodle dishes perfect for cold winter.
In nearby Aichi Prefecture, Kishimen is a staple in the capital city of Nagoya. Kishimen udon is flat but thin — think fettuccine. The shape is the distinguishing factor, as it’s made with a similar method as most udon (barring a shorter cooking time, which is said to reduce the springiness of the noodles). People in Japan love to cook this udon in the leftover broth of nabe hot pot dish. Because of its thinness, kishimen absorbs umami flavor of hot pot broth easily.
Another specialty of Aichi Prefecture, Misonikomi udon is famous for its richness. Misonikomi udon commonly come with chicken, green onions, mushrooms, raw egg or rice cakes in red miso base. Its heartiness make its especially popular in the winter months.
Okinawa soba — from Okinawa Prefecture, of course — is actually most like a cross between udon and ramen, despite the nomenclature. Made with wheat flour (not the gluten-free buckwheat used in true soba noodles), Okinawa udon noodles are typically served with sliced pork or pork ribs simmered with green onions and pickled ginger in broth, plus kōrēgusu, a chili-infused liquor from Okinawa. The region’s famous sea salt also plays an important role in Okinawa noodle dishes, adding a mineral quality to modern Okinawa noodles.