April 13, 2010
by Yukari Maruoka Miku Nogami
Udon is one of the famous Japanese foods. It is a thick noodle, made from wheat flour, that is served in a soup broth we call tsuyu. There are many kinds of udon in Japan. For example, Okinawa has souki soba, Kagawa has sanuki udon, and Aichi has niso nikomi udon. But we will introduce standard udon and its soup.
Udon is different between west and east Japan. The noodle is almost the same but the soup is different. The taste and the color of the soup in the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, are stronger and richer, respectively. In the Kansai area that includes Kyoto, the flavor is lighter and the soup is thinner. Many Kansai people are surprised when they see the brown tsuyu in Kanto, because in Kansai its pale color is clear. There are three different causes: soy sauce, stock, and water.
Soy sauce: Kanto people tend to leave the soup but Kansai people drink it up. Kanto’s soup is too strong to drink up. The kind and the amount of soy sauce are different between Kanto and Kansai. The salinity concentration in Kanto is 6.7%, twice or more higher than Kansai’s 2.5%. Light soy sauce is used in Kansai and deep soy sauce in Kanto. There is also a big difference in the amount of soy sauce used. Kanto cooks pour in four times as much as cooks in Kansai.
Stock: The aroma of Kanto’s soup is stronger than Kansai’s. There is a difference also in how the stock is made. Both Kansai and Kanto put seaweed in first. However, there is a difference in the amount of the fish stock and the boiling time. Kanto adds about twice as much stock as Kansai and whereas Kansai boils it for just five minutes, Kanto opts for one hour. Kansai’s tsuyu is made chiefly of seaweed, and Kanto’s of fish.
Water: Kanto uses hard water, and Kansai uses soft. When the seaweed is boiled, soft water is extracted along with a lot of good elements. The benefits of seaweed are not drawn out easily by the water of Kanto compared with that of Kansai.
Udon’s origin is from Chinese noodles first made in Japan’s Kamakura era (1185–1333), but it was only later, in the Muromachi era (1336 to 1573), that these noodles came to be called udon. It was a kind of high class food at that time, so many people couldn’t get the chance to eat it, especially farmers. In the Edo era (1603-1868), the western route along the Sea of Japan was developing more than the Eastern Pacific Ocean route, which is why the seaweed (kelp) from Hokkaido, which is used for making udon’s tsuyu, was transported to Osaka through Edo (now Tokyo).
One cup noodle company is making udon in both Kansai and Kanto regional tastes. They use a different stock when they make it. Of course the soup’s color is different. You can see a mark on the package label that says either “E” or “W”. It means East and West. You can buy them in each area. It is very good merchandise for us, because it is cheap and easy to try both tastes even you don’t stay in the other area. Also it has a long enough shelf life, because it’s an instant noodle, so you can eat it anytime you want. Foreigner often like it, and they can bring some back to their country for souvenirs.
Japan has a long history, and an abundant traditional culture. Food is one of the key elements of our culture, and many foods have been handed down from our ancestors, most of which we still keep eating. Although udon was once a food for the high-born wealthy class, it isn’t anymore, so we can eat it anytime we want. Nowadays a certain udon chain restaurant has become popular because it’s very cheap and tasty. My friend who is from Kansai and I, from Kanto, both love their udon soup! If you haven’t tried udon yet, why not treat yourself to a bowl today?