Kyoto’s Udon Museum

January 22, 2014

 

By Kenichi Hosokawa and Keisuke Togashi

What is Udon

In Japan, there are several types of noodles that people love to eat. There is ramen (Chinese noodles), soba (noodles made from buckwheat), somen (thin wheat flour noodles, and udon. Udon is a thick Japanese noodle that is made from wheat, a little salt and water. It is thicker than other noodles, yet goes down the throat smoothly. There are many restaurants in Japan that specialize only in udon dishes. And there are many local varieties of udon. If you try udon once, you may become addicted.

 

There are many stories about the origin of udon in Japan. One story attributes the origin of this favorite Japanese noodle to a Chinese confection called sakubei, a sweet “rope of wheat (muginawa),” which was brought to Japan during the Nara period (710~794) by envoys from Tang-period China. Another source says it developed after the introduction of wheat milling technology to Japan by the Rinzai Zen priest Enni in the 13th century. Some say the famous priest Kukai introduced it to Shikoku, where one variety has famously become the delicious and very chewy sanuki udon, named after the ancient Shikoku province of Sanuki.

 

The Udon Museum

All of the 45 varieties of udon found in Japan can be seen in this museum. It is also a place where you can eat various types of udon from the different regions of Japan. It is located in the Gion district of Kyoto, not far from the intersection of Kawabata Street and Shijo Street. It is open every day from 11:00 a.m ~ 22:00 p.m. You can find out everything you need to know about Udon here! They sell many varieties of dried udon in the souvenir shop.

 

 

This museum was opened in December of 2012. The founder of this museum, Tomoaki Takaya, said, “There wasn’t any udon restaurant where I could taste all the regional varieties of udon in Japan. So that is why I established this museum.”

 

The reason he built the museum in Kyoto was because Kyoto is the most popular destination in Japan for international tourists. So in his opinion, this city was the best place in Japan to introduce and educate foreign visitors about udon.

The Udon Museum is not only a museum—it is also a place where visitors can taste as many as 30 varieties of udon from all across Japan. For example, in Aichi Prefecture is known for miso-nikomi udon, udon noodles served in a rich miso soup with pieces of chicken, tofu, and some vegetables. Another is Osaka’s kasu udon. This udon has a lot of meat, and its soup tastes like a dish that you might experience in a French restaurant.

 

The museum restaurant is designed in the image of a traditional old-fashioned Kyoto house. You can view a beautiful garden from inside while eating udon. The official character of the museum is Udon-kun, which was based on an 8-year-old-girl

 

 

The top 3 Ranked Udon

The top three most popular udon dishes at the museum are:

 

No. 1 Mimi (Ear) Udon

This udon is from Tochigi Prefecture and the noodles are  in the shape of a devil. It is a good luck charm.

 

No. 2 Himokawa Udon

This udon is from Gunma prefecture. These noodles are shaped like an obi, the sash that is tied around the middle of a kimono.

 

No. 3 Inaniwa Udon

This udon from Akita Prefecture is considered one of the three major udon dishes in Japan. The noodles are smooth and and yellow before they are cooked.

 

Recommendations

We will recommend our two favorite types of udon for you.

First: Hōtō is a type of udon that is made by stewing vegetables and udon in the miso soup. It is mostly found in Yamanashi Prefecture, but we ate a variety called nihōtō from Saitama Prefecture. It was full of vegetables such as brown mushrooms, carrots, green onions, and some root vegetables.

 

Second is himi-udon. This udon is thinner and resembles somen, but it’s a type of an udon. Himi is the name of city in Toyama Prefecture. Noodles are very thin, and are easier to eat than other udon noodles.

 

Address (Map)

〒605-0073 Kyoto city Higashiyama-ku Gion town North 238-2 : Map

Access from Bus

・Ride on number (5、10、11、12、15、37、59) walk for 5 minutes from Sanjyou Keihan Mae

・(10、11、12、15、31、37、59、80、201、203、207) 3 minutes from Sjijyou Keihan Mae

Access from Train

・Keihan Gion Shijyou Station go North for 5 minutes

 

Kyoto has many things for sightseeing. Temples, gardens, Gion, Pontocho, Maiko, and many others. But Kyoto is more than just these. If you visit Kyoto, please go to the Udon Museum. Kyoto is not famous for udon, but here you can enjoy both Kyoto and Japanese traditional udon.

 

 

Udon Soup

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.

History

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).

Cup-noodle udon

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.

Conclusion

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?