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My favorite Japanese noodle

After a thorough survey of noodles in Japan, I am ready to pronounce udon as my personal favorite. Some people favor buckwheat soba noodles – it is said that to make a soba noodle takes a lifetime to learn and thus it is considered somewhat of an art form in Japanese culinary culture. And yet others love the thin ramen noodle – people this is a far cry for the late night snack of our impoverished university years. But for myself, I prefer the fat, chewy texture of the wheat based noodle, udon. While it really cannot fairly be compared to pasta…if I had to for explanatory purposes…I would say it is similar in that it shares the same rough shape as spaghetti but this is where the similarity ends as it is about 7-10x times the diameter in thickness with a richness of flavor that barely needs enhancing. It is this toothsome thickness and density of flavor that provides the chewy mouthful that I love.

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While in Kyoto, we decided to stop off from cultural endeavours to have a quick lunch. Smack in the middle of the tourist temple trail is Hinode Udon – right next to the Eikando Temple. Like many places in Japan there is not much English…so you should come prepared with an idea of what you want. Do your research on food types because even if there is an English menu details will be omitted – one can easily find 6 to 8 “noodle with chicken” dishes on a menu with no explanatory details to indicate the differences between them. Or alternatively play a bit of culinary roulette (like many adventurous eaters in Asia do), just point to what you neighbour is having, indicating that you too would like to enjoy the same mysterious delicacy as the table adjacent.

In our case, we did a little of both. We were advised in advance that one should order the baked noodles (picutred up top) – these are udon noodles cooked with other items in a clay pot. But beyond this, we realized we would have to wing it because there were about 6 different types of baked noodles. Paul actually chose the Chicken Curry Udon Noodle known in Japanese as “kare udon” (850¥ / $9.12 USD / $S 13.31) because he really wanted to savour a Japanese curry, while I chose the more traditional Boiled Noodle with Beef known in Japanese as “nabeyaki udon” (900¥ / $9.66 USD / $S 14.10)

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Both came out super hot and bubbly…in fact, a rolling boil might be the most accurate description. We were actually quite hungry as it was 3pm and we had waited far too long to eat…but the boiling noodles demanded patience lest one was desirous of a blistered tongue. While slurping is a custom when eating noodles in Japan, we secretly suspected that it was also a necessity given the need to cool down the noodle dishes while eating. And really it wasn’t just this noodle joint – nearly every time we had noodles anywhere, they were served at scalding hot temperatures.

Once we could safely approach our lunch, we dove in and swapped dishes halfway through so that we both could have the opportunity to try each. Hands down we agreed mine was the best – a wonderful intermix of broth, shredded beef, scallions, fish tofu and a raw egg (the egg actually slowly cooks in the hot broth). And while Paul’s curry was also yummy – a typically Japanese curry in a thick gravy – we ultimately agreed that a whole pot of it was a bit heavy and a little one note for a whole meal. It just lacked the textural and taste variety that we so enjoyed with my boiled beef noodles. And so while the chicken curry was enjoyed, in fact much of it was left in the bubbling pot due to its uncanny ability to fill the stomach after 2-3 mouthfuls. Maybe it is better as a hearty wintertime meal.

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Although we were pretty full, an unexpected rainstorm caught us unawares about 5 minutes after leaving Hinode Udon, and so we found ourselves ducking into Café Whoje just a few doors down, where we enjoyed the cake set (850¥ / $9.12 USD / $S 13.31). While the coffee was, well, rather average, but the cheesecake we ordered was delightful. If you haven’t had Japanese cheesecake, then you simply must. It is a ethereally light and airy cake – something between a regular cheesecake and an angel food cake. But you don’t have to go to Japan to enjoy this lovely sweet treat…we also used to buy Japanese cheesecakes at the Gourmet Market in the basement of Central Chidlom department store in Bangkok.

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The rain stopped and with bellies fully of udon and Japanese cheesecake, we waddled off in search of our next Japanese culinary adventure.

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Hinode Udon
Open 11am – 6pm
36 Mazenji-Kitanobo-cho
(about 10-15 meters north of Eikando Temple)
Kyoto, Japan
Telephone: +81 75 751 9251

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