For foodies and Japanophiles alike, Udon is a favorite, and it’s easy to see why. While ramen seems to dominate on the international culinary scene, venture to Japan and the tables turn. This is Japan’s answer to soul food, this is food for the heart.
Udon is a thick chewy noodle that satisfies with each and every bite. Though only composed of wheat flour, salt, and water, this humble noodle is incredibly versatile and has been adopted across the nation, with each region offering a slightly different take.
How is udon served?
You’ll typically find udon served in a simple dashi-based broth or with a dipping sauce, often with a few simple toppings. Simplicity does not forego complexity of flavor, however. Udon dishes always pack a punch. You can eat udon hot or cold, making it a year-round staple, whatever the occasion or the season. You’ll find iterations of udon as street food, fast food, and high-end food—and, somehow, in each context, it always fits the bill.
Where is udon from in Japan?
This age-old comfort food has been loved and enjoyed for centuries, but the exact origins of udon are a point of conflict. The most convincing theory suggests the noodle was first brought to Japan from China over one thousand years ago.
As the tale goes, a Buddhist monk dispatched to China to discover their newest innovations and brought udon back to his native Kagawa on his return from his expedition. For this reason, Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku Island now lays claim to the original Sanuki Udon, and enjoys the title of the ‘udon prefecture’ or the ‘home of udon’.
Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku: The Home of Udon
As luck would have it, while the majority of Japan endures a tropical rainy and humid climate that is unsuitable for the cultivation of wheat, it’s quite the opposite in Kagawa. The mild and dry climate, coupled with rich soil, creates the perfect conditions for wheat growth, and therefore for udon.
In the mid-1960s, with the increased import of foreign produce, the local wheat industry began to decline. The Kagawa locals banded together in a bid to save their economy and reinvigorated wheat production with a new wheat variety specifically for udon: Sanuki no Yume 2000 (Sanuki’s dream).
Since then, Sanuki no Yume wheat has progressed to version 2013 and udon has become ever more intermeshed with Kanagawa’s local life, culture, and heritage. Udon noodles produced from their specialty wheat are celebrated for their firmness, chewiness, and smoothness – it’s too good.
Where to get your udon fix in Shikoku
Kagawa takes its udon seriously, and you can tell. With over 600 udon shops and expert udon taxi tours, Kagawa Prefecture is the place to be. Clearly, there is an abundance of choice, but here are some top picks for where to eat Japanese udon in its birthplace.
Udon Baka Ichida, Takamatsu City
Udon Baka Ichida are passionate about their udon. Their only branch is in the heart of the prefecture capital, Takamatsu City, and they’re open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.
Their modest approach to udon—they proudly claim not to have created the perfect udon—is charming. Their self-proclaimed focus is only to create udon that is superior to yesterday’s, and to keep forging on until they create something that fulfills their expectations.
Simple, charming, and casual, Udon Baka Ichida is a number one choice for tourists and locals alike. Expect long lines and a quick turnaround. They’re not messing around.
Tamoya Matsuyama Hirai, Matsuyama City
This much-loved udon chain has grown from one to 11 shops across Japan and has even ventured further into Asia. They’ve got a foolproof formula that everyone should try. Their sanuki udon is to die for and won’t break the bank. A simple and easy meal that hits the spot every time.
Self Udon Yama Takushima Ekimae, Tokushima City
This self-service udon gives you a bang for your buck. You can customize your bowl as much or as little as you like from their extensive menu, or just opt for a classic like curry udon. Whatever you choose, we can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Yamagoe Udon, Ayagawa
Yamagoe Udon started out as a noodle factory that sold udon for wholesale only. Then one day, a local came asking for a bowl of udon. And thus, serendipitously, the restaurant was born.
The humble craftsmanship and expertise that saturates each dish makes for a seriously satisfying meal in more ways than one. Plus, the simple self-service set-up makes the restaurant experience feel even more authentic.
Get your Shikoku On
Udon is about as ubiquitous in Japan as sushi, that’s for sure. And you won’t struggle to find a delicious bowl of broth and udon wherever you might find yourself. But to try udon in its birthplace, in a region that is so passionate about its wheat flour noodle, is something special. If this is your first bowl, it certainly won’t be your last.
Get a taste of the Land of the Rising Sun with Japan Travel Guide.
This content was created in partnership with Japan Airlines.