Udon (うどん) are thick Japanese noodles made of wheat flour. They are thicker than soba noodles, white and chewier. Udon is widely available at restaurants across Japan and prepared in various hot and cold dishes.
Popular Udon Dishes
Below is a list of udon dishes that tourists will commonly find at restaurants across Japan. Note that there are some regional differences in terms of naming and seasoning.
Zaru Udon (cold)
Zaru Udon noodles are chilled and served on a bamboo mat. They are accompanied by a dipping sauce and are dipped into the dipping sauce before eating. It is very similar to Zaru Soba, with the only difference just being the type of noodles.
Kake Udon (hot)
Kake Udon is a basic udon dish, served in a hot broth that covers the noodles. It has no toppings and is usually garnished with only green onions. Kake Udon is also known as Su Udon in the Osaka region.
Kamaage Udon (hot)
Kamaage Udon noodles are served in hot water, accompanied by a variety of seasonings and a dipping sauce. Some places have individual servings of Kamaage Udon in small wooden bowls while others serve family sized portions of Kamaage Udon in large shared wooden noodle tubs.
Tanuki Udon (hot/cold)
Tanuki Udon is served in a hot broth topped with leftover deep fried tempura batter (tenkasu). Tanuki Udon is not usually served in Osaka as tenkasu is often available for free at udon restaurants there.
Kitsune Udon (hot/cold)
Kitsune Udon is served in a hot broth with aburaage, thin sheets of fried tofu, placed on top of the udon noodles.
Tsukimi Udon (hot)
Tsukimi Udon ("Moon Viewing Udon"), like its soba counterpart, features a raw egg on top of the udon noodles, which is meant to resemble the moon.
Tempura Udon (hot/cold)
Tempura Udon is usually served in a hot broth with the tempura pieces placed on top of the noodles. Sometimes, the tempura is placed on a separate dish beside the bowl or tray of noodles. Tempura ingredients vary between seasons and shops.
Curry Udon (hot)
Curry Udon is udon noodles served in a bowl of Japanese curry. It is a popular dish to eat in winter as it is very warming. Because eating curry udon can a messy, some restaurants offer disposable bibs. When they are not offered, please take care when eating curry udon as the udon noodles are prone to splash curry on nearby clothes.
Chikara Udon (hot)
Chikara Udon is udon noodles served with the addition of a rice cake (mochi) in the hot broth. The Japanese word "chikara", meaning strength, is used as it is thought that the addition of mochi to the dish gives strength to the person eating it.
Nabeyaki Udon (hot)
Nabeyaki Udon is a dish that is cooked and served in a hot pot (nabe). The udon noodles are cooked directly in the nabe together with the broth and vegetables. Tempura is a common addition before serving, but the more typical ingredients include mushrooms, egg, kamaboko (a pink and white steamed fish cake) and various vegetables. Many shops will serve this dish only during the colder months of the year.
Where to eat udon
Udon can be found across Japan on the menu at specialty udon restaurants (udon-ya) and soba restaurants (soba-ya), casual dining restaurants such as family restaurants, izakaya and eateries around tourist sites. There also exist several popular, low-cost udon restaurant chains with outlets in the large cities and along national routes. The dining out section explains what to expect inside a sit-down restaurant in Japan.
A regular udon dish at an average restaurant typically costs between 500 yen and 1000 yen, but low-cost udon chains often sell meals for under 500 yen. At more upmarket eateries or for more elaborate udon dishes, expect to pay from 1000 yen to 1500 yen per person.
At some busy train stations, standing udon restaurants can be found for a quick meal between train rides. Ordering at standing restaurants is as simple as buying your meal ticket from the vending machine, giving it to the staff and enjoying your noodles while standing at the counter.
Some of the low-cost udon chains work similar to a cafeteria line. Upon entering the restaurant, customers pick up a tray, order the dish from the staff behind the counter and then choose eventual side dishes such as tempura, rice balls or oden (simmered vegetables) before moving to the cashier at the end of the counter.
How to eat udon
Depending on how your udon are served, the way of eating differs. When udon are served with a dipping sauce, take a few strands of noodles and dip them into the sauce before eating them.
Udon served in a soup or sauce are enjoyed by using your chopsticks to lead the noodles into your mouth while making a slurping sound. The slurping enhances the flavors and helps cool down the hot noodles as they enter your mouth. If there is a broth, it is drunk directly from the bowl, eliminating the need for a spoon. It is not considered rude to leave some unfinished soup in the bowl at the end of the meal.
Udon is popular all across Japan. Below is a list of some of the most common regional varieties:
Named after the former province that is now Kagawa Prefecture, Sanuki Udon is the most famous udon variety in Japan. The noodles are firm and chewy, and can be eaten in a variety of ways. Udon is a very popular and cheap meal in Kagawa Prefecture. Many of the popular, nationwide udon chains serve Sanuki Udon.
Traditionally handmade from locally grown wheat flour and spring water from Mount Mizusawa, Mizusawa Udon has a long history of feeding pilgrims on their way to Mizusawa Temple near Ikaho Onsen. Mizusawa Udon is typically served chilled with either a soy based dipping sauce or a sesame dipping sauce, sometimes both.
With over 300 years of history, the process of making Inaniwa Udon takes about four days as it is all done manually. After kneading the dough by hand, it is wrapped around two rods, flattened, then stretched and finally air dried. The handmade process results in Inaniwa Udon noodles that are thinner compared to conventional udon noodles and have a smooth texture.
A feature of Ise Udon is the rich and dark sauce (tsuyu) that is poured on top of the udon noodles. This rich and dark tsuyu is made of dried kelp or smoked fish (usually bonito or small sardines) and soy sauce. The udon noodles are usually topped with green onions and katsuobushi (smoked bonito flakes). Many restaurants around the Ise Shrines serve Ise Udon.
Hoto noodles are flatter and wider compared to regular udon noodles. They are typically cooked in a cast iron hot pot with lots of vegetables in a miso based soup. The vegetables that go into Hoto are largely seasonal vegetables, including pumpkin.
Particular to Nagoya, Kishimen is a variant of udon noodles that are flat and thin, similar to the shape of fettuccine. The ingredients that go into making kishimen are no different from udon noodles, the main difference just being the shape and time taken to cook the noodles.
Misonikomi Udon is another specialty to Nagoya. It is a very rich dish and particularly popular in the winter. It uses red miso for its soup base. Other typical ingredients include chicken, green onions, mushrooms, a raw egg on top and rice cakes (mochi).
While called soba, Okinawa Soba are not made with buckwheat flour but with wheat flour. Their texture is more of a cross between ramen and udon noodles. Okinawa Soba are usually served in a hot pork broth with slices of simmered pork, green onions and pickled ginger.