Ever since Toshi and I watched ‘udon’ the movie almost three years ago we’ve been talking about making the ‘udon pilgrimage’ and last week we finally did it.
The view of Mt Fuji from the plane
We planned well. We bought the Shikoku udon equivalent of a bible which lists 88 of the top udon shops in the region. Three of the five places we went in the space of just over 24 hours were on this list, another was a brand new joint that we tried and the fifth, well, it was at the train station so we just had to.
The top 88 udon restaurants
The people of Shikoku take udon very seriously. Long kept family recipes are passed in secrecy from generation to generation and each udon shop is quite different. Some have soft noodles with a little bit of texture, others are thicker but shorter, and others are very strong and chewy. Options on how to have your udon vary but the common ways of having them are in a hot broth served with some spring onions and grated ginger; in a hot broth with a cracked egg; in a hot broth with grated yam and a cracked egg; or cold – with a cold dipping sauce. After you are served your bowl of udon, then you can select a piece (or more) of tempura to which you normally help yourself from a separate cabinet.
Yamagoe, which is probably the most famous of the udon shops in Takamatsu (a city in Shikoku). It is so popular that sometimes 100 people are lining up at a time patiently waiting for their udon. We were lucky and there were only around 15 people before us.
This udon was excellent. It featured not particularly chewy, soft, long snakes of noodle in a little bit of sauce that you pour on yourself. I had the plain hot udon with cracked egg and a tempura onsen tamago (literally hot spring egg - soft and gooey on the inside - the best way ever to eat an egg) which was one of the better ones I’ve ever had. Toshi had the hot udon with grated yam and cracked egg.
The next place we went to was Ajisho – and this was also really good. I had the cold udon with dipping sauce and Toshi had the cold udon in broth. These noodles were very strong and presented a lot of resistance when you chewed them.
The next place we went to was Udon Baka Ichidai, which is not on the coveted list of 88, mainly I think because it has only recently opened. This was probably my favorite udon. Strong, chewy, smooth noodle in a delicious, complex yet light broth. I had the plain hot udon in broth.
The next place was Atariya. This place is another of the most famous udon shops and renowned not only for good udon but for the strict rules imposed on the customers, like not speaking until you are spoken to, standing in a particular order at the counter, and a certain method of selecting the condiments for your bowl of udon.
We didn’t love this place. The tempura was old, the onsen tamago way overcooked and the broth was nothing to write home about. The taxi driver who took us there and back also had a bowl and was deeply disappointed. His assessment was that this place got big and famous too quickly and consequently the quality has suffered.
The last place we went to (and by this time we were very, very full) was Renrakusen udon at the train station. We really should not have bothered, these were very ordinary noodles with ordinary broth and well, there is really nothing else to say about it.
I love udon, but I don’t think I’ll be having any for a while now.