Monday, January 7, 2013

Udon Madness!

Most people's relationship with udon noodles is relegated to a refrigerated instant noodle package along with a boring season packet and if it's fancy, a small sachet of sesame oil. Nick and I were excited to go to Japan and explore a world of delicious and varied ramen but had no idea we would be enamored of the seemingly humble udon noodle while we were in Kyoto.


We had our first taste at a self-service chain called Marugame Seimen which makes a variety of slurptastic and fresh udon noodles at a very affordable price. They even have a window where a guy makes noodles so you can see that the noodles are made fresh every day, instead of those shipped in from China.

Steamy noodles and broth ready for slurping
Fatty like!
Marugame has a wealth of udon options - both hot and cold with a plethora of styles including those in broth and some made to be dipped. I opted for the hot torotama udon which is topped with an egg and a swath of thick, sticky yam topping on it. Once you order your udon, you progress down to a little buffet line with a multitude of tempura - which you pay for by the piece. Like the fatty I am, rather than adding the tempura to the top of my noodles and allowing the tempura to get soggy, I piled on the tempura on top of a separate plate. I am fairly certain the lady ringing me up thought I was a super overeater, compared to Nick whose bowl was only adorned with a couple of pieces of tempura. You can also pick additional sides and appetizers after the tempura line including inari or omosubi or other udon toppings. Once we paid for the meal, we stopped by the condiment station to heap a generous sprinkling of scallions, ginger and sauce.

The udon was fantastic; the noodles were perfectly al dente and in a richly seasoned broth. Even better was the amazing tempura which remained crunchy and warm despite having sat under some heating lamps. I had prawn, kabocha squash, fish stick tempura and this giant onion and vegetable tempura basket which is dare-I-say tastier and crisper than Outback Steakhouse's unhealthy blooming onion.
Heaps of tempura and a bowl of udon. Heavenly.
Torotama udon with scallions and ginger
Nick and I pretty much needed to be rolled out of this joint in a wheel barrel and were glad to have a long walk back through ponto-cho to the hotel because we needed to burn some extra calories after that gut bomb. Apparently Marugame has extended to Hawaii but I have no idea why these outlets aren't studded all over the 50 states. It's fresh and can be as healthy or fatty as an American would like; chewy noodles that come in three portion sizes served with a lot of vegetables or heaped with as much freshly fried tempura as one can dump on a plate. I recall that my udon and tempura combo was priced around 800 yen, or around $10 which is incredibly reasonable for a gut bomb dinner of a gazillion calories.

Tempura options - as awesome as it looks.
Fancy Kaiseki Udon

Our second udon foray was at a spot right outside of the historic ponto-cho: Omen Nippon. Nick and I opted for different set menus which ended with a bowl of dipping udon. The meal was in a comfortable setting but the food reflected a sophisticated kaiseki sensibility. We enjoyed delicate and exactingly arranged courses including crudo, delicate fried tempura, tofu in a soy milk broth, a daikon and crab soup and other dishes.

Our meal was completed with a bowl of the most delicious udon noodles sprinkled with sesame seeds, served with a dark shoyu broth to its side with little veggies and accoutrement. You only added as many noodles to the broth or dip the noodles as you go, rather than sink the noodles in the broth. This was definitely all about the noodle and the meal was memorable and delicious. Enjoy a photographic journey of some Japanese food porn!

A delicate crudo
Crispy fish topped with roe in a dashi
Vegetables in a creamy tofu dressing
Tofu and soymilk soup
Gorgeous food!
Daikon and crab soup
Fried vegetables and mushrooms
Vegetables, pickles and udon toppings
Broth and noodles
This makes me want to slurp my laptop screen
The front door - go look for it!

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