A bowl of udon noodles in a brown soup with seaweed on top

Udon Noodles: A Nakama Noodles Guide

You all know that we love ramen, but they aren't the only noodles that Japan is famous for. In fact, there are two types of noodles that have a very long history in Japan. Those types are soba, a delicious buckwheat noodle, and today’s topic—udon!

Join us as we dive into the world of udon, including its history and some of the most popular dishes that utilize this thick, delicious noodle!

What is Udon?

A bowl of udon noodles with fried tofu, grated radish, shrimp tempura and green onion on top
This dish has a large amount of variety, possibly due to its long history. Image via Unsplash

Udon, much like ramen, refers to both a type of noodle and the dish that those noodles appear in. This type of noodle is made using wheat flour, similar to ramen. However, udon is much thicker in diameter than ramen (and definitely thicker than soba). The noodles can also be either round or flat, based on the shop.

There’s tons of variety in the world of soba dishes, but the standard, traditional broth tends to differ based on which side of Japan you’re on. Eastern Japan favors a darker soup using dark soy sauce. Meanwhile, western Japan tends towards a lighter soy sauce broth.

However, the standard broth is far from the only type of udon dish out there. Japan has plenty of more traditional options, but you can also find specialty shops that use udon noodles in place of pasta (like spaghetti). This leads to fun dishes like, udon carbonara, chicken and mushroom cream udon and tomato basil udon.

Udon and its various dishes can be found all over Japan and in different shops. That being said, some prefectures are well known for making high-quality udon noodles. Kagawa Prefecture, for example, is known for its Sanuki udon. Meanwhile, Mizusawa udon from Gunma, Inaniwa from Akita, Ise from Mie and Himi udon from Toyama are also very popular.

Want to experience some of the tastiest udon Japan has to offer? Check out Nakama Noodles! Nakama Noodles is your monthly ramen box that includes amazing selections of udon and soba as well! Check it out today!
Check out Nakama Noodles!

Where did Udon Come From?

A bowl of simple udon in a broth with green onions and chili pepper on top
While basic udon has simple toppings, the broth has plenty of flavor and depth. Image via Unsplash

This is a hard question to answer exactly since there isn’t anything definitive to show when or where it came from. The earliest form of udon most likely came from China. However, it was more like a dumpling skin and came in a square shape. The origin of the noodle form is up for debate.

The biggest theory is that a monk brought udon and/or wheat milling technology to Japan in 124 AD. This led to the creation of udon (the square form) in Japan. However, somewhere along the line, the noodle version was created and spread all over Japan.

When Japanese food started spreading around the world, udon did too, making it well known as a Japanese noodle dish.

Popular Udon Dishes

Kake Udon

Kake udon is your most standard, traditional form of this dish. The noodles are served in a hot broth and usually only have green onions as the usual topping. Chili powder is also added sometimes for a bit of extra spice.

Zaru Udon

A plate of a bundle of cold udon next to a bowl of dipping soup and tempura
Zaru udon is perfect for summer and goes great with tempura on the side. Image via Instagram (@mayu.8734)

Zaru udon is a cold dish where noodles are chilled and served with a dipping sauce on the side as well as green onions and wasabi. Zaru refers to the bamboo mat that the noodles come on!

Kitsune Udon

Next up is an Osaka original udon style. Kitsune means ‘fox’ and can apply to both regular foxes and the shapeshifting foxes of Japanese myth. Did you know that shapeshifting foxes love fried tofu? So, it only makes sense that this dish is topped with a large piece of fried tofu that adds a bit of sweetness to the savory udon noodle soup.

Tanuki Udon

Bits of fried tempura batter sit with chili powder on top of udon noodle soup
Whoever had the idea to add tasty fried bits as a topping was really on to something. Image via Instagram (@tachibana1984)

Another animal of Japanese legend, tanuki is the word for racoon dog, both regular and mythical. The mythical tanuki is known for a very prominent feature that seemingly inspired the name of this dish. This dish is filled with tiny, crispy fried balls of tempura batter. They initially add some crunch but then absorb the soup for little explosions of flavor.  

Tsukimi Udon

Tsukimi means ‘moon viewing’, and what looks like the moon? Egg, of course! Tsukimi udon features an egg on top of the noodles. The egg may be raw, cooked in the hot soup or fried beforehand. Either way, the yellow yolk reminds people of the moon, which many Japanese people think of as being yellow.

Tempura Udon

There’s something about tasty tempura-fried food that goes so well with noodles, and udon is no exception. You can find two versions of this dish. One features tempura on top of the noodles and soup. The other will have a plate of tempura alongside the thick noodles.

Curry Udon

A bowl of udon with a curry broth and shrimp tempura and fried potato on top
This dish combines amazing flavor with warm heartiness that makes it perfect for winter. Image via Instagram (@daigoro_7)

Curry udon is a delicious and tasty combination of two different flavors. While some people assume that this dish is just adding noodles to Japanese curry, it is actually a bit more complex than that. Usually, a special broth is made combining the traditional broth with Japanese curry for a delicious dish with plenty of flavor.

Chikara Udon

Chikara means ‘strength’. Where does that strength come from? It comes from mochi rice cakes. This dish features a tasty udon soup with thick pieces of mochi (sometimes grilled) and placed on top. It was thought that mochi would give you strength, hence the name.

Stamina Udon

Bowl of stamina udon with pickled red ginger, cabbage, onion, and beef on top
This one is for those who need a good meal that will keep them energized for a while. Image via Instagram (@mkhs003)

A hearty style of udon, the ‘stamina’ in this style comes from how filling it is. This udon is cooked with different meats and plenty of healthy, filling veggies. It’s sometimes topped with fish cakes, raw egg, seaweed or onion and dipped into a tsuyu dip.

Yaki Udon

We’ve talked about yakisoba before, which is a dish of stir-fried noodles. Yaki udon is basically the same thing, replacing the thinner, ramen-like noodles with thicker udon noodles. The noodles are cooked with meat and veggies in a special sauce that coats it all to create a sweet and savory flavor.

A hot skillet with a stir-fried yaki-udon with meat and vegetables and a fried egg on the side
Yaki udon is one of those great dishes you can enjoy at izakayas (Japanese pubs) with a cold drink. Image via Instagram (@nocks51)

And that’s our guide to udon! Do you like these thick noodles? What’s your favorite udon dish? Let us know with a comment!

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