The only thing better than Japanese udon noodles are the udon noodle toppings they are eaten with.
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Rice and noodles have been the mainstay of Japanese cuisine for centuries. We know of rice, and we’re quite familiar with noodles, it’s nothing new to us. We know ramen noodles, we know lasagna noodles, but udon noodles?
Now that’s solid gold. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against ramen. Nothing, it’s absolutely delicious, versatile and it’s one of the first Asian foods I ate (right behind sushi). But I feel like udon has been underappreciated for years and it’s high time that ended.
Move over ramen, udon’s in the building!
You may just be hearing of it, but udon has been around for quite a while. In fact, it’s been around so long that nobody even remembers where it came from. Some people say that in AD 1241, a Rinzai monk called Enni introduced flour milling technology from Song China to Japan, and this flour was used to make noodles like udon or soba and pancakes.
Still yet others say that during the Nara period, a Japanese envoy was introduced to 14 different types of confection when they were in China during the Tang Dynasty. One of such confections was muginawa, which is believed to be the origin for many Japanese noodles. Highly interesting, wouldn’t you agree? Aye, I think it is.
Udon – The Ultra-Satisfying Noodle
Made of wheat flour, water and salt, this thick, chewy, ultra satisfying noodle is completely in a league of its own. It is known for its thick, glossy strands and creamy color. It has a neutral flavor and this makes it such a great, versatile foundation for curries, soups, and toppings, and this makes all the difference.
Udon noodles have a bouncy quality to it. In a soup bowl, they tend to jounce and so easily slurp down your throat. Because of its neutral texture, udon can take in the flavors and textures of the spices used with much ease.
Where can you buy udon noodles? The noodles are sold dried, fresh or frozen. They are available at any Japanese or Asian grocery store. And if you’re lucky, you might get them at your local grocery store.
The dried noodles are quite convenient and handy but the fresh ones have the best texture. And if you can’t find any in your local grocery or any store, you could always order it online.
Udon has so many benefits, and it’s super healthy. If you eat udon made from quality wheat flour, you can get a significant amount of complex carbs. Not the fatty kind, the good kind that is high in fiber. Also, because of the fiber, it’s easily digestible.
Try it and see if your bowels wouldn’t be happy. Udon is also rich in crucial B vitamins like Thiamine, Niacin, Riboflavin, and folate. B vitamins are needed by the body to turn carbs into fuel for energy. So with udon, you get to taste, flexibility, health, and satisfaction. Where has udon been all my life!?
Udon is mostly used to make noodle soup, and because it doesn’t melt down or become sloppy (except if overcooked), you can get that solid, soupy, slurpy experience.
But it can also be used in a stir fry hibachi style or as a side. And it’s very good for the cold. Just make it hot and extra spicy, and you’re good to go. In the summertime, udon is still champion. Make udon cold, add a bit of crunch to it and just enjoy the bliss. Now, what are some of the things you can add to udon?
A Selection of 9 Best Udon Toppings
There are many different styles of serving udon in the market. If you go to a proper Japanese udon restaurant, you’ll meet a variety of toppings from beef to eggs to vegan toppings, and each topping makes a completely different dish with a completely different name.
But irrespective of the name of the dish, there are some general toppings that are used on basically every dish; ginger, sesame seeds, soy sauce, beef, onions, and the list goes on. Chefs these days are putting some Western toppings into the traditional Japanese udon. The toppings I have listed here are the original Japan udon toppings.
Udon can be served hot or cold, spicy or flavourful, with a lot of toppings or not. Cold udon (or udon salad) is usually served with egg omelet slices, bits of chicken and vegetables like cucumber and carrots. The toppings used with each udon dish is chosen specially to reflect seasons, and most of them are not cooked.
- Kake udon: this is udon at its simplest. The noodle is served in hot dashi, a Japanese broth made with kombu and bonito flakes topped with scallions. It’s an easy udon topping.
- Kitsune udon: this is udon topped with aburaage (which are deep fried tofu).
- Tempura udon: udon noodle topped with tempura (tempura is seafood eg shrimp or vegetable eggplant that has been battered and deep fried).
- Tsukimi udon: this is udon topped with raw egg, which then poaches in the meal because of the hotness of the noodles. Be sure to mix it in properly before you eat.
- Ontama bukkake udon: this is udon with soft boiled egg, perfect if you don’t like raw eggs.
- Karē udon: this is udon in curry soup. You can also add meat and vegetables to this dish.
- Yaki udon: this is stir-fried udon in a soy-based sauce.
- Niku udon: this is beef udon, but it’s more than just putting beef on your udon. The beef is seasoned with soy sauce, mirin, and sake and is then stir-fried after which it is topped on the noodle soup.These are some Japan udon toppings served cold.
- Zaru udon: cold udon noodles served with a dipping sauce of dashi, mirin, and shoyu. Usually eaten with grated ginger for added spice.
- Bukkake udon: here, the sauce is thick and poured over on top of the noodles instead of starting out in a soup bowl.
A Delicious Vegetarian Udon Noodle Recipe
Because it’s made of wheat, udon is good for the vegetarian and vegan diet. So I’ll be sharing a simple vegan udon noodle soup recipe.
- 2 cups of vegetable broth
- A 1-inch thick piece of ginger
- 1/4 tsp of sugar
- 1/6 cup of rice vinegar
- 1/8 cup of soy sauce
- 1 tbsp vegetarian mushroom sauce
- 1/4 tsp of chili paste
- 1/4 tbsp minced fresh ginger
- A glove of minced garlic
- 1/2 tbsp peanut oil
- 1 tbsp of sesame oil
- 1/2 pound broccoli
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 pound udon noodles
- 2 spring onions, sliced thin
- 1/8 cup of cilantro
- 1/4 cup peanuts, roasted and lightly crushed
- Boil the udon noodles according to the instructions on the packet, drain and set aside.
- In a large pot, mix in your vegetable broth, the inch thick piece of ginger (not the minced one), 1/4 tsp of sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, vegetarian oyster sauce, and chili paste. Stir well. This will form the broth for your udon noodles. Allow the broth to boil, should be about 20-30 minutes then simmer.
- Remove the pieces of ginger from the broth and throw it out. Let the broth simmer for about 10 minutes on low heat. Add some salt and pepper.
- In a separate skillet, sautée the minced garlic and ginger in the peanut oil for a couple of minutes, then add the sesame oil and chopped broccoli. Sautée until the broccoli is tender.
- And it’s ready! So to serve, what you do is that you pour some broth in a serving dish, add the broccoli then the noodles and top it off with the green onions, cilantro, and toasted peanuts before eating.
Guys, a quick note. This will taste quite different from like traditional udon because of some of the Western spices used (I used it to really make it vegan because some of the Japanese spices aren’t).
So if you don’t mind and you can get mirin, sake or dashi, it would be really good for the broth. And also, with spices I’m not used to, I usually taste them first just to have an idea of what I’m working with so you can do the same and add or reduce the number of spices used as you like.
And that’s it about udon toppings! You really don’t have to streamline yourself to what I have here. The whole point of it is being funded and creative with food so let your imagination run wild.
Add some of your personal favorites to top off your udon, but be sure to make it with Japanese spices so you still have that original udon taste and of course, don’t forget your chopsticks.