Every time I visit the Asian store close to my house, and I have a look at the noodles counter, I am going through a cultural shock: hundreds of bags of dried noodles, in more or less appealing plastic bags, covering practically every single item produced all over the continent. Little by little, I am trying to make my homeworks and better understand their texture and histories, and there is a tremendous work ahead.
As I am about to finish an interesting post about my latest Asian-inspired combinations, my focus today is on the delicious white wheat udon noodles. Originally from Southern Japan - if you are interesting in an intellectual travel journey into the cuisine of Japan, I strongly recommend Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth - those apparently simple noodles entered the European restaurants and won over our foodie hearts. From movies to udon bars, a cult is in the making. However, on the productive end of the udon histories there is a fine special work, which involves a careful preparation of the dough, taught to both Japanese and curious Europeans in special schools in Japan.
Compared to other types of noodles, udon is usually delivered in simple plastic small bags, where the noodles are embracing together in a complicated labyrinth. You need to soak them for a couple of minutes in hot water until the noodles are fred. Besides the strong wheat taste, udon are unflavored and it is an art of the cook to find the proper ingredients to season them properly.
They can be eaten either chilled down - especially during the hot humid summer months - or served hot. The classical combination for the hot dish is a mildy flavoured broth - kakejiru - made of dashi (a soup and cooking stock), soy sauce and mirin. Some more elaborated variants is to use the mentsuyu dipping sauce - made of sake, mirin, soy sauce, kombu, and katsubushi - poured over the hot noodles. This combination is frequently used for the soba noodles too. Other adornements to the udon can be: fresh ginger, wasabi, black sesame seeds.
To be eaten with strong slurping sounds. Yes, it is allowed, even recommended.