Udon is one of Japan’s most iconic noodle dishes. Thick, white noodles in a light broth with a sprinkling of sliced green onions might sound simple, but this dish is loved by millions of Japanese as their go-to comfort food.
Finding good udon in Kagawa Prefecture isn’t hard. The popular Sanuki-style of udon comes from this region and it feels as if there is an udon shop on every block. Even deep in the Shikoku countryside, flags, signs and posters are displayed on the side of the road and next to rice paddies, trying to entice you into their restaurants.
Why does Kagawa have better udon than other areas in Japan? Kagawa Prefecture receives below average rainfall. Compare Kagawa’s annual rainfall of 1082.3mm to Tokyo’s 1528.8mm, Shizuoka Prefecture’s 2324.9mm and Miyazaki Prefecture’s whopping 2508.5mm and you can see that Kagawa is a relatively dry prefecture. There has never been enough rain to support substantial rice farming, so traditionally wheat has been grown instead. This wheat is the core ingredient for the delicious Sanuki udon – a perfect example of people adapting their diets to their environment.
An “udon meguri”, or an udon tour, is a popular pastime for Japanese visitors to Kagawa. They select a number of popular udon restaurants and travel to each one until they become too full to eat any more. For your average udon devotee, three restaurants is usually the limit.
The first stop on our tour was Tanikawa Beikoku-ten. Deep in the rural heart of Kagawa Prefecture near the border with Tokushima Prefecture, Tanikawa Beikoku-ten has been in business since 1964 and scores high on most udon rankings.
Their udon is some of the simplest you will find. Guests can top their noodles with sliced green onion and a splash of soy sauce. A spicy chili condiment is provided free-of-charge, and a raw egg topping is available for a few extra yen. It is simple, but it clearly resonates with the Japanese who wait patiently in long lines for their Tanikawa noodles.
Our next stop was Kawafuku Honten in the middle of Takamatsu City. Inside the Lion Street shopping arcade, this restaurant developed the “zaru udon” style that is now popular all over Japan. Zaru udon, where cold noodles are served on a bamboo tray with a soy-based dipping sauce, is a favorite in hotter months and shops tend to offer this during Japan’s sweltering summers. Kawafuku Honten serves it all year round. Guests who crave more than the simple taste of the noodles on offer can opt for a side order of crispy mixed tempura.
The third and final stop on our udon tour was Waraya, located just outside the Shikoku-Mura historical park on the eastern edge of Takamatsu City. All of the buildings at Shikoku-Mura, including Waraya, are traditional Japanese buildings that have been painstakingly moved from locations throughout Shikoku for preservation and educational purposes. The Waraya building dates to the late Edo Period and was moved from the Iya Valley in Tokushima Prefecture. However, in recent years the udon served in this building is stealing the limelight.
Udon lovers are attracted by its signature family-sized tubs of “kama-age” udon. This is udon that has been boiled then lifted from the huge, black iron cooking pot; it is served in large wooden tubs with a soy-based dipping sauce served on the side. Guests can add chopped green onion and freshly grated ginger to their sauce to taste.
Visitors can see the huge cooking pot used to cook the udon as they enter the shop. In addition to family sized portions (which feeds 4-5 people), Waraya’s udon also comes in three slightly smaller sizes. The udon is cooked and served immediately to ensure that the noodles have the perfect texture: Sanuki-style udon is served slightly al dente.
The broth at Waraya is also distinctive. It is made from Waraya’s secret combination of ingredients. Two ingredients they did reveal were dried sardines harvested from the Seto Inland Sea and dried ‘konbu’ seaweed from Hokkaido.
In a nutshell, it is hard to go wrong in Kagawa if you are in the market for good udon noodles. The standard is high wherever you go. Udon is so ingrained in Kagawa culture that many shops in town open late and cater to tipsy businessmen looking for a snack before heading home. When you visit Kagawa, make sure you try at least a couple of different bowls of Sanuki udon. You might begin to see what all the fuss is about.
- Tanikawa Beikoku-ten
Address: 1490 Kawahigashi, Mannou-cho, Nakatadogun, Kagawa-ken
Business Hours: 11:00~13:00 (or until sold out)
URL (Japanese only): http://www.tanikawa-udon.jp/index.html
- Plan to arrive at the shop early—there will be a line in front of the shop from mid-morning, even on weekdays. The official shop hours run from 11:00 until 13:00 (or until they sell out). We arrived early at 10:30, and the shop was open and already packed. Despite the location and the long lines, a visit to Tanikawa Beikoku-ten is well worth the effort.
- Kawafuku Honten
Address: 2-1 Daiku-machi (Lion-Dori arcade), Takamatsu-shi, Kakawa-ken
Business Hours: 11:00~24:00
URL (Japanese only): http://www.kawafuku.co.jp/shop/honten.html
- Kawafuku Honten has private rooms and party rooms on the second and third floors, respectively, and is able to accommodate large groups. They offer a good variety of selections on their lunch and dinner menus.
Address: 91 Yashima-Nakamachi, Takamatsu-shi, Kagawa-ken
Business Hours: December~February 10:00~18:30
Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays: 9:00~19:00
Closed: Open year-round (no closed days)
URL(Japanese only): http://www.wara-ya.co.jp/index.html
Words and Photography By Andrea Miyata
Assistant Kanako Okura
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