Unassuming in their simpliciiy, udon are some of the most popular noodles in Japan. These plump and j chewy noodles are made of only three ingredients: wheat flour, salt and water. After being vigorously kneaded to ensure that the texture of the noodles will be just right, the dough is then cut into easy-to-slurp sized strips and cooked in plenly of boiling water. A few ways to enjoy uclon are: in a hot broth with some toppings, dipped into a sauce, or with a sauce lightly poured over them. While udon is a quick and easy meal frequently eaten at home, it's not confined to home kitchens; according to a 2010 survey, there are now about 28,000 udon restaurants in Japan which tells us that udon is just as beloved a dine-out meal as it is a home-cooked one. Udon shops range from less expensive fast-food styles to fashionable sit-down types aimed at the well-heeled. A 2009 survey of over l5,000 foreign visitors to Japan entitled "Ranking the most satisfying dine-out meals in Japan" listed udon in fifth place after sushi, ramen, sashimi, and tempura. These simple, but oh-so-satisfying noodles have a profound appeal that's worth a closer look!


The cultivation of wheat began about 7,000 BCE. It's said that wheat first appeared in Mesopotamia. Harvested wheat, along with the technique for milling the flour, was brought to China, the country known by some to be a shrine to dining culture, via the Silk Road. China then processed the wheat and developed noodles. Among the many varieties of noodles, the ones called "cut-noodle types" include udon and soba. The method of production for these types starts with mixing the ingredients into a dough, kneading it well, rolling it out thinly, and finally cutting it into strips. The production of these noodles, spread out over an extremely wide area, with each location adding their own local touch resulted in the creation of a noodle culture rich in regional distinctions. There are many theories with regard to when udon made its appearance in Japan and much debate over the specifics. It is generally agreed, however, that an envoy to China during the 700s (the Nara period) introduced the predecessor of udon to Japan. These noodles were a type of confection, made of blended wheat and rice flours, and twisted into a rope shape (it is believed that this was the ancestor for many types of Japanese noodles). Gradually these were transformed into noodles similar to the udon of today. Another theory is that a Buddhist priest brought back the manufacturing method of noodles from China, and a distant relative of udon was created using this method.

UDON OF THE EDO PERIOD (1603 - 1868)

There were many mentions of udon in documents from the Muromachi period (1337-1573), but they all referred to udon being used for celebratory occasions among the elite. It was during the mid-Edo period that udon spread among the general population. With the burgeoning development of urban areas, the population of Edo (the old name for Tokyo) also increased, and with more people who had more disposable income looking to enjoy a quick bite, or a convenient meal outside their homes, the restaurant industry started to briskly pick up steam. The style of eating udon with broth made from bonito and flavored with soy sauce began post-Genroku (1688-1704), which was considered to be the golden age of the Edo period when commercial economies rapidly expanded and urban cultures blossomed. This was the time when soy sauce began to be used throughout the country. Today's typical udon dishes, such as tempura udon, tamogo toji udon, and torinanban, were developed during the period from mid-Edo through late-Edo, when Edo's food culture was in full swing. Today, about 300 years later, they are as thoroughly enjoyed and just as indispensable a part of Japanese cuisine as they were back then.