With our apologies to the Declaration of Independence, all Udon are not created equal. There are all other udon noodles and then there is Sanuki Udon. Sanuki Udon is the ultimate udon noodle, according to Hiroko, who was born and raised in Kagawa-ken, the birthplace and ancestral home of udon (think bagels and New York).
Sanuki Udon is different from the udon noodles from other places in Japan. It is shinier and silkier in color and more springy in texture. While we were driving around town, udon noodle shops (small restaurants) were as ubiquitous as nail salons in Manhattan. Most of these shops are quite small and many of them are self-service.
The way to order sanuki udon is:
1. Order the type of udon noodle dish (i.e. the preparation)...Zaru Udon or Kake Udon, etc.
2. Specify size/quantity i.e. small, medium, and large.
3. Wait patiently (for usually a minute or two) and recieve the bowl of noodles.
4. Choose from a selection of toppings e.g. vegetable or shrimp tempura or fishcake for the noodle (if desired).
5. Pay the cashier (a little over a dollar).
6. Find a seat
On our visit to his ryokan in Kotahira (a town at the foot of the mountains in Kagawa-ken prefecture), Hiroko's friend's brother drove us to "Yamagoe, "the most popular udon shop in Kagawa. Located about 40 minutes from the town, it was easily identifiable as it was surrounded by nothing but a rice field and parking lot. Despite what sounds like an obvious location, what really made the place easy to spot was the line of people standing outside the entrance waiting to order their noodles! Yet even after arriving during a snow squall and taking our place in line on this blustery cold winter day, we had placed our order and were seated at a counter happily slurping our sanuki udon in less than 5 minutes! After having our faces buried in our bowls for the ensuing 5 minutes, we exchanged grins, our tastebuds were smiling and our bellies full!