It has been over 7 months since we opened SAKAYA. And, since the business in the summer months has been a little quieter I (Hiroko) decided to go to Japan to visit my parents, relatives and some brewers in Shikoku where I am from.
The first thing to do on my list was to eat Sanuki Udon when I visited my parents in Kagawa Prefecture. As I mentioned in a previous post, udon shops are everywhere throughout Kagawa. Kagawa is the smallest prefecture in Japan, about 1876 km2 (724 square mile), and there are about 700 shops specializing udon. There are so many, we didn't know which udon shop to go to when driving down the street.
I will point out things to look for when you are driving around Kagawa to eat Sanuki Udon.
I met my father in Tadotsu station around 5pm which is a little late for udon shops. Point #1. Pay attention to the closing time. Usually, good udon shops close around 4pm or earlier. They close when they sell out their daily made supply of udon noodles. My father took me to the Kogane Noodle Shop near the station, the third Kogane shop in Kagawa. The place closes at 6pm, but we were not the only customers at that time. My favorite type of Sanuki Udon dish is Bukkake Udon, udon noodle with dash of dashi, sometimes grated daikon, ginger, and scallion. That's it. The simplest form of udon. Bukkake Udon here is 240 yen (about $2.30), and I heard that the price had gone up recently due to the increase in the cost of wheat. The Kogane udon was silky, chewy, and al dente, with a good dashi. I can see why the place is popular with a crowd eating at any given time.
For the next two days, we spent lunch hours eating udon, going from one place to another. I wanted to try the famous udon shop Miyatake which is located in the middle of rice field (most good udon places are located in the middle of a field). Miyatake has been included in many guidebooks many times, and I was curious to find out if the udon lived up to its reputation.
The udon at Miyatake was 180 yen. I liked the price, but was disappointed as it was not chewy and al dente as other places. The noodle is a little slippery, the sign of not washing the noodle well (it's important to wash the noodle well to take off all the slippery cooking water.) I was surprised to find the Miyatake was still famous. Point #2. Pay attention to the customers in the shop. I saw young customers with a guidebook, not local salary men, which might indicate the decline of the taste.
My father and I were very upset that we had to try another place to eat good udon. I didn't come to Kagawa to eat Udon from NY. So, we started to drive and saw a shop Ichiya with a parking lot filled with cars and trucks with Kagawa license plates. Point #3. Local salary men and truck drivers know the good places. We entered the shop. I looked around and saw salary men and truck drivers with tired eyes. They looked into the bowl of noddle and kept slurping without looking up. We got on line and ordered the usual Bukkake Udon. The noodles were super al dente with springy a chewiness and silky texture. The noodles had been washed well with ice cold water to tighten the outer layer of udon noodle. They were not too thick and not too long, but had just the right weight and a nice "slurpiness." It was the best udon we had tasted in 3 days. My father and I were in agreement, and we cleared the bowl with happy smile.
I left Kagawa for Kochi with the best udon memory in my heart.