By Nanashi, an Asahi Customer and Guest Blogger
Austin now has a couple of gourmet ramen shops, but udon and soba fans still have to rely on self-help and grocery stores like Asahi to recreate their favorite noodle dishes.
It is easy to make udon at home, and many local supermarkets carry it. However, it’s hard to find specialty udon. At Asahi, there is one udon that stands out from the rest. It’s mysteriously labeled “Sanuki Udon” 讃岐うどん, and it’s a bit more expensive than run-of-the mill udon. Why?
Asahi staff explained that Sanuki Udon is a style that has a more chewy, silky mouth-feel.
It turns out that Sanuki Udon is a style of udon made in Kagawa Prefecture, where, according to a 2004 Web Japan article (http://web-japan.org/trends/lifestyle/lif040116.html), the per capita udon consumption is seven times the national average.
In Japan, the craze for Sanuki Udon is apparently attributed to a professor and magazine publisher, Tao Kazutoshi (田尾和俊), who wrote the four-volume Osorubeki Sanuki Udon (The Magic of Sanuki Udon) featuring udon shops in Kagawa Prefecture.
An interesting Japan Times article covers his journey (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2000/12/23/national/kagawa-folks-get-to-bottom-of-their-udon-bowls-in-more-ways-than-one/#.U_TfI0vr7_4).
If you can read Japanese, this Sanuki Udon website allows you to obsess even further. There is even a radio show.
But what does all this mean for the Austin cook? Does Sanuki Udon really merit the higher price?
A taste test reveals that ordinary, long-life udon (the kind in the picture) tastes floury and doughy. They are often made in the US. Normally sold in a vacuum packed single-serve plastic packet, it needs no refrigeration and takes a longer time to cook. The noodles look stiff and irregular. Even when cooked, they remain paper-white and opaque.
In contrast, Asahi’s frozen Sanuki Udon, imported from Japan, melts instantly in hot water and is ready in a few minutes. Do not overcook it, for it is meant to be eaten slightly al dente. When cooked, the noodles have a lovely translucent quality. You know it’s done when the noodles unravel. Have a bite before you take them out of the pot, just to be sure.
True Sanuki Udon is usually eaten with a bonito and kelp broth (dashi). If you are a connoisseur you can make dashi from scratch, or you could start off with a dashi powder or bottled dashi stock from Asahi (many kinds available). However, I make a simple udon dashi with just the following ingredients: hot water, bonito flakes, mirin, and the best quality light soya sauce you have. Use whatever quantity of each that suits your taste. Use more bonito flakes than you think you need, for they are shaved very thin and too much isn’t too much.
Let the bonito flakes steep for about 5 minutes and your dashi is ready to pour onto your Sanuki Udon. You may remove the soggy bonito flakes before eating if you like. To me, this simple dashi is better-tasting than any kind of pre-made, bottled dashi.
Curry Udon isn’t a true style of Sanuki Udon, but it’s really popular in Japan. You make the curry sauce with instant curry cubes (also available at Asahi). It takes no time at all. Since we are in Austin, why not add some roasted green hatch chiles to the curry instead of the usual carrot-and-potato mix. If you are tired of the taste of instant curry cubes, you can always add all kinds of seasonings to it: extra curry powder, chili powder, garam masala, roasted cumin, or (perhaps and?) soya sauce.