Kake Udon

Keiko Kuroshima

November 11, 2022
Udon is known as a cheap, quick, and tasty Japanese fast food. Although the term "fast food" may be perceived as a recent phenomenon, udon has a long history and has been loved by people throughout Japan for more than 1,000 years.
Udon is known as a cheap, quick, and tasty Japanese fast food. There’s nothing better than slurping down a bowl of boiled udon noodles in a hot, steaming broth. In fact, Kagawa Prefecture, where I live, has the highest udon noodle consumption in Japan. Despite being the country’s smallest prefecture in terms of land area, Kagawa is home to some 544 udon restaurants (as of 2022). The dish is so loved as a fast food that even if other fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s were to enter the prefecture, they would quickly exit the market, losing out to udon restaurants.

Although the term “fast food” may be perceived as a recent phenomenon, udon has a long history and has been loved by people throughout Japan, including Kagawa Prefecture, for more than 1,000 years. Furthermore, while the term “udon” is often used on its own, the noodle is served in a variety of ways, such as bukkake udon, kama-age udon, and zaru udon. It is sometimes served in a Western style nowadays, but kake udon remains at the top of the leader board. It is the most orthodox way to enjoy udon in Japan.

The most important thing that udon restaurants keep in mind is the noodles. Soy sauce is still an afterthought, and I have never heard of an udon restaurant that has explored different ways of using soy sauce. I understand that feeling, but if you change the soy sauce, the taste of the udon also changes. That is why we held an unprecedented kake udon broth tasting event!
Udon with green onions in a bowl

Serving: 1

Ingredients

Noodles

  • 1 packet (about 200g) udon noodles

Broth

  • 200ml dashi (Japanese soup stock)
  •  1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
  •  1 ½ tablespoons mirin
  •  2 tablespoons sake
  • ⅓ teaspoon salt
  • Condiments of your choice (green onions, ginger etc.)
  • Toppings of your choice such as wakame seaweed, tenkasu (crunchy bits of tempura batter), kamaboko (Japanese fish cake), aburaage (deep-fried thin tofu pouches), tempura, etc.

Directions

  1. Add dashi of your choice, soy sauce, mirin, sake, and salt to a pot, and bring to a boil.
  2. Prepare toppings (To keep things simple, I prepared only green onions this time).
  3. Add the udon noodles to a pot of boiling water and cook until the noodles are tender. If you are using frozen or pre-boiled udon noodles, warm them up in the microwave.
  4. Add the cooked udon noodles and hot broth to a bowl, garnish with condiments and toppings of your choice, and the dish is ready to eat.

Taste Comparison

Five kinds of udon noodles in bowls are arranged
We tried adding soy sauce in order from the mildest to the strongest.

Shiro soy sauce (lightest color with a touch of sweetness)

Wow, so sweet! Both shiro soy sauce and udon noodles are made from wheat, so the sweetness of wheat envelopes your mouth. It creates a strange sensation, as if you are eating thick pasta such as fettuccine or linguine rather than udon. Drizzling olive oil over the noodles is another appetizing way to enjoy the dish.

Usukuchi soy sauce (subdued color and aroma with a salty taste)

Usukuchi soy sauce enhances the flavor of the dashi and the udon noodles, adding a refreshing touch. It is also delicious when added with slices of citrus fruits. This type of soy sauce is recommended for those who want to enjoy the flavors of the ingredients. At the time of writing, it was hot, so it was perfect. However, if you want to enjoy kake udon on a cold day, you may want to increase the amount of mirin (e.g. 2 tablespoons) and decrease the amount of salt (e.g. 1/4 teaspoon).

Koikuchi soy sauce (king of soy sauce, good balance of the five flavors)

Although the flavors of the dashi and udon noodles are less noticeable, the broth is richer and more flavorful when koikuchi soy sauce is added.

Sai-shikomi sauce (twice the brewing period and quantity of ingredients of koikuchi soy sauce)

Although the sauce’s rich umami flavor is interesting and enjoyable, the flavors of the broth, udon, and condiments are disjointed and lack cohesiveness.

Tamari soy sauce (soybeans as the main ingredient, characterized by its deep flavor)

Tamari soy sauce is not usually used in kake udon, but it is surprisingly tasty! The rich broth and light udon noodles intertwine well with each other, and the flavor of the soft green onion creates an exquisite harmony that leaves you feeling relaxed and comforted. This dish is especially good in winter.
Generally speaking, usukuchi soy sauce is the best choice when making kake udon. Koikuchi soy sauce is recommended for those who want to savor the richness of the broth and the texture of the udon rather than the dashi and udon’s inherent flavors. Shiro soy sauce is best option for those who love a more Western style dish. Meanwhile, tamari soy sauce is recommended for those who want to enjoy a rich harmony.
Udon with green onions in a bowl

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