All About Udon: A Comprehensive Guide to This Japanese Noodle Dish and Its Regional Varieties
When it comes to famous noodle dishes from Japan, you've definitely heard about ramen. But what about udon? You can enjoy this thick noodle dish in a variety of ways by simply switching up the soup broth or toppings. It makes for a great, filling, and delicious lunch or dinner any time of the year. On top of that, there are a huge number of regional varieties to be found around Japan, and the world of udon is more deep and complex than you might expect! Here is everything need to know about this beloved noodle dish from Japan.
Apr 15 2019 (Feb 05 2020)
Udon is one of the most well-known Japanese dishes around the world, and you've likely seen or tried it at least once! These flour-based noodles have been around in Japan for centuries, and were originally consumed as a substitute during a period where rice wasn't easily obtainable. Now udon is widely adored by both adults and children alike all over Japan and abroad!
Udon can be served either hot or cold, and depending on how you order it, the way you eat it changes, too. It's often topped with green onions, shredded seaweed, and a sprinkle of Japanese chili flakes (ichimi or shichimi seasoning). Other common toppings include ginger, sesame seeds, and tenkasu (fried bits of deep-fried tempura batter), and you're free to adjust the flavors to your own preferences. Here are some popular ways in which udon is served and some tips on how to eat them!
General Udon Varieties
Kake udon: The most simple type of udon. Freshly boiled udon noodles that are placed in a bowl with hot tsuyu (soup broth) poured over it. In the Kanto region, it's only topped with green onions, but in the Kansai region, it's typically topped with a variety of different ingredients and is often called "su udon." The tsuyu is mildly seasoned and on the lighter side with the assumption that you'll drink it after you finish the noodles. It usually comes with a long wooden spoon to help you drink the soup. Since the noodles are soaked in the hot liquid, it's best to eat them quickly before they get too soft!
Tsukimi udon: Kake udon with a raw egg on top. Tsukimi roughly translates into "gazing at the moon" in Japanese. In this case, the egg whites represent the clouds in the sky and the yolk represents the moon!
Kamaage udon: Boiled noodles are added into a bowl with some of the water they were boiled in. Pour soy sauce over it or dip it in some tsuyu. The noodles aren't chilled immediately with cold water, so they're soft and not as firm and chewy. Kamaage udon in Miyazaki is slightly thinner than it is in other regions.
Kamatama udon: Kamatama udon with an egg cracked on top. It has very little liquid and it is only seasoned with tsuyu or soy sauce. The addition of the egg results in a mellow flavor.
Bukkake udon: After the noodles are boiled and strained, pour a little bit of soy sauce over it to eat. Toppings can vary according to personal preference.
Kitsune udon: Udon topped with an extremely popular topping called "aburaage," a sheet of fried tofu that is boiled in a sweet sauce. Some regions call it by different names, and in Osaka, where this variation originates from, it's simply called "kitsune."
Tanuki udon: Udon topped with tenkasu.
Curry udon: Udon in hot, curry-flavored tsuyu. In many households, it's made by thinning out leftover curry with tsuyu, then boiling it together with udon. It can also be made by dissolving curry roux in tsuyu.
Niku udon: Niku (meat) udon, as its name implies, is udon topped with a helping of stewed meat. Many places use pork that is cooked in a sweet sauce. It's often served hot, but there are also cold versions for the summer season.
Kenchin udon: A popular winter udon dish in which udon is added into a soup made with stir-fried daikon radish, carrots, burdock, taro, konjac, and tofu simmered in dashi (broth).
Chikara udon: Udon topped with roasted mochi (rice cake). The mochi mixes in with the noodles to create a deliciously sticky texture.
Tempura udon: Udon topped with tempura, another staple udon topping. The most common toppings are either shrimp tempura or kakiage (a cluster of shrimp and vegetable tempura). When topped with only kakiage, it is called "kakiage udon."
Yaki udon: Pan-fried udon that is cooked with a variety of different seasonings, such as dashi with a thick soy sauce-based sauce.
Nabeyaki udon: Udon that is stewed in a pot and topped with a variety of items, such as tempura, vegetables, and eggs. The noodles lose some of their springy texture, and the tsuyu soaks into the soft noodles.
Zaru udon: Chilled udon served on top of a zaru (bamboo tray). The boiled noodles are chilled with cold water, which you then dip in cold tsuyu. The tsuyu is often strong in flavor. When topped with shredded seaweed, it's called "zaru udon," but without the seaweed, it's called "mori udon."
Hiyakake udon: Boiled and chilled noodles with cold dashi poured over it.
Hiyashi bukkake udon: The noodles are boiled and strained, then chilled with cold water. Concentrated tsuyu is poured over the noodles to eat. Toppings can vary with items like green onions or grated daikon radish.
Salad udon: Boiled noodles that are chilled and topped with vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes. A small amount of tsuyu is poured over it. Soy sauce and mayonnaise-seasoned tuna is a popular topping.
Regional Udon Varieties
Hokkaido and Tohoku Region
Many of the local noodle dishes in this region are made using dried noodles and make use of dry and preserved goods that can be kept in the house for long periods, which may be attributed to the cold climate.
Mugi Kakke (Aomori, Iwate)
Mugi Kakke is a traditional regional noodle dish in Aomori and Iwate Prefecture. The noodles are cut in a unique triangle shape. The locals originally created this dish to use leftover scraps of soba (buckwheat noodles), which were called "kakera." They're cooked in a hot pot, then dipped in garlic miso paste or green onion miso paste, which are specialties of the Tohoku region.
Gosetsu Udon (Hokkaido)
The noodles of Gosetsu Udon are made with the starch of potatoes, which are a local specialty product of the town of Kutchan, one of the snowiest areas in Hokkaido. Gosetsu means "heavy snowfall," and the noodles are a brilliant, transparent white color that is said to symbolize the new snowfall in the area. The texture and flavor are quite different from udon noodles made only with flour.
Azuki Batto (Aomori, Iwate)
Azuki Batto is a traditional dish of udon noodles in a sweet red bean soup that has been eaten in the southeastern part of Aomori and the central and northern areas of Iwate since long ago. It's said that in some parts of Iwate, they pass out this dish to their neighbors when someone is wed.
Ankake Udon (Iwate)
This local specialty is eaten during the harsh winters in Iwate. The soup is thickened into ankake (thick, starchy sauce made with corn starch) to help warm the body from the inside. The ankake is made with a soy sauce base and has a very light flavor.
Inaniwa Udon (Akita)
Inaniwa Udon is one of the most well-known dishes of this region, and is a popular local specialty within Akita and throughout Japan. The noodles are thin and flat, and look more similar to somen (very thin wheat noodles) than udon. They're very smooth and easy to slurp!
Hippari Udon (Yamagata)
This is a popular udon dish in the inlands of Yamagata. Udon is boiled in a pot, then pulled out into a separate dish and mixed with natto (fermented soy beans) and canned mackerel. "Hippari" means "pull" in Japanese, which refers to how the noodles are "pulled" from the pot.
Shiroishi Umen (Miyagi)
Shiroishi Umen were first made over 400 years ago. It's said that a child, whose father lay ill for many days without food, learned how to make noodles that are made without any oil from a traveling monk. The father was able to recover afterwards, and the noodles were dubbed "Umen" (warm noodles) by the Katakura clan of Shiroishi Castle to commemorate the child's warm devotion to the parents.
These hand-made noodles are thin, healthy, and great for digestion. It's said that these noodles later carried on over to Akita, which evolved into the popular Inaniwa Udon.
Amattare Udon (Miyagi)
Amattare Udon are a relatively new type of udon. The noodles are mixed with a special sweet sauce (amattare), then topped with an egg yolk and spring onions. Since they're made with dry noodles, it's easy and quick to make!
The Kanto region, specifically in the northern parts, has a high wheat production, which has influenced much of its traditional local cuisine. Gunma is the wheat capital of Japan, and Saitama is the 2nd largest wheat producer in the country, so there's a particularly wide udon selection in this region! Many of the handmade noodles here have unique characteristics, and are very chewy and firm.
Mimi Udon (Tochigi)
This is a local specialty dish from Sano, Tochigi, that is often eaten at New Years for good luck. The noodles are folded into a unique ear shape, and the name translates into "ear udon." The ears are said to represent the ears of a bad deity - if you eat its ears, it won't be able to hear anything about what's happening in your household, so no bad luck will fall on your family for the rest of the year! The noodles are chewy and topped with plenty of different toppings.
Himokawa Udon (Gunma)
Kiryu, Gunma, is one of the leading producers of wheat in Japan, so many of their local dishes are based around wheat. Himokawa Udon is one of their many traditional foods, and is known particularly for its thin and wide noodles; depending on the store, the noodles can range from 1.5 cm to 10 cm in width, and are as thin as 1 mm! They're chewy and smooth, and can be served hot and cold.
One of the representative noodles of Gunma, this is a dish of thick, fresh noodles stewed together with seasonal vegetables in miso or soy sauce-based tsuyu. Root vegetables are the most commonly used ingredients, and the noodles are made without salt and are added into the soup raw instead of cooked in advance. The name comes from how the noodles are cut and added directly into the pot from the kitchen knife, which is expressed in Japanese as "kirikomu" (cut and throw in).
Mizusawa Udon (Gunma)
A popular cold udon dish from the Mizusawa area of Shibukawa, Gunma. It was first created over 400 years ago to serve to visitors of Mizusawa Temple. The dough is left to mature for a period of time to produce a very chewy texture. It's often served as zaru udon, and the dipping sauce can vary from soy sauce to sesame.
Hiyajiru Udon (Saitama)
Hiyajiru (or Hiyashiru) Udon is a popular homecooked dish in the Omiya, Kawagoe, and Kazo areas of Saitama. Sesame seeds, white miso paste, perilla leaves, and sugar are ground together in a mortar, then thinned out with cold water or dashi and mixed together to create the tsuyu. It's often topped with ginger and thin slices of cucumber.
Musashino Udon (Tokyo)
Musashino Udon is an udon dish from an area that stretches from the Tama region of Tokyo to eastern Saitama. The noodles are on the thicker side with a slightly light brown and gray coloring from the addition of wheat bran. They're very firm and are not slippery or smooth. It's often eaten as tsukemen (dipping noodles), with a strong flavored bonito base dipping sauce.
Naritomi Udon (Chiba)
A new type of creative udon from Narita, Chiba. The noodles are thin and roughly the same size as pasta noodles. As a symbol of Narita as an international city, the noodles are often prepared in a variety of global culinary methods, such as Western, Chinese, and Korean.
Hokuriku and Koshinetsu Region
The noodles are usually moderately firm in this area, with some locals preferring soft noodles.
Himi Udon (Toyama)
This is a traditional regional dish from Himi, Toyama. The noodles are slippery, thin, and firm, and are served both hot and cold. Toyama is known for its abundant catch of fresh seafood, so the udon is often served together with various seafood tempura. The noodles have also made an appearance in the popular smartphone game Puzzles & Dragons as its own character!
Oshibori Udon (Nagano)
Oshibori Udon is a spicy udon that's served as kamaage udon. The spiciness comes from a daikon radish called "nezumi daikon" (mouse daikon), a stubby daikon with a small "tail" that makes it look like a mouse. The daikon is squeezed to release its spicy juices, which are mixed with miso paste to make the dipping sauce.
Yoshida no Udon (Yamanashi)
The handmade noodles are thick, long, and very firm - firmer than many other udon varieties out there! Since they're quite tough, instead of slurping them up, you chew them. The soup is made with a seafood dashi and an original miso paste. It's often made with plenty of vegetables, then topped with meat.
As this area tends to prefer rich, concentrated flavors in their local cuisine, the udon served here are prepared with strong flavors.
Tsurumurasaki Udon (Gifu)
The "tsurumurasaki" of Tsuramurasaki Udon refers to a leaf vegetable found in tropical Asia. While it was often admired as a decorative plant in Japan since the Edo period (1603 - 1868), it began to be used in cooking roughly 20 years ago in Mugegawa, Gifu, to help improve the eating habits of the residents. At first, it wasn't very popular due to its low relatively unknown name. It was then made into a powder, which was incorporated into udon batter to make this healthy, green noodle! It's chewy yet soft, and easy to slurp down.
Nagoya Kishimen (Aichi)
Noodles that are flat and thin are called "kishimen," but when referred to as Nagoya Kishimen, it must satisfy certain requirements including where the ingredients were made or how the noodles were manufactured. It's often served in a miso-base tsuyu with kamaboko (boiled fish paste).
We've gone in-depth into kishimen in our our article, 5 Recommended Places for Kishimen, Nagoya's Comfort Food.
Miso Nikomi Udon (Aichi)
A local dish of Nagoya that has extremely strong and deep flavors. Udon is stewed in a pot with a Hatcho miso-base soup with all kinds of toppings: chicken, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, raw eggs, you name it!
Toyohashi Curry Udon (Aichi)
Curry udon with the name Toyohashi Curry Udon have to pass 5 conditions: the noodles are handmade; the bowl should be arranged so that there's rice on the bottom, then grated mountain yam, followed by curry udon; must include Toyohashi quail eggs; must include either fukujinzuke, tsubozuke, beni-shoga (pickled vegetables); must be made with love. The mountain yam cuts down the strong flavors of the curry, changing the flavors of the dish the more it gets mixed.
Ise Udon (Mie)
While many udon are adored for their firm texture, Ise Udon has extremely thick but soft noodles. The noodles are boiled until they become nice and soft, and they're chewy due to their size. A black, concentrated sauce is then poured over it, then topped with sliced spring onions.
Many of the udon dishes in the Kansai region make use of various local specialty products.
Wakame Udon (Hyogo)
The noodles are made with a mix of flour and wakame (seaweed) from Awaji Island, which is known for its high production of wakame. This results in a bright green color without the use of any artificial coloring. Other noodles made with wakame are made with dried wakame that has been turned into powder, but the Wakame Udon here is made by mashing up fresh seaweed before mixing it in with the noodles.
Bokkake Udon (Hyogo)
This is a simple flavored dish that originates in the Nagata area of Kobe City. This udon is topped with beef tendon and konjac stewed in dashi with other vegetables. It's said that the name "bokkake" originates from the word "bukkakeru," or "pouring broth over the noodles."
Kasu Udon (Osaka)
Udon topped with abura-kasu, which adds the rich umami of beef to the dish. Abura-kasu, beef offal that is deep fried at a low temperature, is a traditional ingredient in the Minamikawachi area of Osaka. It has a crispy texture, but a unique, firm chewiness when you bite into it. When it's added to the udon broth, it releases a delicious fragrance. It goes very well with soft noodles.
Kinchaku Kitsune Udon (Nara)
A unique variation of kitsune udon in which the noodles are inside the aburaage, which acts as a pouch (kinchaku)! The "pouch" is tied up at the top with green onion, and dashi is poured over it.
Ume Udon (Wakayama)
One of Wakayama's most famous local products is the Nanko ume (plum). Ume Udon is made by kneading the famed Kishu Nanko ume into the noodles, giving them a soft, pink color. The meat from the ume is also used in the tsuyu to give it a refreshing aroma. There's ume in the noodles, tsuyu, and also on top! It makes for a really refreshing meal during summers.
Chugoku and Shikoku Region
Many of the udon from this region are very popular, and are quite well-known throughout Japan.
Tsuyama Horumon-yaki Udon (Okayama)
A local specialty in the Tsuyama area of Okayama that grew in popularity after appearing in a gourmet contest. It's a type of yaki udon that uses beef horumon (offal), and fries it together with vegetables and sauce. The flavoring and ways to eat it change depending on the shop.
Sanuki Udon (Kagawa)
Sanuki Udon from Kagawa, the udon prefecture of Japan, is one of the most famous types of regional udon. It's characterized by its unique firmness and chewy texture. It's very smooth and easy to slurp up. It's extremely popular with Kagawans and has deep roots in the food culture of the region. It's often eaten as bukkake in summer and kamaage in winter.
To learn more about Sanuki udon and where to find it, check out our 10 Recommended Sanuki Udon Places in Kagawa!
Naruchuru Udon (Tokushima)
Naruchuru Udon is from the city of Naruto in Tokushima Prefecture. The "churu" in its name is the sound that's made when you slurp up the noodles. The noodles are flat and uneven, so you can enjoy the different textures while sipping on the light, soy sauce-flavored broth. It's often topped with chopped aburaage and spring onions.
Kyushu and Okinawa Region
This region incorporates many of their local specialties in their udon.
Kokura Niku Udon (Fukuoka)
Kokura, Fukuoka, has a particularly unique meat eating culture represented by their udon, which contains chunks of diced beef tendon, a huge serving of ginger, and dark tsuyu. The meat is stewed in a salty and sweet broth until it becomes tender.
Maruten Udon (Fukuoka)
This udon is topped with a unique topping called "maruten," a boiled and deep-fried fish paste product. In Fukuoka, maruten is considered tempura. It's shaped into a circle, hence the name maruten ("maru" means "round"). If you hear "tempura udon" in this area, it most likely is referring to Maruten Udon.
Kashiwa Udon (Fukuoka)
Salty and sweet chicken, referred to as "kashiwa" by the locals, is a popular staple in this area. This udon variety makes use of one of the go-to toppings of the area both in the dashi and by topping it with minced pieces.
Goto Udon (Nagasaki)
These handpulled udon from the the Goto Islands of Nagasaki are very popular for their excellent texture and taste. The noodles are firm, smooth, and light, and are made with only premium, natural ingredients from the islands. Camellia oil is used in the manufacturing process to give the noodles their glossy sheen. Recently they've been used in many different food arrangements including pasta dishes!
Sara Udon (Nagasaki)
Sara Udon (plate udon) was said to have been created as a yakisoba (fried noodle) version of champon, another famous Nagasaki noodle dish. Sara Udon is often made with crunchy, thin noodles, but in Nagasaki, it is sometimes made with the thick champon noodles instead. The noodles are stir fried with a variety of vegetables and meats commonly used in champon. It looks very similar to champon, with the biggest difference being the plate and the lack of soup!
Gomadashi Udon (Oita)
Gomadashi Udon is a regional udon specialty from Saiki, Oita. The udon is topped with a fish sesame paste called "gomadashi" that's made by mashing together white fish, sesame seeds, and soy sauce. It's said that the paste was invented by fishermen who were looking for ways to store their big catches of fish for long periods and cook them simply.
Mozuku Udon (Okinawa)
Mozuku Udon is made with wheat flour and mozuku (stringy seaweed) from Okinawa. Mozuku has a slimy texture that helps make the udon smooth and springy. It also has a plethora of great health benefits! This dish is often served as zaru udon.
Explore Japan's Many Udon Dishes!
That wraps up our introduction into the world of udon! Even though we introduced a ton of varieties, there are actually many more that we had to leave out. Be sure to be on the lookout for new and interesting types of udon during your stay in Japan!
If you want to learn more about udon, why not learn to make it for yourself? We've covered a unique, off-the-beaten-path tour and cooking class in a historic area of Tokyo. Find out all you need to know in our feature: Learn How to Make Udon and Tempura From Scratch With a Hands-On Experience in Hino, Tokyo.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.