Udon, the New Noodle in Town
Wintertime is the best season to cozy up with a bowl of steamy udon, especially after completing a hectic day of Christmas shopping. While everyone is gushing about ramen this, ramen that, udon is where my true love lies. Sanuki udon, the long, thick, white noodle that is a specialty of the Kagawa region in Japan, is my noodle of choice. What’s the appeal? Well, for one, it’s a denser, heavier noodle, and secondly, its silkiness and springy texture make for the best “slur-pathon.”
I’d happily devour a bowl of savory udon every day for as long as I could. Made of kneaded wheat dough, each strand of chewy udon encapsulates the broth’s distinct flavors, whatever they may be.
At this week’s OYK restaurants, I was exposed to two different interpretations of udon — one as a main entree and the other as an after-dinner treat.
So, with chopsticks in hand, move over, ramen. There’s a new noodle in town!
Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant
Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant is a winter wonderland. A perfect choice on these chillier days, the nabe-style restaurant offers delicious hot pot and sukiyaki options to warm up to.
The shoyu-based Ichiriki Nabe is deemed the best-selling broth, and I love pairing it with USDA Choice Ribeye Chanko ($21.95 dinner). Imagine a plate full of tender slices of top-grade beef, salmon, shrimp, bok choy, chives, gobo, kuzukiri noodles, tofu, aburage, Chinese cabbage, enoki, shimeji, shiitake and eryngii mushrooms. All this is added to the nabe, making for a filling and flavor-intensified dish. Also tsukune, Ichiriki’s homemade meat-balls — composed of pork, tofu, green onions and egg — is a stand-out nabe ingredient that’s made in-house daily.
Owner Issei Kazama says that, in Japan, nabe typically is identified as a winter dish. You’re probably wondering how udon plays into the interactive dining experience. Here’s the deal: Every nabe experience ends with a choice of ramen, udon or Japanese rice porridge, also known as Zosui.
While all three selections are equally delicious, I prefer udon because it’s a thicker noodle with a smooth finish, featuring just the right amount of chewiness in every bite. Udon acts like a sponge, soaking up every last drop of zesty broth.
Just like that, round two of your meal has begun. And, if you’re one to savor sukiyaki, finishing off with udon also is recommended by Ichiriki staff.
Although udon may appear as an afterthought at a restaurant best known for its nabe, know that because of the wide variety of broths, each bowl of udon will burst with new and enticing flavors with every visit.
Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant
510 Piikoi St. #102 (and other locations)
The name alone sets high expectations for udon aficionados. Iyo Udon, one of the newest hot spots at Ala Moana Center, welcomes patrons with a warm reception of quality Sanuki udon made from 100 percent domestically produced wheat flour daily, using a special machine. Chefs hand-craft bowls of udon to patrons’ liking, as they go through the cafeteria-style service line. The menu is simple, featuring nine various udon and two rice bowl options.
In pursuit of an udon classic? Kake Udon ($3.75), served in hot broth, and Ontama Niku Bukkake Udon ($6.25), which is complemented by a half boiled egg and seasoned beef, are on point. The udon soaks in an original soy-based fish broth, making for a supreme savoriness that’s definitely worth writing home about. Also, choose to top off any bowl of udon with sliced ginger, garlic, green onion and tempura flakes. An assortment of freshly made tempura and musubi is up for grabs, too.
So, amid the holiday frenzy, I find bowls of delicious comfort at Iyo Udon.
Ala Moana Center Second Floor, Mauka, Ewa Wing