Swooning over udon
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Why are noodle addicts so strung out on udon? Jasmine Stevens recently revealed to me the reasons behind the cult following of the thick, sturdy Japanese wheat noodles. As assistant manager at Iyo Udon, she certainly knows her stuff, from the process of making the noodles to the different ways to enjoy them. While ramen has been all the rage these days, udon deserves its fair share of attention.
What makes udon stand out from other noodles? I ask Stevens. “With udon, the texture is like mochi,” she explains. Oh so satisfyingly firm with a stick-to-your-teeth chewiness, it’s definitely something to swoon over.
Iyo Udon makes its noodles onsite so diners can enjoy them at peak freshness. “Upstairs we press the noodles, and they’re cut down here so the customers can see,” Stevens explains.
Sneak a peek in the kitchen through a window near the eatery’s exit. You’ll see the giant device used to cut the noodles from large sheets of dough and cooks stirring boiling pots of the pasta. Noodles are cooked first, then cooled before they’re ready to be served.
Order Zaru ($3.75, regular) — cold noodles served on a bamboo mat with umami-rich kake broth on the side — to take advantage of the slight increase in density in the noodle’s chilled state. “I like when it’s separate because you get more of the texture of the noodle,” says Stevens. “You get the flavor of the broth, and you still get the consistency.”
Presented in a traditional wooden vessel, Kamaage ($4.75, large), on the other hand, plucked right from the boiler after five minutes of cooking — normal cooking time is 14 minutes — is noticeably more supple. “When it comes out, it feels different. This one is kind of,” she pauses, searching for the right word, “silky.”
The kamaage noodles swim in the pasta water and diners fish them out for dipping in a small bowl of bukkake, the stronger, more concentrated version of kake. Serving the noodles with their own cooking water keeps the flavor purer. “That’s the best way to describe it,” explains Stevens.
Curry lovers will appreciate Iyo Udon’s twist on its favorite dish. Swap out rice for udon noodles and you have Curry Udon ($5.25, regular). Also, “you get that more chewy texture,” Stevens shares. The hefty strands are the perfect vehicle for the savoriness of pork and onion curry, seasoned with the restaurant’s kake broth. “If customers don’t want soup, they can get the curry, which has a thicker consistency,” says Stevens. Don’t worry. It’s not spicy, she assures.
Can you feel the contrast between the different udon dishes? If so you, you’re well on your way to noodle connoisseurship. Other good news: Patrons age 65 and over receive 10 percent off their entire order on Mondays, and the eatery is happy to take advanced orders for take out, just call ahead. And don’t hesitate to make suggestions for new menu items. The restaurant welcomes feedback.
Ala Moana Center Second Floor, Mauka, Ewa Wing
Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.