25 August 2023
Udon Lunch Day at the Office
You've savored the deep flavors of ramen and appreciated the subtle aroma of soba. But have you experienced the hearty and silky texture of udon? Smooth and wholesome, it's a noodle choice that Japan has held dear for centuries.
On a warm summer day, we treated ourselves to refreshing chilled udon at the office. Paired with our favorite toppings, our usual lunchtime meal became a truly delightful udon-enjoying affair. After seeing trays and bowls filled with our freshly cooked, cool udon, you'll be tempted to recreate this simple pleasure at home!
- The Spark of Udon Inspiration
- Our Shopping List
- In the Kitchen
- Getting Ready to Serve
- Savoring Our Individual Flavors Together
- Next Noodle to Try!
The Spark of Udon Inspiration
So what ignited our udon-craving? During one of our breaks, someone at the office came across an amazing photo of udon that was plated like a work of art and presented in the most delectable way. And what made this seemingly fortuitous moment even better was the fact that we had just received a shipment of new bamboo trays to serve chilled noodles.
The stars were aligned. With all of us in much need of some relief from the grueling heat of this summer, we quickly decided to have a udon-lunch the next day right at the office.
Our Shopping List
The udon we bought for lunch was Mizusawa udon from Gunma Prefecture. There are five famous types of udon in Japan, with Mizusawa udon being one of them. The other four are Sanuki udon (Kagawa Prefecture), Inaniwa udon (Akita Prefecture), Goto udon (Nagasaki Prefecture), and Himi udon (Ishikawa Prefecture). Each has its unique texture and thickness and Mizusawa udon is known for its pleasant chewy and bouncy consistency. It is usually served chilled on a bamboo tray, similar to soba.
We also prepared seasonal vegetables like ginger and shiso, along with eggs, stewed deep-fried tofu pockets, and "Kamaboko" (Japanese fish cakes) as accompaniments.
Unlike soba, which is commonly seasoned with wasabi, cold udon typically uses ginger as its go-to condiment. Freshly grated ginger adds a zesty punch of heat to the dipping sauce.
Crispy tempura enhances the flavor of cooked udon, making it a perfect pairing with any Japanese noodle, whether hot or cold.
In the Kitchen
The first order of business was to set two pots of water to boil. As with any noodle, the key to success lies in boiling them with ample hot water in a large deep pan.
While waiting for the water to come to a boil, we began chopping some vegetables.
With the water now boiling, it was time to cook the noodles.
There's a noticeable weight to the uncooked udon when a bundle is unfurled into the pot. This heft offers a tantalizing hint of the satisfying and hearty meal the cooked udon promises to be.
You can see the strands of udon swaying gracefully in the pot's boiling water, each noodle cooking to just the right tenderness.
Getting Ready to Serve
After boiling the udon for the recommended 8 minutes, we drained the noodles into a colander and gave them a thorough rinse under cold running water.
Trying to twirl the udon as elegantly as depicted in the fancy photo, we arranged them on bamboo trays. While they weren't perfect, the bamboo trays (and green maple leaves) certainly lent an authentic and appetizing touch to our udon.
We also chose to present the udon immersed in ice-cold water. Using an "Ohitsu"–a traditional wooden rice server–we filled it with water and sizable blocks of ice. This approach not only amplified the sensation of coolness but also proved to be a fitting way to serve udon during the summer season.
Savoring Our Individual Flavors Together
We presented the udon in both serving styles. On the table, we had pre-set the soba choko cups filled with a udon dipping sauce, accompanied by the various side dishes and condiments. Making the dipping sauce is straightforward; you can simply dilute concentrated noodle sauces available at stores with water.
After our unified chorus of "Itadakimasu" – the Japanese way of expressing gratitude before a meal - we eagerly began to eat. Each of us customized our dipping sauce to our liking before indulging in the cold udon. Some of us opted for the udon presented on the tray, while others were drawn to the udon served in the icy water.
I seasoned my sauce with the freshly grated ginger for added zest and the chopped summer vegetables. Some chose to incorporate an egg for a richer flavor and immediately went for the tempura. The variations were plentiful and the simple tastiness of the udon noodles was immensely enjoyed by everyone at the table.
Though both serving styles were a hit, the udon served in the Ohitsu, submerged in ice-cold water, truly stood out. This presentation made the udon slightly easier to slurp and imparted a refreshing watery touch, especially welcomed in the summer heat.
The addition of seasonal condiments further elevated the meal. Fresh vegetables provided a crisp contrast, while the warming essence of ginger added depth. Each bite was a delightful fusion of flavors and sensations.
Next Noodle to Try!
After our delightful udon lunch at the office, I thought I had quenched my udon craving. However, by the very next day, I found myself preparing another batch for lunch. I whipped up a warm bowl of "Kitsune" udon this time in my favorite noodle bowl with some cuts of sweet watermelon. There's a distinct charm in lifting those hearty udon noodles with chopsticks, especially when paired with a bite of stewed deep-fried tofu pockets.
So, the next time you're hit with a noodle hankering and are contemplating something other than the ever-popular ramen, delve into the velvety texture of the age-old classic, udon. It's a treat bound to satiate both your hunger and your taste buds.