Sponsored by Yuzawa city.
There are two types of popular noodles in Japan. The soba noodles, with a slightly brown color and made from buckwheat flour, and udon noodles, of a white color and prepared with soft wheat flour. Within these two categories, there are plenty of variations to be found, depending on the regions they come from. Three types of udon are best known for their top quality: Sanuki udon, from Kagawa Prefecture, Mizusawa udon from the Gunma Prefecture and finally, Inaniwa udon. Follow me along a trip to Akita Prefecture, in the small city of Yuzawa, to find out all about the artisanal manufacture of one of the three best udon in Japan: the Inaniwa udon.
A 350 year old recipe
The Inaniwa udon recipe dates back to 1665. Unlike the majority of udon noodles that can be found across Japan, Inaniwa udon noodles are very thin. They can be cooked very quickly while keeping the softness udon are known for. The recipe of these udon, appreciated by lords during the Edo Era, was passed down from generation to generation in Sato Yosuke’s family. In 1860, Sato Yosuke opened his own shop and everyone could finally get a taste of his udon. A success that was never questioned. To this day, we can still find Inaniwa udon in high end izakaya all over Japan. In 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture registered the Inaniwa udon on the list of the 100 best regional dishes of Japan.
In the city of Yuzawa, Sato Yosuke’s shop now opens its doors to tourists, allowing them not only to taste the delicious Inaniwa udon in their restaurant, but also to discover all about the production method of these very popular noodles in the Japanese archipelago.
Learning how to make Inaniwa udon
The making of Inaniwa udon spans over four days and follows three different steps. First, you have to prepare the dough from soft wheat flour, then form the udon giving them their unique shape, and finally let them dry. The Sato Yosuke shop offers workshops focused on the second step of the process – the most interesting one. This is a great opportunity to discover and reproduce the ancestral gestures from which the Inaniwa udon get their distinctive shape, well-known for centuries.
With a hairnet on my head and an apron to cover my clothes, I am fully ready to turn into an apprentice for the following hour. My teacher briefly explains the entire Inaniwa udon fabrication process before we finally get started.
Step one: setting up
The dough had already been prepared, wrapped around in thick bits and left to rest for an entire day. The first step consists in stretching the dough a first time and carefully organizing it around two steel bars. A very important step before moving on to the next one.
Nothing is left to chance here, every gesture is careful and precise for the udon noodles in the making to cross without ever overlapping, which is crucial at this stage. I was able to do three rounds of this, just enough to start gaining confidence and allow my gestures to be more precise and fast paced.
Step two: flattening
We can move on to the next step: stretching the udon noodles a bit more and flattening them. We then place the steel bars around which the udon noodles are wrapped on a table equipped with hooks and verify that the noodles are well positioned, meaning not overlapping. We finally use a rolling pin to give the noodles a flat shape.
We then have to unstick the udon once again and check that everything is in place. Little by little, I start to see the Inaniwa udon taking shape.
Last step: stretching
There is one final step to give the udon their shape. This final step is, to me, the most delicate but also the most rewarding one. The noodles are hung using one of the steel bars, ready to be stretched by a gentle caress. This is what will slowly give them the Inaniwa udon thinness. No sudden movement here, you have to be extra careful. If you go too fast, the noodles will break and fall off. Once the noodles reached the height of my knees, my teacher tells me that we are done with this step. The only thing left to do is letting the udon hang down. The last centimetres in their length will be gained naturally, with the weight of the steel bar slowly stretching them down.
And that’s it. The udon, which have become as thin as possible during this process, will now be left to dry for two days. I get to fill a bag with scraps to bring back home. The udon that I just made will be sent directly at my place within a week.
The fascinating gestures I was taught during the workshop are the same ones used to produce all Inaniwa udon to be found in Japan. They are still made by hand, following this same process passed on from generation to generation for centuries. Of course, the expert hands that have been practicing for years can repeat these gestures with an impressive dexterity and fast pace. I could witness my teacher performing these gestures. But even if you do not take part in a workshop, you can still get a chance to witness Sato Yosuke’s craftsmen working in the factory. Large windows allow everyone to watch inside the workspace the craftsmen making Inaniwa udon. Unfortunately for me, I was at the Sato Yosuke shop on a Sunday, when the factory is closed.
To finish: a tasting session
After discovering the different steps of Inaniwa udon making, I was curious to finally taste this famous dish, popular all over Japan. And the good news is Sato Yosuke’s shop comes with a restaurant where you can enjoy a plate of Inaniwa udon, homemade on the spot.
And the Inaniwa udon live up to their reputation, leaving a great sensation in mouth. Smooth and soft, their thinness make them very different from the other udon you can taste in Japan. There are two ways to enjoy Inaniwa udon. With the first one, you will have to dip the noodles in a small bowl of sauce made form soy or sesame, before eating them. This way, the noodles don’t sit for too long in the sauce and maintain all their flavor and firmness. It is a great way to try various types of sauces during one meal. A cold dish which is ideal during summer.
But you can also enjoy the noodles in a broth. The broth’s taste is rather subtle and does not overshadow the udon’s taste. This hot dish is ideal to warm up on a cold winter evening.
Getting to Sato Yosuke
To reach Sato Yosuke in Yuzawa, take a bus at the stop located in front of Yuzawa train station then get on the Ugo Kotsu bus towards Oyasu and stop at Inaniwa naka machi, which is just next to the shop. This trip costs 660 yen.
The workshop costs 1000 yen and you will get to choose whether you pick up the udon you made on the spot a few days later or have them sent. To give you an idea of the pricing, having the udon sent to Tokyo costs 970 yen.
|Category||Restaurant and workshop|
|Address||Inaniwa-80 Inaniwacho, Yuzawa, Akita Prefecture 012-0107|
Inaniwa-80 Inaniwacho, Yuzawa, Akita Prefecture 012-0107
|Opening Hours||11:00 -15:00|
|Price Range||1000 yens for the workshop + shipping cost|
Original text: Joachim Ducos
Translation: Marion Pont