The easy-to-slurp and chewy Japanese udon is simple yet deep in its nature – one of the Japanese dishes that attracts people all over the world. The three greatest udon brands in Japan are Sanuki udon of Kagawa Prefecture, Kishimen of Nagoya and the Inaniwa udon we will discuss here.
Inaniwa udon are made in the Inaniwa area of Inakawa machi, Akita prefecture. They are hand-stretched, dried udon that slightly thinner than regular udon yet a bit thicker than somen or hiyamugi noodles, and are cream colored. The udon is kneaded on a starchy-floured board and flattened before drying, and perhaps the most important part of the making process is the repeated hand-kneading that follows. The noodles get kneaded and gradually shaped into their final form, and are then ready to be aged for a while. The aged udon are then kneaded again and again by hand so that they take in as many air bubbles as possible. Because of these air bubbles, udon can be kept for hours even after they are boiled, according to studies done by the Akita Research Institute of Food and Brewing. The air bubbles are also believed to make the udon chewy as well.
The history of Inaniwa udon goes back to the beginning of the Edo era, in the early 17th century. There was a man named Sato Ichibee living in the nearby area, and he was making different kinds of noodles such as dried udon, using the local high quality flour. His udon was popular for its highly elegant taste. His techniques were passed on from generation to generation, and as a result of further improvements, udon even became a tribute to domain lords. It is said that the current production process was established around 1665.
The production of Inaniwa udon requires careful selection of ingredients and human effort, so they cannot be made in large quantities. Because of that, the majority of people did not have a chance to eat them back in the old days. In fact, it was only after the Meiji era that udon became known as the local specialty of Akita prefecture. Their name spread after they were offered as a gift to the Imperial Household Agency and won awards at various expositions. In 2007, Inaniwa udon was chosen as one of Japan’s 100 Best Local Dishes of Rural Areas by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Inaniwa udon used to be a food for a few select people, but thanks to modern production techniques and its delicate taste, it is now enjoyed by many at home.
Photo by Sato Yoske Ltd.
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