A Japanese noodle from the Edo Period in Saitama!? The Ippon Udon

Kanto Food Udon 2019.06.12
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Out of all the udon varieties they've got in Japan, mostly making changes to the broth, or mixing different ingredients into the noodle, this one surely is a unique variety of the dish!

Ippon Udon: A Single Giant Udon Noodle

It's hard to really imagine what ippon udon (一本うどん, or single noodle udon) is going to be like when you just hear the name of the dish. Of course, an ordinary bowl of udon will look something like what you'd get at Usami-Tei Matsubaya in Osaka, the originator of the popular kitsune udon: a tangled of noodles piled on top of each other in a nice warm broth made of katsuo-bushi【鰹節:かつおぶし】(bonito flakes) and konbu【昆布:こんぶ】(Japanese Kelp), with a soy sauce based flavor.

That's not exactly what you're going to get with ippon udon... but there's no point sitting and wondering about it when it's about to be placed right in front of you!

Let's go to see for ourselves.
  • The Hanyu Parking Area Along the Tohokujidousha-do
    The Hanyu Parking Area Along the Tohokujidousha-do
    We're here! At the Hanyu Parking Area, in Saitama.

    This parking area is a little different from most others, and that is because the whole area is a reproduction of a cityscape from the Edo Period. That's right, it's instant time travel just an hour away from Tokyo! The Edo-style area is called "Onihei Edo Dokoro" (鬼平江戸処), and it's a little like an open-air museum, except it's all functioning businesses.

    Even more interesting, the Hanyu Parking Area is not only a reproduction of an Edo town, but a town from a story called "Onihei Hankacho", a famous Japanese novel written by Shotaro Ikenami. That's where the name "Onihei" comes from.

    In that famous story, that this little rest stop area is based on, there's a restaurant called "Gotetsu", and can you guess what they served...?
  • Gotetsu
    Gotetsu
    Gotetsu【五鉄:ごてつ】 is of course where they serve this unique dish, the single-strand ippon udon!

    This recreation of the Gotetsu restaurant from Onihei Hankacho is owned and produced by the (very nonfictional) restaurant "Tamahide"【玉ひで】, which has been around since the 1760s! These kinds of restaurants or shops that have been in business for over a century are called Shinise【老舗:しにせ】in Japan, and are their own special part of Japanese culture. Tamahide's specialty is Japanese chicken dishes (try their oyakodon!), and Gotetsu, along the same theme, serves dishes made with a unique Japanese variety of chicken, Shamo chicken. Of course, you should definitely try Shamo chicken's unique flavor if it interests you, but let's not forget why we're here.

    One. Giant. Udon. Noodle.

Nothing like we imagined...

That is one massive piece of ... udon?

We weren't really sure what to call it, but they call it an udon noodle, so it must be some kind of udon.

Taking a look at what is inside, there's the big ol' piece of udon, shredded spring onion, and an onsen tamago (温泉たまご), A.K.A. a Japanese soft boiled egg. At first we thought there might be something coating the outside of the noodle, since the color and texture looked so different from what we expect to see as udon. But no, that's just what happens when you cook a giant noodle in broth, apparently.

The broth seems quite dark, but the flavor isn't overly strong, and the noodle's texture... is kind of like mochi【餅】 rice cake, actually. If you venture over to Gotetsu to try your own bowl, we recommend you try it as it is first, then break the egg yolk and taste the difference.  It makes the dish more rich and creamy, and milds down the flavor a bit.. mmm. Then, mix in the spring onion to add a spicy bite!

Enjoy the changes in the flavors!

So, what's it all about with this udon?

For those who are curious about why Gotetsu (ostensibly a shamo chicken restaurant) made this one-of-a-kind udon, we have to go back to the original theme of the parking area.

Remember how this venue, called the "Onihei Edo Dokoro", is a reproduction of the fictional Edo town seen in Shotaro Ikenami's popular novel? And you know how Gotetsu is a restaurant in that town? Well, that fictional restaurant's specialty is the mysterious "ippon udon." So, even though this dish has a questionable history of actually existing (some say it was real, some say there's little evidence), the owners of Gotetsu thought it was important to develop their own ippon udon, and give visitors that authentic Gotetsu experience. It literally took them three years of development to get to a dish they believed customers would enjoy.

So that's why everyone is making a fuss about this udon! Not only does it look... amazing? But the restaurant worked hard to bring visitors an authentic experience.

So next time you travel towards Saitama, don't forget to stop by at this unique parking area to try the udon from the past!

 

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