Curry and Udon (thick wheat flour noodles). When you put them together, you get Curry Udon. This curry dish variation has been around since the early 1900s, and its popularity only grows with each passing year. Let’s dig in!
Curry Udon, as its name implies, is udon served in a curry-flavored broth. It may come with vegetables and meat that can be typically found as curry ingredients. Because it’s a hot soup dish, it’s extremely popular during the winter season.
It originates from a dish known as Curry Nanban, which was actually a bowl of soba topped with curry, duck meat, and a heavy amount of green onion, since the word ‘nanban’ refers to food of this style. Today, Curry Nanban can be served with either soba (thin buckwheat noodles) or udon noodles with its defining green onions resting atop the sauce.
The creation of Curry Udon is attributed to a famous soba restaurant that was once located near Waseda University called Sancho-an. Sancho-an was a well-liked eatery, even as its clientele changed over the years. Sancho-an sadly closed its doors without notice in July 2018, but we still enjoy their creation to this day.
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Udon, probably the most important ingredient, is a thick noodle made from wheat flour, usually white in color. It is usually served with a mild broth made from dashi (stock usually made from soaking kelp, dried fish, or dried shiitake mushrooms), soy sauce, and mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine) and topped with thinly chopped scallions. Udon can be found in its fresh, frozen, or instant varieties in Japanese grocery stores.
Japanese curry is sweeter and tamer than its spicier Indian predecessor. It was brought over to Japan when Anglo-Indian officers of the Royal Navy introduced it to Japan. Curry, or kare, was then classified as yoshoku (western style food) since it did not originate in Japan and was adjusted for Japanese tastes over time, becoming the now famous Japanese curry rice.
Like most western style food, it was originally a high-class dish eaten by the wealthy, but over time became popular among the general population. In the early twentieth century, Japanese curry saw a boom in popularity among the general population thanks to the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army, leading to plenty of curry dishes like Japanese curry bread.
Today, curry remains a famous tradition in the Maritime Self-Defense Force with each ship having its own recipe and serving it every Friday. Japanese curry usually has stewed meat and vegetables like carrots, onions, and potatoes and is simmered until thickened. It’s usually made from curry powder, flour, and oil, or instant curry roux.
When making Curry Udon, the noodles and curry are cooked separately. The udon is usually cooked according to package directions, but here are two simple yet delicious ways on how the soup can be cooked. You can also use pre-cooked, store-bought curry packs available at your local Japanese grocery store or convenience store.
If you have some Japanese curry left over from a previous meal, you could scoop a portion of it into a steaming hot bowl of dashi and mix it carefully before adding it to your cooked udon. This option is commonly seen in Japanese convenience stores like 7-11.
If you don’t have leftover curry, you have nothing to worry about! You can use instant curry roux to make your Curry Udon! Simply start by sauteing some onions before you add your preferred meat, making sure that it is fully cooked and no longer red before you pour in your dashi (a little Japanese sake, or rice wine, is also an optional addition at this point).
Bring it to a boil and skim off any scum that gathers on the top before you add in your instant curry roux. Make sure that your roux has fully dissolved and voila! Your curry soup is complete!
Today, Curry Udon has become a noodle dish that can be found all over Japan in udon and soba restaurants. However, some regions have managed to create their own version of the dish.
In Aichi Prefecture’s Nagoya City, Curry Udon is quite different from the nationally recognized version. Unlike the dashi base used in regular Curry Udon, Nagoya-style Curry Udon uses a chicken-based soup used for ramen as its soup base along with a unique blend of various blends, much like Indian Curry.
Another difference is the wheat flour that thickens the roux as opposed to potato starch. This creates a murky, thick curry roux that is stronger and firmer than normal. It is served with extra-thick udon noodles that create a rather chewy texture when placed into the curry. For this Nagoya-style version, it’s more accurate to describe it as udon in curry rather than the other way around.
Also hailing from Aichi Prefecture, Toyohashi Curry Udon is a rather new invention. In 2009, Toyohashi’s Tourism Association requested that a local noodle association create a new dish that would promote local cuisine. After many taste tests, this style was heavily featured in the Golden Week of 2010.
There are five requirements that the dish has to fulfill in order to be deemed Toyohashi-style Curry Udon:
Thanks to the layered characteristics of the dish, it is possible to enjoy the dish as a simple rice dish after eating all the udon.
It should be no surprise that even Hokkaido has its own style of Curry Udon. Like Toyohashi’s offering, Biei style was created to help boost the town’s economy through local foods. There are currently three different styles of Biei Curry Udon offered in the town: tsukemen (dipping noodle) style, grilled, and kake (hot noodles in broth) style.
Kake-style or Kakemen is only available during the winter season (November to March). Although they differ in style, each of them share certain rules like using local wheat flour, local meats and vegetables, and serving the meal with Biei milk. Above all, each meal should be 1200 yen or less.
Have you ever tried Curry Udon? Did you know about the history of this dish? Tell us about your thoughts in the comments below!
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