Udon (うどん) is a white long noodle often (but not always) made from wheat that is usually served hot with a broth or cold with a dipping sauce. Originally, udon is thought to have come from China, which had earlier access to wheat than Japan, by way of Fukuoka Prefecture. Udon noodles, as we know them today, had a boom in popularity in the Edo period and have been a staple for home cooks and restaurants ever since.
From famous styles, like Sanuki udon (讃岐 うどん), to lesser-known delicacies, like Mimi udon (耳 うどん), this primer dives deep into the best Japanese udon noodles across the country. While ramen is more well-known, udon is no less delicious and has many regional variations. Whether you like your noodles chewy or pillowy, cold or hot, thin or thick, or wheat or potato, there is an udon type in Japan for every noodle lover! Below are ten kinds of udon from across the country guaranteed to whet your appetite.
1. Sanuki Udon (Kagawa)
With udon eaten at New Year’s instead of the traditional soba noodles and having the most udon restaurants per capita, it’s no surprise that Kagawa is nicknamed the udon prefecture. Drawing on Kagawa’s historical name, Sanuki, this udon is often topped with ginger and green onions. The prefecture has historically leaned more on wheat as a staple grain because of relatively low rice production due to its geography and climate. Combined with abundant salt from the Seto Sea, Kagawa was the perfect place to develop the characteristically firm, chewy and squarish-shaped noodles.
Famous local shop: Udon Honjin Yamadaya Main Branch
2. Inaniwa Udon (Akita)
With Sanuki and Mizusawa udon (水沢うどん), Inaniwa udon (稲庭うどん) is one of Japan’s three great udon noodles. Named after the small town of Inaniwa-cho where it was first made, these noodles were often prized gifts given by Akita Prefecture’s daimyo (regional leader) to the shogun (military governor) on official trips to Edo (Tokyo) during the feudal era. Inaniwa udon is distinct for its very thin shape and soft texture with each bite. While these noodles can be enjoyed hot and cold, we recommend cold and dipped in soy sauce or sesame rather than in a broth where they risk overcooking.
Famous local shop: Sato Yusuke Shoten Flagship Store
3. Mizusawa Udon (Gunma)
Gunma Prefecture’s Mizusawa udon is made by hand. Using wheat, salt and water, it’s known for its extra-thick noodles and chewy consistency. According to legend, Mizusawa udon was first served to pilgrims heading to Mizusawa Kannon Temple in the late 16th century, earning the noodle its name and storied reputation. With their almost translucent appearance, these noodles are best eaten as zaru udon, traditionally served cold on a bamboo layered dish with an accompanying dipping sauce. If you’re lucky enough to be in Gunma Prefecture’s Shibukawa City, head to Mizusawa Udon Street on the approach to Mizusawa Kannon Temple for over a dozen shops specializing in the local favorite.
Famous local shop: Mizusawa Udon Street
4. Gousetsu Udon (Hokkaido)
While most of the noodles on this list are made from wheat, Gousetsu udon (豪雪うどん) has potato starch at its core. Gousetsu translates to tremendous snowfall, an homage to the region, the noodles’ brilliant white color, and wintery-like translucency. Hailing from the small town of Kucchan, one of the snowiest places on Earth, Gousetsu udon is crafted using the Irish cobbler potato harvested from the base of nearby Mount Yotei. The use of potato makes for smooth noodles like other udon but with a distinct taste. Find a restaurant near you! Go to Google Maps and type:
Famous local shop: Yukitei
5. Himi Udon (Toyama)
First made in Himi City in Toyama Prefecture, the eponymous Himi udon (氷見うどん) has particularly long noodles, a product of its unusual production process. First created in 1751 by borrowing the noodle-making technique of a Kanazawa favorite, somen (vermicelli-like Japanese noodles), this udon is made from wheat but twisted and stretched by hand to create thin, smooth noodles. Their consistency is reminiscent of mochi (rice cake), distinguishing this chewy noodle from others. Himi udon is delicious in hot pots, and zaru udon, where noodles are served cold and dipped in a sauce.
Famous local shop: Kaizuka
6. Ise Udon (Mie)
Originating from Mie Prefecture, Ise udon’s (伊勢うどん) popularity grew as pilgrimages to Ise Shrine surged during the Edo period. Taking its name from the region it originates, this udon stands out for its distinct noodles and typical method of eating. The noodles are extra thick and typically boiled for much longer than other udon noodles, upwards of an hour by some restaurants, producing a soft and chewy texture unlike any other. While dipping udon isn’t particularly surprising, as is often the case of zaru udon, Ise area shops’ use of tamari (fermented soy sauce) as a sauce makes for a rich and flavorful bite.
Famous local shop: Mameya
7. Jyajya Udon (Iwate)
Inspired by a Chinese noodle dish fried in zhajiang (a bean-based sauce) and using a Japanese transliteration of the original Chinese name, Jyajya udon (じゃじゃうどん) was introduced to Iwate Prefecture following the Second World War. Using thin, firm udon noodles as the base, niku miso (a miso paste including minced pork), chopped green onions and cucumbers are added. The result is a savory, fulfilling dish that takes on a new life as your bowl ends. When you’re almost finished, request a chi tan tan (a Japanese dish inspired by a Chinese chicken egg soup) from the server and you’ll be brought an egg, boiling water and additional toppings.
Famous local shop: Pairon Main Store
8. Hakata Udon (Fukuoka)
Although tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen may come to mind when thinking of Fukuoka, udon has a long and delicious history in the Kyushu metropolis. According to a stone monument in the city’s Jotenji Temple, udon (and soba) were first introduced to Japan via Fukuoka, then known solely as Hakata. Due to its long boiling time, Hakata udon (博多うどん) is quite thin compared to many other udon noodles. Typically served in a clear dashi broth topped with goboten (tempura burdock root), this dish also earns Fukuoka its reputation as a foodie’s paradise.
Famous local shop: Inaba Udon
9. Oshibori Udon (Nagano)
The noodles are the show’s star for most udon on this list. But, in the case of oshibori (to squeeze or wring out) udon (おしぼりうどん), the broth steals the spotlight! While dashi or soy-based broths tend to be the norm, this dish from Sasaki Town in Nagano Prefecture features the local nezumi daikon, a Japanese white radish spicier than a typical one. After being grated, the daikon is then squeezed to produce the spicy juice that forms the base of the broth. The udon’s name also comes from this technique. Add in shinshu miso, another Nagano specialty, to mellow out the bite, resulting in a mildly spicy and sweet soup to accompany your noodles.
Famous local shop: Kaize
10. Mimi Udon (Tochigi)
For many living in Tochigi Prefecture, Mimi udon is a regular dish eaten during the New Year holidays. Especially popular in Sano City and Utsunomiya City, this udon differs from the rest for its unusual noodle shape. Mimi translates to ear, and mimi udon’s wide circular noodles resemble their namesake. Going one step further, some also believe that eating the noodles will bring prosperity and keep the sound of bad news at bay. Usually served in a dashi-based broth topped with chopped seasonal veggies, you’ll close the year on a delicious note with these noodles!
Famous local shop: Nomura-ya Main Store
What’s your favorite type of udon? Are there any local favorites we missed? Let us know below!