A world’s great cuisine must have a noodle dish. Certainly, the French would realize sooner or later what the Italians, the Chinese and the Japanese have known for centuries. A simple noodle can be sooo satisfying. Of all the different kinds of Japanese noodle, when done right, udon is perhaps my favorite. The right place is usually not going to be in the middle of a touristy area, nor will it need to be expensive. The right place should be a secret, known by locals and guarded from foreigners, unless of course the foreigners have local friends who don’t mind driving them an hour away from the city center into the inner sanctum of the Kyoto suburbs, a place only for those in the know. Right? Wrong! Ok, not exactly.
Our friends know a good udon when they see one. Though hardly a proverbial hole-in-the-wall, they've been coming to Hanamaru for years. Since opening in 2001, Hanamaru has become Japan's largest udon franchise chain. The shop is located at the outskirts of Kyoto, as well as in over 260 other locations throughout Japan. Hanamaru specializes in Sanuki udon - Japan's most famous udon variety known for its chewy texture which originates from Kagawa - originally Sanuki - in the southern part of Japan. The thick, meaty, chewy ropes of dough are soaked in hot broth with a variety of delectable toppings thrown in – poached egg, fresh seaweed, fried bean curd, scallions. Offered with an assortment of tempura on a chilly November day, udon is heaven. The texture of the noodle and the subtle flavorings of the broth set apart the sublime from the ordinary. Bonito shavings, kelp, small dried sardines, and soy sauce are the basic broth bases. Crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, tempura is a perfect accompaniment for dipping into the broth. Deeply flavorful eggs, with rich and gooey orange-colored yolks and silky smooth whites, seem to be commonplace in Japan but not in the States. Floating in the broth or just sitting on top of the noodle, a poached egg provides a perfect textural counter-balance to the crunchiness of the tempura and the chewiness of the noodle. Octopus, mixed veggie, egg, fish cake, winter squash, chicken nugget as well as fried chicken, potato and beef croquette, and on and on – fried in a delicious tempura batter, warm the body and lift the spirit. No wine this time, just the steaming broth.
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