Last time we had fresh, handmade (hand-assisted?) udon was during our trip to Japan waaaaay back in 2006. It was a cool, artisanal-feeling place right in Shinjuku just a few steps from our hotel. If you’re curious, it was Mentsu-Dan. It was quite memorable for a few reasons:
- It was cafeteria-style, thus really casual yet the udon noodles were good quality — smooth, firm, and chewy — everything you’d want in an udon.
- The guys working the udon station were young but took their job seriously. But not so seriously that they didn’t crack a smile and give us a “V” sign when I took a picture of them! (See photo below)
- Lots of sides to choose from, like tempura, spicy cod roe (!), natto, onigiri, etc.
- The udon was served dry for the most part*, while up to then I had only known udon noodles in soup from Japanese restaurants in Vancouver.
*EDIT: This Serious Eats article actually lists Mentsu-Dan as a recommended choice for udon in Shinjuku, and says they have both hot and cold preparations. Still don’t remember seeing the more typical big bowls of udon in soup though.
Couple pics from Mentsu-Dan to establish a baseline:
I’ve heard about fresh udon-type places in Los Angeles (that sadly we just did not have time for BOTH times we went to LA). I imagine them to be similar to Mentsu-Dan. Anyways, imagine my surprise when right on Robson St. near Bute (and down the block from Konbiniya), a new udon place opened up recently that makes their own udon and soup! It’s called Sanuki Udon!
*Before you mention Sekai Udon Bar at Metrotown, I’m ignoring any non-Japanese-run places — the same way I ignore any Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese-run “Japanese” restaurants.