It’s not only udon ken, it’s Kagawa ken.
That, as far as I can tell, is the official slogan of Kagawa, the prefecture I live in, which is famous for the thick, white noodles.
Seems conflicting coming from the prefecture which actually tried to rename itself udon ken, but I suppose it’s fair, considering Kagawa is actually also famous for… um… aaaa….
Honestly, when I tell Japanese people around the country that I live here, the reaction I get every single time is;
“Oh, udon ken! *chortle chortle*”
It’s like when I tell people that I’m from New Zealand.
“Oh, sheep! *chortle chortle*”
Anyway, being that Kagawa is to udon what New Zealand is to sheep, I eat a lot of them, and one thing that’s been on my bucket list for some time now is an udon tour.
An udon tour is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: you drive around the prefecture visiting popular and famous udon shops, eating whatever their specialty udon is, and admiring the local countryside.
When my friends in Osaka said they wanted to come down for the weekend, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the tour a spin, so we rented a car between the five of us and set off on Saturday morning.
The first stop was はり屋 (Hariya), slightly west of the main station. It’s small and unprepossessing, and their business hours are “when we run out of udon we close.”
When we arrived there were a couple of people standing outside the door and Rachel, who used to live here, expressed surprise that the line was so small.
I was more surprised when I peeked in and saw that the line went inside and stretched the length of the long, narrow shop.
We waited about half an hour to get to the front of the queue (by which point there were about 12 people who had to wait outside) and placed our orders.
I had the tempura udon, which was delicious, and I also snagged a piece of Gen’s karaage (fried chicken), which was excellent.
It’s not a place you sit and chat, so as soon as we had slurped the last of our noodles, we paid about 600 yen each and headed out the door.
The next shop was in Yashima, about twenty minutes east of the city, so I suggested a quick trip up the namesake mountain to give us a chance to digest.
For everyone but me it was the first time up Yashima, and everyone was suitably impressed by the views of the city and the Seto Inland Sea. However, it was really too cold to linger, so once Gen had had a chance to throw some clay disks through the metal hoops (to earn good luck) we headed down to the next shop.
わら屋 (Waraya), at the foot of the mountain, in a traditional style Japanese building, with a waterwheel turning outside, and a small creek running across the cobbled courtyard, is rather picturesque.
The interior—rough, dark wood, wide beams, a central stove and old women in headscarves does nothing to dispel the old style feeling.
We ordered the jumbo bowl, which is meant to serve three but having just had a bowl of udon each, was just fine for five.
The huge serving of noodles arrived in a large, shallow barrel of hot water, with a jug of hot dashi (broth) for us to pour into cups and dip the noodles into.
These udon were harder to eat, being that we had to get them from the barrel, to our dashi cup, to our mouths, all the way across the table and armed only with chopsticks. I nearly gave up a few times, but they were delicious enough that I was motivated to keep making a mess.
When we’d finished the noodles, and several cups of hot tea, we began to rethink our plan of heading to a third udon shop.
山田屋 (Yamadaya) is quite famous, as it’s in a beautiful building with a traditional Japanese garden and low tables, and it does local sweets as well as udon. I had been there once before with some teachers from school, and I would have liked to go back, but there was a general agreement that if any of us (except Gen who has that enviable boy power to eat without pause) ate more udon we might die.
We decided it would be advisable to forgo the third udon, drive back, return the car, and walk back to my place (where, I confess, we had pudding).
Udon tours are an important cultural experience in Kagawa which allow you to enjoy our local delicacy, see our beautiful countryside and, most importantly, justify a whole afternoon of delicious, delicious gluttony.
But remember: うどん県。それだけじゃない香川県。