During my trip to Asia I was bowled over by fresh, handmade noodles not just once but three times! The first two times were in Japan. Michael Baxter of Kyoto Foodie took me to a favorite udon shop near his home. (The noodles were separate from Michael's Kyoto sukiaki lesson.) The udon noodles were served with mountain yam and raw egg as a rich sauce. Sitting on a tatami floor at a traditional low table, we swirled, stirred, and slurped until there were no noodles left.
In Tokyo, my friend Mayu took me for a cold udon lunch, and the noodles were served on a zaru bamboo mat, very much like the way cold soba is prepared. Both Michael and Mayu prefaced the noodles by saying that the noodles were handmade and freshly made.
Their words impressed me because up until I went to Japan, I’ve not been an udon noodle fan. What I realize during my trip was that the udon noodles in the US are mostly often gummy and as thick as pencils. In Japan, however, the udon noodles are sublime with a wonderful chew and good wheat flavor. I was converted.
On my last night in Chengdu, China, we had hand-pulled noodles at a crusty shop run by a charming Muslim family. As I watched the noodle maker, I wondered if I could make such noodles. It was simply flour and water that he’d combined and stretched.
Once home, I did a little research in my Japanese cookbooks and found a recipe for udon in Shizuo Tsuji’s classic, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. Even though Tsuji called for dried udon in his recipes, he repeated told the reader that homemade is better. Then he quietly provided an udon noodle recipe. I studied the recipe, then tried it out with Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour, which I felt best approximated the flour used by a Japanese home cook.