A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Kagawa and Sanuki Udon

It’s the perfect time of year for luscious noodles in hot, savory broth. And Kagawa Prefecture, famous for its udon, is our destination this month!

Kagawa Prefecture lies on the northeastern part of Japan’s Shikoku Island. Its southern border is the Sanuki Mountain Range and the Seto Inland Sea borders the north. In between the mountains and the sea is a fertile plain of land where cotton, sugar, salt and wheat grow, and where cities famed as centers of trade and transportation have flourished since feudal times.

Takamatsu is the capital of the prefecture, serving as a hub for the rail system throughout Shikoku Island and the administrative, economic and cultural center of Kagawa Prefecture. In feudal times, Takamatsu Castle served as the area’s citadel and was surrounded by Ritsurin Garden and near to Honen-ji Temple. The old town is now surrounded by the modern city, and is a wonderful area to visit while journeying along the Kagawa coast, where one can visit Yashima, a 961-foot high lava plateau with breathtaking views of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Of the 116 islands in the Seto Inland Sea, Shodoshima Island is famous for its olive groves! This small island enjoys a surprising Mediterranean climate, making it ideal for cultivating olives, herbs and citrus fruit. And the island is also home to sheer cliffs and scenic valleys, making it a nature lover’s paradise.

The view from Kotohira Shrine

Because of the prefecture’s central location and access to various trade routes, many influences helped shape the culture of the area. Buddhism with a special emphasis on protecting sailors and travelers thrived here. Konpira-san, the protector god of sailors, is revered at the Kotohira Shrine. The shrine is located half-way up the side of Mt. Zozu and visitors must climb 1,368 steps to reach the inner shrine. If you can’t climb yourself, you can hire a palanquin to carry you! No matter how you get to the top, the view is worth it as you can see across the Sanuki Plain all the way to the sea, and can visit the treasure and art-filled rooms of the complex.

History, nature and religion aren’t the only attractions in Kagawa. Naoshima Island boasts world-class art, architecture, literary culture and environmental stewardship. The small island inspired Raymond Benson’s The Man with the Red Tattoo and the stunning art collections at the Benesse House and Chichu Art Museum, both of which were designed by world-famous architect Tadao Ando. Not to be missed are traditional bunraku puppet shows and a stay at a ryokan or minshuku.

Takamatsu Castle

Regardless of where you visit in Kagawa Prefecture, you’ll be amazed at the delicious offerings of world-class udon. Japanese udon are thick wheat noodles that are cooked until chewy and firm, then served in a soy-based soup. Udon is said to have been introduced to Japan from China. Today, many types of udon are made throughout Japan, with regional specialties adding unique and gourmand options to menus across the country.

Udon can be prepared and served in numerous ways, but at the heart of the preparation is the careful boiling of the noodles in hot water. After cooking, the noodles are served either hot in a tsuyu, or soup broth, or cold, zaru-style with a side of dipping sauce or bukkake-style with a chilled broth and toppings of scallions, ginger, sesame, nori seaweed and powdered chili pepper. Regional udon recipes include adding tempura, kakiage, raw eggs or tofu skin to the dish, and two very popular variations are to serve the noodles in a Japanese curry or as a stir-fried yaki-udon dish.

Chilled zaru udon

There are so many varieties and combinations of how to prepare, serve and eat udon! In Kagawa, where a regional specialty called “sanuki udon” is so loved that the prefecture has been nicknamed the “Udon Prefecture”!

Sanuki udon got its name from the ancient ancestral name of the prefecture, called Sanuki. In this version of udon, the noodles are boiled in hot water and then removed from the cooking liquid. They are then added to a hot tsuyu broth and topped with an egg and finely chopped scallions. Udon is such a famous dish in Kagawa that “udon meguri”, or udon restaurant crawls, are common activities for locals and tourists alike. Each restaurant features their own take on sanuki udon, with some making tsuyu with their own special recipes and others offering unique and varied toppings. Most people can’t eat more than what they sample at three restaurants, but each day offers a new and interesting group of venues!

We love udon so much that we’ve features many recipes on our website. Whether or not you can sample authentic sanuki udon, try our recipes for Chilled Zaru Udon, Homemade Teuchi Udon, Hearty Tempura Udon, and Stir-Fried Yaki Udon. Each and every one of these dishes is sure to become a favorite!

We know you’ll love udon as much as we do, and can’t wait to see your comments below!

Passport to Yum – Zojirushi’s Favorite International Rice Recipes

takikomigohan

Have you made perfectly delicious rice yet? Now that you know all about rice, we want to share our favorite recipes for this versatile and nutritious grain… not just from Japan, but also from across the globe!

Rice is an ancient food, and many cultures have created sophisticated, comforting dishes using local ingredients to satisfy regional tastes. We start with rice dishes from Asia, including Japan, China, India and Pakistan.

Takikomi-Gohan (seen above) is a popular rice dish that emphasizes the classic Japanese culinary tradition of using seasonal ingredients. At Zojirushi, we’ve created a recipe full of flavorful vegetables, konnyaku, tofu, chicken and dashi. This preparation can easily be made in one of our rice cookers, and makes great leftovers—make a large batch and refrigerate for no-brainer lunches throughout the week.

chukagayu

Chinese rice porridge, or congee

China is famous for comforting rice dishes, too, including the classic rice porridge, also known as congee or okayu. Rice porridge is mild and filling, and is often had for breakfast or during an illness, as it is easily digested and soothing to the stomach. Japanese, Indian, Burmese, Korean and Indonesian cultures made a version of it, and we love this classic rice porridge recipe that you can make in our food jars.

India and Pakistan share a classic rice dish called biryani. Biryani is made by layering ingredients such as chicken, lamb and vegetables with long-grain basmati rice, and seasoning it with milk and a complex combination of spices like saffron, chili, cardamom, turmeric, ginger and garlic. The dish is slow, slow, slow cooked, until all of the ingredients are tender and have soaked up the seasonings. It’s not to be missed!

favabeanrisotto

Zojirushi’s Fava Bean Risotto

Europeans, both from the western and eastern parts of the continent, savor rice as well. The classic risotto is popular in Italy and around the world. The most basic risotto is made with medium-grain Arborio rice, slowly cooked in wine and broth until it becomes creamy. Popular variations add mushrooms and peas, and we love this recipe for Fava Bean Risotto. Italy’s neighbor Spain is famous for its paella, and we love this classic version with shrimp, mussels and clams.

Eastern European rice dishes are heavily influenced by the spices of Asia and the Middle East, and Uzbek plov is a prime example of the blending of these cultures. Plov is made using long-grain rice, mutton, carrots, onions, oil and water, mixed and cooked in an open cauldron for hours until the aroma of the dish is utterly mouth-watering. Plov is often served with chickpeas, raisins and eggs, depending on the time of day it is eaten. Plov also has an interesting history, and it is said to have been made for Alexander the Great and his army.

etouffee

Crawfish etouffee (photo by jeffreyw)

The Americas have their own special rice dishes which are consumed with as much gusto as their friends on other continents. Crawfish etoufee is an elaborate and spicy dish consisting of shellfish and spices “smothering” the rice and braised in a large sauté pan. Arroz de lisa is a distinctive Colombian dish prepared with mullet rice, cooked cassava melon, costeño cheese and a piquant sour cream sauce. The rice is served in a bijao leaf and often eaten as street food.

Rice as a whole grain isn’t the only way it’s eaten across the world. Rice in the form of noodles is incredibly popular, and some of our favorites are Singapore Noodles, redolent with curry, onions and bell peppers, along with spicy, coconut-infused laksa from Malaysia, pho from Vietnam and the ever-popular wok’d chow fun with Chinese broccoli.

Rice, rice noodles, rice paper, rice dumplings… the variety is endless! We hope you try some of these recipes… and as always, share your creations with us in the comments below.