Well, it was back to Manno to hang out with Ryo and a few others to make some udon noodles. These noodles are basically the food of my prefecture, and everyone else in Japan knows it too. I have of course been eating this dish for some time, but living in the udon capital of the world meant that making the noodles by hand seemed a right of passage. To go home without this experience would have certainly left me feeling incomplete.
After battling another bout of misdirection, I managed to arrive near the very scenic Manno Reservoir. This massive lake was just one more incredible feat from Kagawa’s own Kukai, but I believe that he was also the inventor of the udon noodle. The man was truly a legend. The lodge where we were meeting had a wonderful view out over the water.
The whole process didn’t take all that long and was quite easy; not so different from making bread. We were guided through the necessary steps by a little old lady who had been making the signature dish for some 60 years. The first thing we had to do was mix some extremely concentrated salt water into the flour. A combination of half Japanese, half western flour makes for the best flavor, or so I hear. We were told that the brine allows the noodles to maintain their ductility when flattened and sliced. After the mixing process with our hands, we put the wad of dough into a bag and started smashing it with our body weight. I was pretty good at this bit of it, on account of my God-given gift of heft. Our little old lady instructor did say that I was going too quickly and needed to use that time to soak in the beauty of the view. Fair enough.
Once we did this a couple more times, we had to wrap the dough around a dowel and work to flatten it. Because it was so floured, there was no sticking to anything and with a little effort we could really spread it out. Partner Leandi and myself were quite talented at this step of the process as well. The last bit was was to fold our squarish dough sheet over itself to get it ready for cutting.
The cutting process is made simple by a guided blade that advances along the cutting board in accordance to how high the cleaver is raised. There is some attention that needs to be paid to get consistently sized noodles, but I would say most can handle it.
I was told to ‘look excited’. You can also see the previous step going on behind me.
After working the knife down the length of the dough, the cut noodles needed to be fwapped against the table to remove excess flour. Then they then were lovingly placed into a container for later consumption. Even just nibbling on the raw noodles left the tongue overwhelmed with the taste of salt. To try and drink a Dixie cup of that salt water would make for an interesting bet me thinks…
Of course the last part of this process was to eat the fruits of our labor. We gathered our things, left the mess to the little lady, and then walked down the nearby udon restaurant. Here another few woman boiled and prepped them for us. We all went with the soy sauce based broth and dug in. I could absolutely tell the difference of fresh and handmade noodles versus the more mass produced variety. This experience was a dream come true and certainly something to cross off my Japanese bucket list (which I really should make).
The final result.