If you're visiting Tokyo for business or pleasure, there's a good chance you'll be staying in the Shinjuku area. Arrive at night, and you'll feel like an alien (or perhaps a replicant?) amidst all the neon in the Blade Runner-like atmosphere. And while amazing Japanese food surrounds you, that alien feeling may challenge you in navigating the streets (addresses are difficult in Japan), not to mention the menus, and perhaps even the basic how-tos of ordering and etiquette. Read on for a list of essential Japanese dishes to eat in Tokyo and our favorite spots to enjoy them, all right in the Shinjuku area.
'udon' on Serious Eats
Though I most often picture udon swimming in huge bowls of broth, the thick Japanese noodles are just as comfortable in sautéed form.
Though I most often picture udon swimming in huge bowls of broth, the thick Japanese noodles are just as comfortable when sautéed.
When it comes to cooking Asian noodles, I tend to obsess over each and every ingredient or make them needlessly fussy and complex. But I'm learning to lighten up and focus on simplicity. This week I decided what I could do with the trio of bay scallops, baby bok choy, and udon noodles.
I came across this Udon Miso 'n' Cheese concept while experimenting for an event last fall in which a few non-Japanese chefs got together to make Japanese food. While messing around with the idea of udon risotto, I discovered that miso, butter, parmesan and wheat starch taste just like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (in a good way).
I decided before I even began this year's Vegan Experience that an excellent vegan ramen broth would be one of my ultimate goals. But one does not simply jump into ramen. Suffice it to say, ramen is a high mountain to climb. I decided that I'd start by coming up with a vegan udon broth that could compete with the real thing in terms of flavor potency and sheer deliciousness.
Dried mushrooms are the secret to this intensely-flavored mushroom-soy broth that is 100% vegan. Serve it with udon noodles topped with with stir-fried mushrooms and cabbage, scallions, and fried tofu.
Making udon noodles is serious business. Upon first glance, it seems like a country pasta dough (flour, water, salt) but this is a dough you have to work. So much so, you actually need to use your feet to flatten it out. In this video you'll see this traditional technique performed by a farmer and chef outside of Tokyo who's been making udon for 45 years.
We're taking Tom Kha Gai, the famous Thai coconut chicken soup, and changing it up. We're removing the "gai" (chicken) from both the name and the dish, doubling the amount of mushrooms, adding to it the bouncy udon noodles which is very Thai (just kidding), and replacing the source of salinity from the traditional fish sauce to salt (I personally don't think Tom Kha seasoned with soy sauce is palatable, but YMMV). We're also switching from chicken broth to vegetable broth.
This Sumo Wrestler Stew or Chankonabe from Poulet is a traditional method of carbo-loading for Japan's massive wrestlers. It's a hearty, bursting bowl of soup filled with rice, udon noodles, chicken thighs, tofu, and a load of good-for-your veggies. But even if you're not about enter the dohyō (that's a sumo ring), it's a fantastically filling bowl of soup and perfect for winter.
Usually when I'm thinking about udon—which happens more often than you'd think—I'm imagining the noodles in great bowls of broth, like in niku udon. But udon can also survive without the broth, as it does spectacularly well in this very simple stir-fry. Featuring just a few thinly sliced ingredients, and a very basic sauce, this dish is comforting and completely satisfying.
With the success of Bozu, the self-proclaimed Japanese Tapas Lounge featuring small plates of refined Japanese-European fusion, chef-owner Makoto Suzuki continues his Williamsburg-based expansion with Samurai Mama. It's an unfortunate name for what is a truly excellent noodle shop, and what I hope will be the start of a new, moderately-priced Asian-themed noodle dynasty. The hand-made udon are certainly good enough to carry it.
I'm absolutely stunned by this recipe from Takashi's Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi. This beef-topped udon dish is complex and slightly rich, with just a tinge of sweetness in each spoonful. The thinly sliced beef cooks in seconds, and the tofu and scallions need all of a minute before they're ready to go. It's so good I've made it twice in the past 24 hours.
I've gone a little noodle crazy. Though I've done my fair share of Italian pasta dishes over the years, it wasn't until the past few months that I started eating Asian noodles with abandon. I guess I finally realized a simple sauce and vegetables works just as well for udon as it can for spaghetti. This recipe from The Kitchn is one of the better ones I've found recently.
"Finally, these were the noodles of my dreams, noodles with the kind of the flexible yet creamy strands that I had only ever tasted with homemade Italian pasta." Note: Every week, SE intern Chichi Wang will be discussing some aspect...
With the notable exception of Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen the stretch of Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills is pretty much a culinary wasteland. So I was surprised when a friend who runs the Japanese foodie web site...
Do you really like udon? I mean, really, really like udon to the point that you'd want to eat a bucket of it? Then Japanese competitive eater Nobuyuki Shirota has the restaurant for you: Shirotaya, a limited-time noodle shop in Osaka whose standard bowls of udon come with 16 portions of noodles for about $40. Don't be intimidated; those with normal appetites can order a sixteenth of a bowl of udon. Previously 'Major League Eating: The Game' Coming Soon for the Nintendo Wii One (or Fifty) Hot Dogs Too Many 59 and a Half! Trompe l'Oeil Udon Dessert...
CScout Japan D.C.-based chef Michel Richard, whose "virtual egg" made from yellow tomato (yolk) and mozzarella (white), has nothing on this bowl of "noodles" (right). The broth is actually a caramel mixture, the noodles are pudding, and the toppings are chocolates and such. If you wanna get your hands on one, you either have to live in or travel to Japan, of course, where they're available from IchiMonji. [via CScout Japan]...