Japan 3: Udon't even know me (or my udon cat)
On the way from Osaka to the art islands of the Seto Inland Sea - a journey which took two boats, two trains, and two buses - we had a two hour stop-over in Takamatsu between ferries, at 5-7am in the morning.
We knew exactly what we were going to do with this two hour break. Takamatsu is legendary across Japan for its udon - known as the 'Udon Kingdom', in fact. The thick, chewy white noodles prepared here are, it should go without saying, a different animal altogether to the slobbery tentacles you might have had in Wagamama's or similar. We went into this place the minute it opened, at 6am. The head chef had udon-coloured clothes and an udon-coloured cat.
To make the noodles (fresh, on site, obvs) they mix the flour and water in big buckets, before tipping it into a big rectangular machine (on the right in the picture below). The resulting balls of dough are then placed on plastic sheeting on the floor, and - donning his special white udon socks - the chef then flattens them out with his feet, doing slow 360s to ensure the shape is perfectly even.
Once the noodles have been flattened, cooked and cut, they are left just sort of sitting in a big crate on the side... and when you want some, they are dunked in a hot bath to heat them up (everything in Japan gets a honsen), then rinsed, then served up in a bowl. The soup, a broth made from dried sardines, comes from a big urn on the counter. The topping options are numerous - including tempura octopus, pumpkin, white fish, mushroom or aubergine; a soft-poached 'honsen' egg, or a raw egg (!) broken into the bowl and then stirred in; half-moons of sweet tofu; and then bowls for scattering chopped spring onions, chopped ginger, sesame powder, chilli, soy sauce, wasabi paste, and tempura shavings.I had mine fairly simple, with raw egg, chilli and spring onion.
The chewy, slime-free noodles, the refreshing, fresh fishy broth and the combined package together made for an absolutely superb breakfast. Then we went to catch the 7am ferry to Naoshima, the first of the art islands.