In a country where noodle dishes are a daily affair, Akita’s Inaniwa Udon offers an extraordinary experience.
Given the simplicity of the ingredients—wheat flour and water—that go into the dish, it may come as a surprise that Akita’s celebrated Inaniwa Udon were once a meal that could only be enjoyed by nobility.
The techniques that were developed by the Sato family to create the refined interpretation of this Japanese staple are still a family secret, one that stretches back over 12 generations, from Sato Ichibee in the 7th century to Sato Yousuke now. Because of the time and effort that go into making the udon, it was once strictly a luxury item, and was even given as tribute to local shogun. With the coming of the Meiji Period, the noodles were presented to the Imperial Household Agency, and the rest of the country took notice. They won awards in Meiji era expositions, and are recognized as being among the best udon that Japan has to offer. In modern times, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries awarded Inaniwa Udon with a spot among the country’s top representations of rural cuisine.
Curious to try it out for ourselves when we traveled to Akita, we paid a visit to the Sato Yousuke Honten in Yuzawa City. At the shop, visitors can see the intensive noodle making process first hand. The current production method dates back to 1665, and yields a truly unique noodle, one that is thinner and flatter than most udon, with a consistency that is firm, yet chewy. It involves a rigorous hand-kneading over a flour-covered board, followed by an aging process: both are repeated three times during the making of the udon. This laborious process introduces many air bubbles into the noodles, which give them their unique consistency, and according to the Akita Research Institute of Food and Brewing, means that they can still be served, even a few hours after they have been cooked.
Of course, after seeing the artistry and care that go into crafting Inaniwa Udon, the next step, of course, is tasting it. Quite simply, Inaniwa Udon is a purist’s dream, and a treat for the eyes as well—the cream-white noodles give off a nearly translucent shine. Sato Yousuke serves the noodles in a variety of different ways. They can be served hot—with a light, yet savory broth made from Akita’s celebrated Hinai chickens, and served with local nameko mushrooms or pickled plums as a topping—or cold, with a choice of soy sauce or sesame-based dipping sauces. For a slightly more exotic flavor, Sato Yousuke offers a cold Thai green curry dipping sauce as well. For hearty eaters, a variety of set meals are available, which feature the meat, fish and produce from around Akita.
After a visit to the home of this culinary wonder, we had to consider ourselves fortunate that the tradition of excellence that goes into making Inaniwa Udon has not changed over the centuries, but that the tradition of limiting it strictly to those of high birth has. This is a taste that the entire country deserves to share, and with three Sato Yousuke locations to be found in Tokyo, it’s one that you’ve no excuse to miss.
Sato Yousuke Locations in Tokyo:
Ginza: Chuo-ku, Ginza 6-4-17 Izuihonnkan 1F. 03-6215-6211
Hibiya: Minato-ku, Nishi Shinbashi 1-2-9, Hibiya Central Building B1. 03-3595-6288
Akasaka: Chiyoda-ku, Nagatacho 2-14-3, Tokyu Plaza Akasaka 3F. 03-5510-5556
More info: www.sato-yoske.co.jp/shop/index.html