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Ramen gets all the publicity but Japan has more types of noodles to offer than this quick-cooking, pulled wheat noodle. There is udon which is also a wheat noodle except that while ramen is thin, udon is thick and chewy, making it perfect for soaking up the flavour of sauces. Like ramen, udon is often served in a simple broth (kake udon) but it can also be eaten cold in Summer with a dipping sauce.
The Japanese also enjoy another type of noddle – soba. The buckwheat noodle is thinner than udon but not as fine as ramen. Because an all-buckwheat soba tends to be brittle, some shops add wheat flour to their soba. Like udon, soba can be enjoyed hot in a soup or cold with a soya-based dipping sauce (tsuyu).
While Singapore may have a long love affair with ramen, it is not opposed to udon and soba. Here are where you can get some of the best and most novel-tasting udon and soba in the country.
Where to Get Great Udon
Source: Tamoya Ramen & NahMJ
Ask around for where you can get the best udon in town and this eatery’s name will surely come up. Established in 1996 in Sanuki in the Kagawa Prefecture which is the birthplace of udon, Tamoya’s founder is Tamotsu Kurokawa who is himself of Sanuki udon champion.
Tamoya Singapore is his first overseas outlet and like Tamoya in Japan, the udon here is handmade daily from the shop’s proprietary flour mixture imported from Japan which consists of three types of flour. Depending on the season and, therefore, the temperature and humidity, the proportion of the different flour changes. The broth that the udon is served in is golden dashi (a soup stock made of umami-rich foods such as bonito flakes, kombu or dried kelp, dried shitake mushroom and dried whole sardines).
Their Beef Udon and Pork Udon are the house specialties, and the best way to sample their dashi. The Tonkutsu Chasu Udon takes the creamy soup that usually goes with ramen and pairs it with udon. Topped with their own black garlic oil, the soup has an added fragrant, robust note.
Source: Idaten Udon & Hungry Ghost
At this udon place, you can customise your own bowl of noodles, picking the type of udon along with the sides and tempura. They started with three flavours of udon – original, matcha and togarashi (Japanese pepper). Just in case you think those are not enough, they have since added another two – tomato and pumpkin. Once you have picked your udon, you get to select how you want it served - with chicken, pork, beef, kitsune (fried beancurd) or kamatama (half-boiled eggs); in kake (soup), or with zaru (chilled dipping sauce). If you want to savour udon in its purest form and taste the unique flavours, Kake Udon which comes with plain soup is it. Then, there are the sides to choose. From a five-piece oden bowl to a variety of onigiri and tempura, you have 11 options. All in all, you will have nearly 400 combinations of udon, one for every day of the year and then some.
Source: Inaniwa Yosuke & Japan Food Town
The udon here is a special type known as Inaniwa udon and takes four days to make because each strand of noodle is inspected for quality. Thinner and smoother than even ramen, this type of udon traces its origins a few hundred years to the Sato Yosuke family in 1665. Their recipe remains a closely guarded secret. So special is this udon that in 2007, it was chosen as one of Japan’s 100 Best Local Dishes of Rural Areas by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. While most udon eateries offer a token cold udon dish or two in its menu, Inaniwa Yosuke’s cold udon selection is quite remarkable. You can have your cold udon with a choice of sesame or soy dipping sauces, or both if you cannot make up your mind. There are toppings you can add to your udon – tofu skin, onsen egg, tororo (grated yam) and, for those who want an extra kick to their noodle, spicy sauce. Then, you can opt for either tempura or prawn tempura to accompany your noodles. If those are not enough, you can choose to have those options but served hot. In addition to their hot selection, apart from the usual Kitsune, Beef and Curry Udon, they also have Carbonara Udon. Finally, for those who want to try it all, you can have the hot and cold udon selection and even a rice and udon option.
Source: Marugame Udon and Tempura Singapore & 8 Days
With over 1,000 outlets in 30 countries and regions, no wonder Marugame Udon & Tempura has been dubbed the No.1 udon restaurant chain in the world. What it specialises in is top-grade Sanuki udon at affordable prices. Like many udon eateries, this one also allows you to mix and match noodle, tempura and toppings. Try their best-seller – Udon with Seasoned Cod Roe and Half Boiled Egg. This is a dry version and the yolk broken oven the noodles make for a rich, creamy and deeply satisfying meal. Other best-sellers include Clam Udon in Bonito Broth and Pork Udon in Spicy Miso Soup.
Where to Get Great Soba
Source: Shimbashi Soba & Food Ninja SG
The soba here is made fresh every day from Tasmanian buckwheat flour that is milled as needed before being rolled out into noodles. The result is soba that has an added rich fragrance. What enhances the quality of the noodle is also the special attention given not just to the length and thickness of the noodles but to the consistency of their texture as well. Because the noodles are blanched only when you order them, their elasticity is perfectly retained, giving you soba with enough bite.
If you do not know what to order here, the chef’s recommendations are always a good bet. Shisokiri Tempura Seiro features chilled shiso (Perilla herb) soba with vegetable and prawn tempura while Shisokiri Duck Tsukemen Seiro comes with a bowl of duck, mushrooms, fried beancurd and grilled leek in a dipping broth as well as a soft-boiled egg on the side. For kway chap (flat rice noodles with duck or pork in a soy sauce broth) lovers, this is the Japanese take on the local favourite.
Source: Nadai Fujisoba Ni-Hachi & SG Foot on Foot
It has been hailed Japan’s best soba restaurant. With 116 shops in Japan and over 10 others in Asia, this is not hard to believe. Their soba is made fresh daily with a mix of wheat and buckwheat flour in a 2:8 ratio. In fact, this ratio is found in its name – ni-hachi means 2:8. The buckwheat flour used is also quite special. Imported from a milling plant in Japan and stored in a temperature-controlled warehouse, it is of exceptional quality, resulting in soba that has a deep, earthy flavour while still being light and chewy.
Top-rate noodles aside, this is where you go for variations on the theme of soba. The Mentai Cream Soba is their original creation. This dry soba dish tosses the noodle in mentaiko (pollock roe) cream sauce, using the sweetness of the roe to balance the richness of the cream. Carbonara fans will love this one. There is also Deep-Fried Soba with Spicy Seafood Sauce which is not unlike the crispy seafood noodles you get at your neighbourhood tze char (fresh-cooked food) stall. The pan of prawns, squid, kamaboko fishcake, pork, shitake mushrooms, beansprout and cabbage in a thick, sticky gravy served alongside the deep-fried soba is meant to be poured over the noodles to soften them.
Source: Kajiken & Li Hui Japan Love
Here is another number one soba restaurant. Kajiken is Japan’s No.1 mazesoba brand and the first shop in Singapore dedicated to this type of soba dish. Mazesoba, also known as Taiwan mazesoba or abura soba is a dry soba dish where the noodles are topped with soy sauce, pork lard and a variety of accompaniments such as minced meat, eggs, raw garlic, vinegar and even chilli oil. Everything is then mixed together before eating which is why it is called mazesoba since maze means “mix” in Japanese.
Apart from the noodles, what makes the dish is also the sauce. At Kajiken, the sauce used is made from a secret recipe carefully guarded by the team. Their signature dish is Mazesoba Nagoya Style where the noodles are topped with spicy minced pork, a soft-boiled egg, vegetables and seaweed. The star is obviously the sauce. That is why when you are done with your noodles, you can ask the staff for a portion of rice to sop up every last bit of the sauce, giving you two dishes in one.
Source: Yomoda Soba & Stella Chen
This place serves home-made Sarashina soba that is, unlike regular soba, pure white instead of brown. Sarashina soba is particularly prized because it comes from an over 200-year-old recipe and has a refined taste. To make the soba, only ingredients imported from Japan are used along with purified water.
Their soba selection is extensive, featuring a variety of dipping soba and soba immersed in soup - tsuke soba where cold soba is dipped in hot broth, seiro soba or cold soba with a dipping soup, hiya-kake soba or cold soba in cold soup and kake soba which is hot soba in hot soup. If that is not enough, they also have set meals that include rice and soba. It may take a little getting used to to have to slurp up noodles in cold soup, but the hiya-kake soba is quite refreshing particularly in Singapore’s heat. The Cold Tomato Soba from this portion of the menu is perhaps the best with its tangy finish.