Wednesday, August 8, 2007


My father is from the southern tip of Okayama prefecture in central-east Japan, right across from the large island Shikoku and home to the Mecca of sanuki udon, Kagawa prefecture. Udon are fat white noodles made of flour and often served in a lightly seasoned fish broth, served hot or cold. As with many other foods and dishes in Japan, the way they are served/prepared/made differ by region, and sanuki udon is thought to be the simplest and often best way to eat udon, especially by udon aficianados. Being as flexible as he is, my dad does justice to both the die-hard sanuki men (oh, ha ha! Men means noodles in Japanese!) and the city-slicker type at his udon restaurant in Akasaka, Hinaya.

Photo courtesy of Metropolis

Kijōyu udon is an orthodox and old-skool way to eat sanuki udon. It consists simply of freshly boiled noodles (dunked in ice water to as soon as they're just the right state of al dente to keep the koshi*), and garnished with a raw egg yolk, a splash of a soy sauce mixture and a few spice condiments called yakumi, like chopped scallions or sesame seeds, and finito. Break the yolk, toss it with the noodles and it's almost like a Japanese carbonara.

* Koshi refers to the elasticity of Japanese noodles, describing the state when it satisfies all of the following: firmness, suppleness and bouciness, especially as they go down your throat, as you don't "chew" Japanese noodles so much as swallow them. Scout's honor. Actually, udon is much more about the texture than the flavor.

Hinaya also serves it with natto, or fermented beans, for those of you who can stomach it. For me, this is the perfect breakfast. Egg! Noodles! Natto! What's not to like?

But of course my favorite all-time Hinaya udon (and the shop's #1 menu item) is the curry udon. The only vegetables that go into the roux are onions and carrots--which are sauteed until they are soft and sweet, and then pureed. The puree, curry spices and water are boiled for hours until the roux is rich and thick, at which time she meets her soulmate, the smooth and elegant otsuyu, or dipping sauce, and poured over oodles of noodles. It's a match made in heaven, and if not heaven, at least the greater Tokyo area. Served with a soft-boiled onsen tamago egg, yakumi and toasted abura age (fried tofu, prounounced "a-gé"), it's addictive.

(Does this portraiture shot convey my love for this dish? I love you, curry udon.)

Other popular udon are goma dare udon, or cold udon with a savory and creamy sesame dipping sauce, and kama tama udon, served piping hot in the water they were boiled in. It's hard-core and authentic. Or something. Lunch sets at Hinaya are ¥900 (including your choice of udon, the daily rice, and two side dishes).

Oh, and by the way, my dad makes everything fresh, including the udon noodles. From the flour to the salt to the water to the width they are cut, they all have to pass dad's test, every day. The noodles themselves are vegan--flour, salt and water are the only three ingredients that go in.

生醤油 kijōyu
コシ koshi
薬味 yakumi
納豆 natto
おつゆ otsuyu
温泉たまご onsen tamago
油揚げ abura age
ゴマだれ goma dare

Hinaya (日南家)
2-14-7 Akasaka, Minato-ku
T/F 03-3583-0178

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Thank you to everyone who participated in the poll!

You said you wanted to hear about restaurants in Tokyo and more about the healthy, low-fat Japanese diet and lifestyle. Also, you wanted recipes on simple, easy and delicious Japanese food. No problem!! I'll keep those themes in mind for subsequent posts. Thank you.


My favorite fruit is in-season. The peach. Fleshy, juicy, sweet and fragrant, I especially love it when the skin peels off large and easy.


Unfortunately I only have so-so fruit markets near my house. As I'm a huge fan of fresh fruit (as you all should be, too) I'm often stuck between a rock and a hard place in Japan with designer fruits on one hand and inconsistent quality at mediocre neighborhood options in the other. In fact one of the things I miss most about Seattle and the States is the abundance of fresh, affordable produce everywhere, and if not everywhere somewhere relatively closeby: at the QFC, and if not there at PCC, and if not there at the farmers' markets, and if not there at the little trucks by the sides of the road (especially around this time of the year) and if not there at Metropolitan Market where they will probably grow that pelican mango for you if you're willing to pay them for it. Hmm, speaking of produce trucks by the side of the road.... Bing cherries!! Handfuls and handfuls of ripe, juicy, dark sweetness! Man, I miss being able to eat cherries until I feel ill. Damn.

Ah hem. Yes, fruits in Japan. Thankfully, there is one good fruit and produce market near my work. Although it is a privately owned business, it--as well as most other produce markets or greengrocers of the same nature--is referred to as the yaoya, or greengrocer. (Like the post office. Or the pool.) After purchasing the perfect peaches above (four of them) for just 400 yen, I think I'll be stocking up on my daily fruits not at home but at work from now. The friendly ojisans and obasans and one-sans at the yaoya make for a pleasant shopping experience, anyway, which just makes the purchase sweeter.

I still miss the Bing cherry trucks though. For now, a sweet, sweet memory.

八百屋 yaoya (greengrocer)