Udon is one of the most ubiquitous of all Japanese foods, and it’s usually very affordable too. But, did you know the birthplace of those lovely plump noodles was Hakata?
It was first introduced here in 1242 by Shoichi Kokushi, who founded Jotenji Temple. He brought the art of milling flour using a water wheel to Hakata, which spread throughout the whole country. Without that wheel, there wouldn’t be any noodles to slurp.
The standard for comparison between udon from different parts of Japan is the “bite” of the noodles. For example, noodles of the Sanuki region are noted for their firm texture. However, the biggest feature of Hakata udon is the softness of the noodles – it might as well be nicknamed “toothless”! Perhaps this is because the udon that Shoichi Kokushi originally brought was so soft in texture – but it seems the most likely reason is the “Hasty Hakata Folk” theory. Hakata people, being impatient and hating to wait for things, would boil the noodles in advance so that they could be served quickly. No doubt this is why the maruten udon, which enjoys unwavering popularity in Fukuoka, was also created here.
Soft udon? Udon without bite? You won’t understand until you try it. But when you do, you’ll find yourself savouring the experience and understanding why Hakata udon is the best udon!
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn94 Oct. 2006)