Soba and Udon
Although ramen is Japan’s most famous noodle exports, it is actually not an originally Japanese type of noodles because ramen originated in China in the 20th century. Two lesser-known types of noodles from Japan have deeper Japanese roots, and these are udon and soba. Udon are the thick, white wheat-based noodles, and soba are the thin, brown buckwheat-based noodles.
Udon is especially wide-spread in Western Japan, including Kyoto and Osaka. This type of noodle arrived in Japan in the Heian Period (794-1185) from China. Udon can be eaten both hot and cold, and which way is preferred often depends on the season and of course on individual taste. It can be enjoyed like fast food on the go in a small noodle stand, but there are also nice sitdown restaurants where you can enjoy it as a proper lunch or dinner.
Two of the most popular places to eat udon, is at udon-specialists Hanamaru Udon or Sanuki Udon which both have many outlets all over the country. You can enjoy your customized bowl of udon for as little as 4 USD at these restaurants. If you are traveling on a budget, udon should definitely be on your radar for lunch and/or dinner.
Similar to udon, soba can also be enjoyed hot or cold. The most popular type of cold noodles are zarusoba, which are served with cut nori (cut seaweed) on top. They are accompanied by a small plate of wasabi that is put in a cup filled with savory tsuyu sauce. Which will come as a surprise to many tourists eating it for the first time, at the end of the meal the waiter will add a little hot soba cooking water to mix with the remaining sauce which you can then drink if you like a rich, savory drink.
There are many restaurants dedicated to soba all over Japan and it will not be hard to find a restaurant where you can enjoy these healthy noodles. Just like udon, soba is usually not expensive and it is often part of a set menu.
When you travel to Japan both udon and soba should definitely feature on your to-eat list as tasty, healthy and inexpensive meals.