Kagawa Prefecture, previously known as Sanuki province, is the smallest prefecture in Japan and is located on the island of Shikoku. Although small in size, Kagawa is well known for its udon, with about 800 restaurants in the prefecture — from tiny family-run eateries to large restaurants catering for tour groups. According to this website, Kagawa residents eat an average of 156 bowls of udon per year, against the national average of just 26 bowls each year.
Here are four things you need to know before your trip to Japan’s “udon prefecture”.
Kagawa’s natural geography makes it perfect for cultivating wheat
The landscape of Sunuki hiya (plain).
Compared to other prefectures in Japan, Kagawa receives below average rainfall. Its relatively dry environment makes it unsuitable for substantial rice cultivation, but is well-suited for growing wheat. The ingredients for making udon is very basic — wheat flour, salt and water — so it’s important to have raw ingredients that are high in quality. Apart from having an abundance of fine-quality wheat, Kagawa is also known for being a salt-producing region, with many salt fields in the area.
There are all types of udon to cater to all types of cravings
A bowl of typical bukkake udon, a simple yet deeply satisfying dish where the broth is a blend of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin combined with dashi.
The udon in Kagawa is known for its excellent texture — firm yet silky smooth, and deliciously chewy (or “mochi mochi” as the Japanese would say). The most popular variant of udon is the Sanuki udon, which comes with a broth made with iriko (dried sardines) but there are many options depending on your preference.
Shippoku udon, served with stewed seasonal vegetables, is a popular option in colder months.
In winter, get cosy with a steaming bowl of kake udon (soy sauce, mirin and dashi) or Shippoku udon, served with stewed seasonal vegetables.
When the weather is hotter, cool down with some zaru udon, which is cold noodles served with a chilled dipping sauce made with dashi, mirin and shoyu, and paired with wasabi or grated ginger. Bukkake udon, which can be served cold as well, comes with a moreish sauce of soy sauce, mirin and dashi. Most udon come with a generous serving of finely chopped scallions.
Most udon shops act on a self-service model
For first-time visitors to Kagawa, knowing what to do in a typical udon shop can be a bit confusing. At self-service restaurants, there is usually an order counter close to entrance where you can order a bowl of udon with the amount of noodles you want. Then, cook the noodles with the hot water provided before adding toppings such as leek, ginger or tenkasu (tempura bits). Finish off by pouring the broth into your bowl of noodles. Each restaurant has a different payment system, so observe other customers to see how to pay. Many restaurants have an honour system where you simply inform the counter staff what you had. Oh, and remember to put your bowl back after eating!
Explore the region’s best udon in an udon taxi
An udon taxi is a fun and convenient way to try both popular and less-known udon restaurants in Kagawa Prefecture.
Of course, if you prefer to have a guided tour of the best udon shops in Kagawa, simply book an udon taxi. Operated by Kotohira Bus Co., this service is run by cabbies who take visitors to the best udon shops in Kagawa. This is a great way to check out udon restaurants that may be below the tourist radar and not commonly found in guidebooks. Not only do these drivers have an insider’s knowledge on the best udon shops in Kagawa, they are well-versed in the history and culture of udon, and can share these fun facts with you during your tour. Because each driver has to undergo stringent tests before qualifying as an udon taxi guide, you can be assured you’ll be in good hands.