A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Kagawa and Sanuki Udon

It’s the perfect time of year for luscious noodles in hot, savory broth. And Kagawa Prefecture, famous for its udon, is our destination this month!

Kagawa Prefecture lies on the northeastern part of Japan’s Shikoku Island. Its southern border is the Sanuki Mountain Range and the Seto Inland Sea borders the north. In between the mountains and the sea is a fertile plain of land where cotton, sugar, salt and wheat grow, and where cities famed as centers of trade and transportation have flourished since feudal times.

Takamatsu is the capital of the prefecture, serving as a hub for the rail system throughout Shikoku Island and the administrative, economic and cultural center of Kagawa Prefecture. In feudal times, Takamatsu Castle served as the area’s citadel and was surrounded by Ritsurin Garden and near to Honen-ji Temple. The old town is now surrounded by the modern city, and is a wonderful area to visit while journeying along the Kagawa coast, where one can visit Yashima, a 961-foot high lava plateau with breathtaking views of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Of the 116 islands in the Seto Inland Sea, Shodoshima Island is famous for its olive groves! This small island enjoys a surprising Mediterranean climate, making it ideal for cultivating olives, herbs and citrus fruit. And the island is also home to sheer cliffs and scenic valleys, making it a nature lover’s paradise.

The view from Kotohira Shrine

Because of the prefecture’s central location and access to various trade routes, many influences helped shape the culture of the area. Buddhism with a special emphasis on protecting sailors and travelers thrived here. Konpira-san, the protector god of sailors, is revered at the Kotohira Shrine. The shrine is located half-way up the side of Mt. Zozu and visitors must climb 1,368 steps to reach the inner shrine. If you can’t climb yourself, you can hire a palanquin to carry you! No matter how you get to the top, the view is worth it as you can see across the Sanuki Plain all the way to the sea, and can visit the treasure and art-filled rooms of the complex.

History, nature and religion aren’t the only attractions in Kagawa. Naoshima Island boasts world-class art, architecture, literary culture and environmental stewardship. The small island inspired Raymond Benson’s The Man with the Red Tattoo and the stunning art collections at the Benesse House and Chichu Art Museum, both of which were designed by world-famous architect Tadao Ando. Not to be missed are traditional bunraku puppet shows and a stay at a ryokan or minshuku.

Takamatsu Castle

Regardless of where you visit in Kagawa Prefecture, you’ll be amazed at the delicious offerings of world-class udon. Japanese udon are thick wheat noodles that are cooked until chewy and firm, then served in a soy-based soup. Udon is said to have been introduced to Japan from China. Today, many types of udon are made throughout Japan, with regional specialties adding unique and gourmand options to menus across the country.

Udon can be prepared and served in numerous ways, but at the heart of the preparation is the careful boiling of the noodles in hot water. After cooking, the noodles are served either hot in a tsuyu, or soup broth, or cold, zaru-style with a side of dipping sauce or bukkake-style with a chilled broth and toppings of scallions, ginger, sesame, nori seaweed and powdered chili pepper. Regional udon recipes include adding tempura, kakiage, raw eggs or tofu skin to the dish, and two very popular variations are to serve the noodles in a Japanese curry or as a stir-fried yaki-udon dish.

Chilled zaru udon

There are so many varieties and combinations of how to prepare, serve and eat udon! In Kagawa, where a regional specialty called “sanuki udon” is so loved that the prefecture has been nicknamed the “Udon Prefecture”!

Sanuki udon got its name from the ancient ancestral name of the prefecture, called Sanuki. In this version of udon, the noodles are boiled in hot water and then removed from the cooking liquid. They are then added to a hot tsuyu broth and topped with an egg and finely chopped scallions. Udon is such a famous dish in Kagawa that “udon meguri”, or udon restaurant crawls, are common activities for locals and tourists alike. Each restaurant features their own take on sanuki udon, with some making tsuyu with their own special recipes and others offering unique and varied toppings. Most people can’t eat more than what they sample at three restaurants, but each day offers a new and interesting group of venues!

We love udon so much that we’ve features many recipes on our website. Whether or not you can sample authentic sanuki udon, try our recipes for Chilled Zaru Udon, Homemade Teuchi Udon, Hearty Tempura Udon, and Stir-Fried Yaki Udon. Each and every one of these dishes is sure to become a favorite!

We know you’ll love udon as much as we do, and can’t wait to see your comments below!

Product Inspirations – Gourmet Sizzler® Electric Griddle (EA-BDC10) + Takoyaki Plate (EA-YBC01)

Improving our customers’ quality of life through the creation of innovative products remains at the heart of what we do. This founding principle guided our product designers to create one of our favorite appliances – the Gourmet Sizzler® Electric Griddle (EA-BDC10) and the optional Takoyaki Plate (EA-YBC01)!

Our newest griddle exemplifies the style, ease and versatility you’ve come to expect from us. It features a compact, user-friendly size along with even heat distribution for speedy cooking. It also comes with a convenient lid, variable temperature settings and a removable cooking plate made with a diamond-pattern surface which protects the nonstick coating and helps to keep foods from sticking.

The cooking plate is heated to the temperature set using the temperature control plug, which lets you choose between a keep warm temperature of 176°F to a cooking temperature of 400°F. This variable temperature setting makes the griddle versatile enough to cook a range of foods, from breakfast dishes like pancakes to filling dinners like okonomiyaki, yakisoba and burgers. When you use the convenient lid, you can also steam foods like pot stickers, and prevent spills and splatters when you’re grilling meat or making tender stir-fries.

The optional takoyaki plate, which can be purchased separately, makes this griddle even more multipurpose, letting you make 26 large savory takoyaki at a time. If you’ve never had takoyaki, you’re sure to love this iconic Japanese street food. Takoyaki are made with octopus, flour, dashi, eggs and savory seasonings. We’ve posted a great how-to video on our website to help you prepare them!

The Gourmet Sizzler® Electric Griddle comes with numerous other convenience and safety and features. The griddle has a 6.6 foot long power cord that lets you plug it in next to your table, and the cooking plate and heater sit inside a body guard which is designed to help prevent scalding. And the cooking plate won’t heat unless the temperature control plug is correctly installed.

As with most of our products, keeping the griddle clean is simple and straightforward, as the parts assemble and disassemble easily. The cooking plate and body guard can be fully immersed in warm water and mild detergent for cleaning. The exterior simply needs to be wiped down before storage.

With all of these features, we really love using the griddle for breakfast and dinner (and maybe a dessert or two!). All of the ingredients for hearty breakfasts like our Irish Good Morning, which features eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes and puddings, can be lined up on the griddle at the same time. No need to use multiple skillets and pans to get breakfast on the table. Complete dinners such as Miso-Marinated Chicken Teppanyaki are savory and simple to make. Just line up marinated chicken with vegetables on the cooking plate, pop on the lid and let the griddle go to work. Dinner can be ready in less than half an hour, and cleanup is simple with only the griddle to worry about. Of course, dessert is always an option, especially when it’s our luscious Chocolate-Chocolate Crepes!

No matter what you’re using it for, check out the Gourmet Sizzler® Electric Griddle and optional Takoyaki Plate. And as always, be sure to share your favorite recipes with us!

Japanese Drinks – Wine!

Varietals. Aromas. Complexity. Palettes. Terroir.

Wine inspires passion, joy, camaraderie, sweat, tears and toil. Cultures and industries throughout history have focused on the creation of wine from crushed and fermented grapes. And this infinitely varied drink is becoming a staple in modern Japanese cuisine.

Wine is made from the grapes, typically of the Vitis vinifera family of grapes, which originate from the area that spans Western Europe through the Middle East until the banks of the Caspian Sea. From ancient times, grapevines were highly prized and traded, and grape cultivation is now common on every continent on Earth except for Antarctica.

Grapes were introduced to Japan during the Nara Period (710 – 794 CE), at a time of diplomatic, cultural and religious exchanges between China and Japan. Grapevines were cultivated in Yamanashi, Yamagata and Nagano Prefectures along with some areas in Hokkaido. Until the 16th century, when Jesuit missionaries from Portugal brought wine as gifts for the Japanese nobility, grapes were simply consumed as fruit, not wine. Japanese people tasted wine only through the missions, and the unfamiliar beverage did not gain popularity until the 19th century, during the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912). Cross-cultural exchange thrived during the Meiji Era, and the diplomats of the Iwakura Mission famously traveled to America and Europe, gathering information about many advances and industries, including viticulture. The first native Japanese wine was attempted using sake equipment and koshu grapes that were cultivated in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Today, wine drinking is increasing in popularity and many varietals pair beautifully with Japanese food. According to Peter Kasperski in Food & Wine, “Sake is legendary in Japan because of its ability to offering subtlety and nuance – just like dishes such as sashimi. Wines with similar subtlety and nuance tend to fall into the category of light, white and crisply acidic, with bright fruit notes… with a chameleonlike  way of matching a variety of dishes.”

These characteristics are inherent in two of the most popular indigenous Japanese grapes: the white “koshu” and the red “Muscat Bailey A”. These two grapes make up the majority of grapes used in native Japanese winemaking. Wine from koshu grapes is typically refreshing, with notes of grapefruit and lemon and with light acidity. Wine from Muscat grapes is also light in acidity, with subtle notes of cherries, peaches, rose petals, apricot and orange blossoms. Japanese winemakers utilize the well-known winemaking process developed by the French, where carefully cultivated grapes are harvested, crushed and pressed, then mixed with yeast, sugars and water into a mixture called a must. This mixture is fermented, then strained, or clarified. The clarified liquid undergoes a second fermentation, after which it is bottled and aged. Once produced, Japanese wines are categorized as kokunaisan, wine made exclusively from domestic materials; kokusan, wine made from imported ingredients but fermented in Japan; and yunyu, imported wine that is bottled in Japan.

Japanese food pairs beautifully with wine. Sashimi and sushi lend themselves to crisp white wines, including light, sweet Rieslings, mineral-rich, full-bodied Pinot Blancs and dry koshu-based wines. Fried foods such as tempura and karaage ideally pair with sparkling wines as well as light, mineral-rich red wines, such as Sancerres, Muscats and even some varieties of rosés. And grilled meats such as yakitori and teppanyaki complement fuller, fruit-forward white and red wines such as Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Sauvignon Blancs and certain Bordeaux.

Almost any type of Japanese food is delicious when paired with wine!

We hope you try your favorite wine with some of our favorite foods, and as always, don’t forget to share your best pairings with us!

The Taste Test

With the holidays coming up, we’re all going to be doing a lot of eating, right? I got to thinking how we’re going to taste all this food that we’re going to consume. Have you ever thought about the science behind our taste buds? Did you know that the “tongue map” that shows how different parts of your tongue taste sweet, sour, bitter, and salty is completely wrong, and that it was debunked by scientific research in 1974? Since that tongue diagram has been around since 1901, I guess we were pretty gullible about our tongues for a long time.

The truth is that all parts of our tongue can taste everything, even though certain areas are more sensitive than others, like the sides compared to the middle. The one exception is that the back of the tongue is most sensitve to bitter taste. Why? Apparently this is the body’s defense mechanism so we can taste poisonous or spoiled food and be able to spit it out before we can swallow it! Yes, the human body is awesome!

Even though tasting starts with the tongue, being able to connect the taste with a flavor is also related to our sense of smell. A food’s flavor only happens when it’s combined with your smell—which is why we can’t taste much when we have a cold and our nose is stuffed up. So how do our tongues work? Those little bumps that you have on the surface, called papillae, contain many sensory cells more commonly known as our taste buds. These buds are what sends the signals to our brains that help us identify flavors.

The papillae are concentrated mostly at the tip and at the edges, where the tongue is most sensitive to taste. Most adults have between 2000 and 8000 taste buds in our tongues, but unfortunately we start to lose them as we get older or they shrink, along with their capacity to distinguish flavors. Bummer.

Today there are 5 basic indentifiable tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, which was discovered by a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda in the early 1900s. Umami has now become common knowledge among the foodies, who like to show that they know such things, but it took a long time for umami to catch on here. Maybe it’s because umami is hard to define. The word savory and brothy is used most to describe the taste—a long lasting aftertaste that leaves a pleasant coating sensation on the tongue.

Recently researchers have been studying even more distinct tastes that can be isolated and identified. New evidence suggests that the tongue probably has the capacity to taste fat, which scientists have described as the sensation you’d get from “eating oxidized oil.” Ugh! Maybe this is a good thing though, like the body’s ability to warn us to stay away from it, like when something bitter might be poisonous. Eventually fat will probably become the 6th taste.

So what’s the sweetest food you’ve ever tasted? How about the sourest, or saltiest, or bitterest?


Sources: Thanks to U.S. National Library of Medicine for the taste facts.
Images: Cat by Dominique, Tongue Diagram courtesy of Educhien.com, 5 Tastes by Study.com