Hungry? Take the Udon Taxi
It’s not unusual for a Japanese cab to pull up at your guesthouse on Shikoku island to take you on a tour. The only difference? There’s a giant bowl of noodles on the roof. Meet the Udon Taxi. The otherwise unassuming car service provides visitors the opportunity to visit the best noodle restaurants in the area with a certified udon expert. This service is quickly gaining in popularity as visitors learn about the udon hot spot of Kagawa. Yes, what has been local knowledge for decades—that the prefecture was home to the best udon in Japan—is now becoming foodie fodder and a reason to plan a trip to the delicious destination.
History of Udon in Kagawa
The unique experience grew in popularity over the years as Kagawa became known as the udon hub. Of course, the famous Japanese cuisine can be found across the country—just like sushi and ramen—with a variety of prepared styles. But, Kagawa has lower rainfall amounts than the rest of Japan, making it better suited to grow wheat instead of rice. Since flour is the main ingredient in udon noodles, it allowed locals to perfect the signature square-cut, chewy, flat noodle known as Sanuki udon.
Today, according to the Udon Taxi, a resident in Kagawa eats about 72 pounds of udon in a year, and there are more than 500 local udon eateries. That number is already impressive, but even more so since Kagawa is the smallest prefecture in Japan.
This plethora of dining options and distinctive noodles has attracted people from all over the country to pay a visit. The creation of the Udon Taxi opened up the market even more by luring international foodies eager to taste the slippery sensation.
The Udon Taxi Experience
With more than 500 udon shops, it’s impossible to sample them all in one trip (or even one lifetime). So, the Udon Taxi will curate an itinerary based on several factors, from time allocated for the tour to flavor preferences. The Udon Taxi promises to showcase the area’s most famous udon restaurants along with local finds that aren’t in guidebooks.
There’s a pamphlet of the restaurants and pictures from which you can choose. You can also ask the expert to take you to their favorite spots. Just ask for their osusume, or recommendation. Generally, the experience offers a one to two-hour tour visiting up to three udon restaurants.
The Udon Taxi driver is a certified driver that must pass a specific test. On the way to the chosen dining destinations, the expert shares the history of udon in the region (which dates back to the 9th century) and how it has transformed the small area. You’ll also learn about the preparation varieties available like basic Kake udon, which is just hot broth with noodles and a touch of fried negi (green onions). There’s also Niku udon, which includes meat, and Tsukimi udon served with a raw egg on top, among many other types.
No matter the preparation, most of the restaurants you’ll notice are low-key and inexpensive. But they will vary in experience. For example, Suzaki Foods Shop is hidden behind a 5th-generation grocery store. Meanwhile, Miyagawa Seimenjo has a serve-yourself setup, and Yamashita Udon feels more like a traditional restaurant with table service and a large parking lot. There, you’ll find a variety of side dishes such as tempura, oden and rice balls. Finally, Yamauchi Udon is an udon shop that operates quietly on the mountainside, making it one of the most unique.
You could also request a stop at the RyōshinIchi Takase farmer’s market to see some of the local produce like daikon (flavor is like that of a mild radish), mizuna greens (Japanese mustard greens) and bamboo shoots. Of course, you’ll notice shelves stacked with bags of homemade udon noodles. Here you can also pick up some prepared food if you want to make the market part of the tasting experience (think tempura and miso soup).
No matter the stop, the driver will walk you through the options available, how to order and the proper way to consume the toothsome dish. You’ll quickly learn that slurping the noodles off chopsticks is not only considered acceptable and polite but also is meant to cool the noodles and enhance the flavor. Some serve-yourself locales will also offer a selection of condiments like scallions, soy sauce and chili flakes that you can add to the dish.
While udon is typically served in a hot or cold broth that you can sip once the noodles are consumed, some establishments serve the noodles sans liquid to taste them in their purest form.
Once finished with the tour, the driver will drop you back at your guesthouse or any location of your choice where it’s possible to enjoy other udon experiences.
Plan an Entire Udon-Themed Stay
Why stop at the Udon Taxi for a culinary-focused stay? Visitors can also check in to Japan’s noodle hotel, Udon House. Part hotel and part cooking school, the property is dedicated to teaching all that goes into making an incredible serving of Sanuki udon. While there, you can craft your own udon from scratch via the Master Class.
The course takes up an entire day (about six hours) and includes visiting a local farm, a history lesson, noodle sampling by an udon master and learning to make the dish yourself (and then eating it, of course). After spending the night, you’ll get to go on a breakfast tour of local-favorite Udon restaurants before exploring the Seto Inland Sea via canoe or stand-up paddleboard in the warmer months.
The property will even help book the Udon Taxi to make it a seamless experience. Otherwise, check out Visit Kagawa, the official Kagawa tourism association, to curate an udon cooking class.
The cost for the Udon Taxi is ¥2400 per person for two people and one restaurant stop.