Sample taste of Japan in bowl of udon at Sakaide in Ichigaya, Tokyo

Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi

Sample taste of Japan in bowl of udon at Sakaide in Ichigaya, Tokyo

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

In Japan, there are many washoku dishes to try. Sushi, sashimi, tempura, sukiyaki, okonomiyaki and soba noodles are only a few of the hundreds of the delicacies in this section of Japanese cuisine.

Noodles are pretty popular washoku dishes and it is not difficult to find places around the country serving many different varieties of soba, ramen, somen and more. Another type of noodle that has been garnering its own fanatic following is udon.

Udon noodles are made of wheat flour and were first introduced in Japan’s Medieval Era. These white noodles can be enjoyed in both hot and cold broth, or with a wide range of pot dishes.

A great place to sample this washoku darling is Udon SAKAIDE in Tokyo’s Ichigaya District, only a 20-minute train ride from Hardy Barracks.

I discovered this udon joint in Yotsuya Town about 11 years ago and became a loyal fan. I have since continued to visit for a nice bowl in its new location. Udon SAKAIDE’s extremely chewy, thick and heavy noodles with delicately-season, yet savory full-bodied broth, keeps me coming back for more no matter where they set up shop.

My usual order is the “shiro” (white) udon with pork ribs and homemade ginger-based broth (available in either hot or cold) for 900 yen ($8). The tender and savory pork ribs go best with the broth made from multiple different dashi stocks such as kelp, dried small sardines and bonito. The combination makes the strong-bodied noodles really stand out.

According to the shop’s owner, Ryota Moriya, he and another cook, Makoto Narimatsu, make the noodles by hand using only wheat flour, water and salt that are produced in the main island of Hokkaido.

The duo then applies a traditional method to make the noodles.

“After stirring flour, water and salt into a dough, we carefully fold and press it repeatedly – more than 200 times – until it becomes firm and strong,” Moriya said. “This time-consuming process gives the dough such a unique strong body and smooth texture.”

Moriya explains that udon is basically made up of noodle and broth, therefore, the quality of these two main ingredients determines how good the whole dish will be. He said that determining the formula of water, salt and flour and accounting for weather and humidity conditions are all important factors in creating the perfect udon noodle for his shop.

The attention to detail will be obvious with one slurp of SAKAIDE’s firm noodles and in its ranking as one of Tabelog’s 100 best Tokyo udon restaurants in 2020.

The restaurant can accommodate about 30 seats at its tables and L-shaped counter. The clean black-hued cozy interior in dimmed illumination is not very large, but that gives you an opportunity to watch Moriya and Narimatsu make noodles while you enjoy your tasty meal.

Besides the most popular pork rib udon, SAKAIDE offers various other udon dishes, such as curry udon, vegetable tempura udon, along with some seasonal noodle dishes. You also can add various toppings, such as grinded radish, egg and seaweed onto your dish.

Moriya opened the restaurant in 2010 after gaining the skills to make tasty udon through years of working at various eateries. He named the joint SAKAIDE after the city in Kagawa Prefecture where he completed his cooking practice.

Moriya’s restaurant has become somewhat of a spot for friends gathering to have bonenkai end-of-year parties, as it can be reserved for private events. Moriya is also a qualified sommelier, so take advantage of his expertise for a great wine, sake or shochu to go along with your meal.

The tasty udon restaurant is only a 3-minute walk from Ichigaya Station of JR and several subway lines. If you’re in Tokyo and maybe staying a night at New Sanno or Hardy Barracks, visit Udon SAKAIDE and sample a tasty bowl of true Japan.

Hours: Mon. – Fri., 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m., 5:30 -10 p.m., Sat., 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. (Due to on-going COVID-19 restrictions, hours are subject to change.)
Location: 21-18 Ichigayasanaicho [B1F], Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
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What is washoku?
Wonderful combination of aesthetics and flavors

Ever since “washoku,” or traditional Japanese food, was designated an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2013, popular Japanese dishes like sushi, tempura, sukiyaki and ramen have been garnering a lot of international attention.

In Japan, “washoku” distinguishes cuisine originated here like “yoshoku” (Western-style foods), “chuka” (Chinese foods) and various other exotic “esunikku,” ethnical dishes.

Washoku dates back over 500 years and one primary feature of this cuisine is it’s presser vation of ingredients’ natural and original flavor. For instance, fish and meat in washoku is often served raw or with little seasoning. Another important aspect of washoku is to value the four seasons by using seasonal ingredients like tender young buds from wild plants in the spring, to light pickled vegetables in the summer, various nuts in the fall and radish and other root vegetables in the winter.

In washoku, while dashi stock made from bonito flake or kelp, soy-sauce and mirin are applied to most dishes, oil is used only lightly. A typical washoku meal made up of “ichi ju san sai” (one soup, three side dishes) with a bowl of steamed rice to provide a variety of flavors and colors and keep a well-balanced nutrition in the meal.

Soba and udon are two of the main noodle dishes in washoku. Soba are long, thin noodles made from buckwheat flour, while udon are white flour noodles that are thick and chewy. They can be served in a hot broth or cold on a basket with a cold dipping sauce.

On traveling the nation or at a traditional Japanese restaurant or a ryokan traditional Japanese inn, you can enjoy some unique set dishes, such as “shojin ryori” (temple food that is entirely vegan), “kaiseki ryori” (a meal traditionally served at ceremonial banquets), which are comprised of small dishes masterfully prepared with seasonal fresh ingredients served one after another.

Washoku is a great gateway to Japanese culture. So, while in Japan, explore the rich dietary tradition of Japan through washoku! 

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