Udon noodles are a type of Japanese fast food, and are a staple Japanese dish among the common people. Among all the udon chain restaurants that have branches all over Japan, those that have implemented a self-serve style in which customers can choose their favorite ingredients are especially popular. In this article we feature 5 of these kinds of udon chain restaurants.
1. Marugame Seimen
Marugame Seimen boasts to be the self-serve udon chain restaurant with the largest number of branches across Japan, which amount to about 780 branches in all 47 prefectures. The reason for its popularity lies in the fact that customers can always enjoy fresh homemade noodles in all of its restaurants, which are equipped with a noodle-making machine. The additive-free noodles are made using only flour from Hokkaido, salt, and water, and have an outstanding texture to the bite. In addition, the noodles are thoroughly managed by making slight changes to the quantities of ingredients used and temperature depending on the season and the climate of each specific region, and the restaurant is very particular about serving only freshly boiled noodles. We recommend not only their udon noodles, but also their tempura, which can be chosen as a topping. The reason why their tempura is so popular to the point that most customers order it with their noodles, is that it is freshly fried too. The restaurant offers a permanent lineup of 10 types of tempura, of which the most popular ones are the vegetable fritter, the chicken tempura, and the chikuwa tempura, among others. Depending on the season and the region, you may find that they also have limited-edition tempura varieties. In order to enhance the delicious flavor of the tempura when it is soaked in the soup to be eaten together with the noodles, the batter used is slightly harder and thicker than the usual. Enjoy its crunchiness first as it is, and then soak it in the soup to enjoy its juicy texture. Prices vary depending on the size of your portion and the type of udon you are ordering, but most range between 300 and 500 JPY. Tempura costs about 100 JPY a piece. Other toppings such as green onion and ginger are free. Enjoy making arrangements to your taste!
2. Hanamaru Udon
Hanamaru Udon is a health-oriented self-serve udon chain. Its concept is based on Sanuki udon, a type of udon originating in Kagawa, the prefecture that is considered to be the birthplace of udon. Hanamaru Udon's noodles are characterized by a unique texture, the use of raw noodles, and a soup made with plenty of dried young sardines, an essential of the typical Sanuki udon broth. Now if you are wondering what is so health-oriented about this restaurant, it is the the fact that they have developed their own type of noodles, of which one portion has as much dietary fiber as one whole lettuce. Here you can enjoy the authentic flavor of Sanuki udon in a much healthier way than you would otherwise. They are also very particular about making their tempura healthier, too, which they achieve by adding rice flour to the batter and cooking it following an original method that cuts the calories in their tempura to about 1/3 less than in regular tempura. This healthy type of tempura, which absorbs 47% less oil than regular tempura, is especially popular among women. Their udon menu includes dishes with plenty of vegetables, such as their salad udon, along with other heartier dishes for those wanting to enjoy a bigger meal, such as the Shiobuta Ontama Bukkake (with pork and egg), and the Gyuniku Ontama Bukkake (with beef and egg). In addition, they have a plentiful variety of side dishes available besides tempura, such as curry and shiobuta-don (pork ticebowl), which makes this chain restaurant the perfect place for both people who want to enjoy udon in a healthy way, and for those who want to eat until they are full. Prices vary depending on the type of udon and portion size, but they range between 300 and 600 JPY. Tempura pieces cost about 100 JPY a piece, and "don-mono" dishes (ricebowls) cost about 400 JPY. The restaurant also has meal sets of udon and don-mono available, which cost about 600 JPY.
3. Rakugama Seimenjo
Rakugama Seimenjo has most of its branches in the Tokyo metropolitan area. This restaurant is characterized by its noodles, which are homemade using domestically produced flour, and are freshly boiled before being served. In addition, the restaurant is especially particular about using domestically produced high quality ingredients for their toppings and seasonings as well, including vegetables and eggs. The specialty of the restaurant is the Kamaage Udon, in which the noodles are boiled in a cauldron and then served in a bucket from which you pick them up to dip them in the soup and eat them. We especially recommend these chewy noodles for their smooth texture and their flavor, which is unique to udon boiled in a cauldron. We also recommend their curry udon, which is another of their popular dishes. The noodles mingle well with the curry, which features the distinctive flavor of Japanese dashi broth, making its spicy taste somewhat mellower in an addictive combination. They have a plentiful variety of tempura as well, which you can put on top of your udon or eat separately. Prices depend on portion sizes and the type of udon, but most dishes range between 300 and 600 JPY. Tempura pieces are about 100 JPY a piece.
4. Tsurumaru Udon
Tsurumaru Udon makes it a point to use light-flavored Kansai-style dashi and thin noodles in their dishes. The noodles are made daily in the restaurant using domestically produced flour. The broth is made using bonito, dried sardines, and kelp, and it is characterized by a full-bodied yet light flavor. It goes outstandingly well with the rather thin udon noodles. Because this is such a light-flavored dish, you may want to enjoy it with tempura or other heavier toppings, but another reason why we recommend this restaurant is its seasonal limited-edition menu. For example, during the spring, they have dishes such as Chicken Yuzu Pepper Udon, Rapeseed Blossom Fritter, Bamboo Shoot Tempura, and Cereal, Plum, and Perilla Rice Balls, among others. This is the perfect restaurant for those who would like to enjoy Japanese style udon noodles with a twist. Prices are a little cheaper than at other restaurants, ranging between 200 and 400 JPY for udon, and about 100 JPY for a piece of tempura.
Mugimaru is especially particular about the texture of their springy Sanuki udon noodles, and serves freshly boiled noodles that are homemade from scratch in house. The restaurant is popular for their outstandingly filling thick and chewy noodles and for the plentiful variety of tempura toppings available, featuring a permanent lineup of 13 different types. In addition, in most self-serve udon restaurants, the soup is brought to the table by a server. However, in Mugimaru, it is funny to note that even the soup is self-serve (this is not necessary for zaru-udon or kamaage-udon). You can also have as much as you want of seasonings and toppings like agedama, green onion, and ginger - add them to your taste to create balance with the soup! The set of Japanese-style curry rice and udon, which you can only find at an udon restaurant, is very popular too. And they also have curry udon, of course. Prices range between 300 and 500 JPY for udon, and 100 JPY for a piece of tempura. In addition, the restaurant offers discounts on days with the number 6 in them every month. It gets really crowded on these days, but we recommend giving it a try if you can!
Did you enjoy the article? These udon chains are attractive for being fast and inexpensive, and for allowing their customers to customize their dishes to their liking. Make sure you give them a try if you do not have a lot of time but want to enjoy some Japanese characteristic flavors.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.