While Japanese noodle fanatics have been gawking over artisanal ramen joints, another type of noodle business has been growing, albeit at a much quieter pace, within Los Angeles. The noodle of choice? Handmade udon.
According to Yoko Isassi, a Japanese cooking instructor in Los Angeles, the composition of udon is quite simple. The basic ingredients are wheat flour, water and salt. "There's typically a 13% gluten content," she says. "Every udon shop has their own specific type of mix."
There are two new handmade udon shops now open in Little Toyko, Marugame Monzo and Tsurumaru, both of which have opened within the last year. Although both restaurants craft udon from scratch, Tsurumaru specializes in Osaka-style udon, while the style of Monzo's noodles originated in the Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku island.
Located on the third floor of the Little Toyko Mall, Tsurumaru is a franchise business from Japan that opened in February. It's structured like a Japanese fast food joint: You order from a counter and prices range from $4 to $5 for regular-sized portions. "This is a self-serve restaurant," the general manager told us. "We also have an open kitchen so people can see how they serve the food."
The menu items -- most of which are just udon with a topping of choice -- are simple and bonito flakes are a underlying theme in each dish. "The bonito flakes and quality of our dashi is the key," the general manager says.
Recommendations: Go for the bukkake noodles on a hot summer day. They're served cold over a soy sauce base with bonito flavor. The beef udon (#11), according to Honda, is another customer favorite.
Nextdoor to the ever-bustling Daikokuya, Marugame Monzo is a fancier udon shop than Tsurumaru. It's a sit-down restaurant and the wait can get long during peak hours. They specialize in Sanuki udon, which is created by pounding on the dough; the result is a firm and chewy texture.
Monzo aims to make udon a delicacy. They have the regular items, such as kitsune (topped with aburaage, or deep-fried tofu), zaru (chilled) and tempura udon. Further down the menu is another class of noodles, a fusion between East and West with appealing combinations, such as miso carbonara or, more elaborately and at $15.95 a pop, sea urchin cream udon.
Recommendations: For those craving a more traditional meal, go with the kitsune udon, which is served with a complimentary dollop of garlic. If you want to try their signature dishes, the sea urchin noodles -- drenched in a generous helping of cream -- is fantastic.
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Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Clarissa blogs about Asian food at clarissawei.com. Follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.