• Delicious

Udon with red toppings at start of New Year

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Toshiake udon sold at the Zenkoku Toshiake Udon Taikai convention in Takamatsu. From left, Inaniwa udon from Akita Prefecture, Sanuki udon from Kagawa Prefecture and Ise udon from Mie Prefecture

A New Year’s udon dish from Kagawa Prefecture has been popping up in more and more areas known for producing the white noodle in recent years. Toshiake udon, or udon noodles for the start of the New Year, are topped with red ingredients such as umeboshi pickled plum or traditional kamaboko fish sausages. The dish’s red and white color combination is considered to be auspicious in Japan.

Created in 2009 at the proposal of a noodle-makers’ organization in Kagawa Prefecture, home of sanuki udon, the dish has been expanding outside of the prefecture where it was originally cooked up.

From all over Japan

The Zenkoku Toshiake Udon Taikai convention was held in December at Sun Messe Kagawa exhibition hall in Takamatsu. The event has been held every year since 2014 under the sponsorship of the Kagawa prefectural government and other organizations so that more people can taste and learn about the New Year’s udon. The two-day event attracted industry groups and other exhibitors from 15 prefectures and about 7,000 visitors.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Visitors at Zenkoku Toshiake Udon Taikai

At the event, the Honba Sanuki Udon Cooperative of udon restaurants in Kagawa Prefecture offered udon made from prefecture-grown Sanuki no Yume wheat topped with mochi filled with red bean paste.

The dish was a variation of anmochi zoni soup, which is a traditional New Year’s dish widely eaten in the prefecture. Instead of plain mochi, the soup features mochi with sweet bean paste.

Among other toshiake udon dishes with unique takes introduced at the event were Inaniwa thin udon topped with red carrots from Akita Prefecture and Ise udon from Mie Prefecture cooked with thick, soft noodles and red kamaboko.

“I was able to enjoy a variety of flavors from various regions,” said Yasuhiro Takahashi, a local company employee who tasted 12 kinds of udon with two of his family members at the event.

Something like toshikoshi soba

Toshiake udon is defined as “udon topped with red ingredients and eaten between New Year’s Day and Jan. 15.”

It all started in 2008 with a remark from an udon industry official at a meeting after a noodle event in Takamatsu. “At the end of the year, people enjoy eating toshikoshi soba [traditional ‘passing of the year’ buckwheat noodles]. But why aren’t there any such customs for udon?” the official said.

So they began brainstorming on how to make udon with added value like toshikoshi soba. In the course of their discussions, they focused on the custom in Kagawa Prefecture, where people eat udon together with their families and acquaintances on New Year’s Day and other occasions. They finally came up with the concept of “udon eaten at the start of the year.” Another factor behind the creation of toshiake udon was that there were almost no major featured products in the food industry from after the year-end sales season to Valentine’s Day in February.

Shigeki Omine, president of the Honba Sanuki Udon Cooperative, said, “We want to continue working to make toshiake udon eaten in every home in the country and make it take root as a culture in society.”

New Year’s Day cup udon

The cooperative is making various efforts to raise awareness of toshiake udon.

Among them is the introduction of Nissin no Omede Donbei Toshiake Udon, a cup noodle product prepared with kamaboko bearing the kanji character of kotobuki, meaning celebration or longevity in Japanese, and red umeboshi. The product made by Nissin Food Products Co. is sold with the suggested retail price of ¥193.

The cup noodle was developed at the request of the cooperative and has been sold during the year-end and New Year’s holidays since 2009 under different names. It was not sold in 2018, but was revived in 2019 in response to consumer requests.

This season, it went on sale on Dec. 13. An official of Nissin Food said, “It has become a regular product to be enjoyed at the beginning of the year.”

Various udon recipes using red ingredients such as fried shrimp cake and cherry tomatoes are available on Toshiake Udon’s official website.

In addition to about 120 restaurants in Kagawa Prefecture, toshiake udon for the New Year was offered at about 15 restaurants in such places as Tokyo and Osaka.