Guest blogger I-Chun Liu introduces another Japanese noodle restaurant, this one featuring udon. And she is such a regular that the owner’s wife knows to prepare her ‘usual’ order.
It was my search for handmade soba that unexpectedly led me to Naosara 尚更about nine years ago. Back then, handmade soba was nowhere to be found in Taipei, but I read about a family restaurant that made wonderful udon. So good, in fact, that a Japanese customer asked to meet the chef and bowed to him three times in a show of profound appreciation. This anecdote piqued my curiosity enough to want to try Naosara’s famed udon even though I was a non-udon eater then, as I had preferred thin noodles.
That first visit quickly converted me into a fan of handmade udon and has made me a regular customer since. I love how L.A. Times restaurant critic, Jonathan Gold, described the various Japanese noodles: “Ramen is the hedonist’s Japanese noodle, designed for sensation, often at its best when it is delivering extreme wallops of garlic, chili or boiled-pork umami. Soba , gingerly fashioned from buckwheat, is the aesthete’s noodle, best when it is most austere. Udon, the traditional noodle of the Kagawa prefecture, lies somewhere in the middle, not quite a party noodle, but not quite plain.” I cannot agree more!
Naosara is named after its owner-chef who is half-Japanese. Established in 1982, this family restaurant located in Hachijo Street八條通 off Zhongshan North Road Section 1 specialises in making Sanuki udon 讃岐うどん, popular in the Shikoku region in Japan. It is characterised by its square shape and flat edges.
The menu is in Chinese and Japanese. There are no photos, but you can view pictures of some of the popular dishes on its Facebook page. Here’s a translation of their udon offerings:
• Kitsune (tofu skin) udon
• Shrimp tempura dipping udon (cold or hot)
• Dipping udon (cold or hot)
• Nabeyaki (hot pot) udon
• Miso udon
• Curry udon
• Extra noodles (+80g on top of normal serve of 140g)
Other dishes on the menu include rice dishes, soup, cold appetisers, grilled items, stews, deep fried food, stir-fries, vinegar dishes, beer, sake, shoju, whiskey, Chinese Shaoxing wine and soft drinks.
The udon is made at the back of the restaurant. You can catch a glimpse of the owner’s daughter-in-law weighing the noodles through a window in the washroom.
We’ve been such regulars at Naosara that the owner’s wife needs only to confirm if we’re having “the usual”. This normally includes a small glass of Taiwan draft beer (NT$100) which comes with a complimentary dish of seaweed. Having something to drink or munch on is recommended as the food is made to order and can take a while to arrive, especially when the restaurant is full.
Pork and tofu stew, with mushroom, scallion, onion and Ito Konnyaku (糸蒟蒻) noodles (NT$180) is our “go to” comfort food. The scallion adds zing to the mellow broth which is made with kelp, soy sauce, rice wine and sugar.
We also like having a vegetable dish for our meal. In autumn-winter this is often stir-fried spinach, egg and mushroom (NT$120). In the hotter months, when spinach is not in season, we order the Chinese small mustard green (NT$120), skipping the bacon which accompanies it. The stir-fried vegetables have a lot of “wok flavour” (“wok hei” in Cantonese), which is prized in Asian cuisine.
By now, the noodles are ready. Our udon of choice has always been the Kamaage udon (udon served in hot water, with dipping sauce of dashi made using bonito, kelp and soy sauce; NT$150). The humble-looking udon is excellent even eaten on its own. This is artisanal udon, quite different from the denser, mass produced variety. The noodles are cooked al dente, so let them know if you prefer your noodles softer, or just leave the noodles to soak a little longer. The broth has a delicate, smoky bonito flavour and a tinge of spiciness from the grated ginger and chopped scallion. After finishing the noodles, you can pour the dipping broth into the pot of hot water and drink it as soup.
Usually, our grilled fish arrives while we are enjoying the noodles (be prepared for a waiting time of about 20 minutes). Our favourite threadfin 午魚 (NT$350) is always grilled to perfection: crispy on the outside yet tender and succulent within.
The total bill for this wholesome dinner was a reasonable NT$1,050. Quality is consistently good, that’s why Naosara has been one of the rare places that we’ve been frequenting since coming to Taipei in 2005, despite several new udon eateries sprouting up in recent years.
Address: No. 8, Lane 135, Zhongshan North Road Section 1, Taipei (in Hachijo Street八條通)
Tel: (02) 2511-2146
Open: 11:30am to 2pm and 5:30pm to 10pm (Sunday closed)
Note: Cash only
Reviewed by: I-Chun Liu