Marugame Udon: Largest Japanese Udon Chain
What makes Marugame Udon restaurants so popular
Have you ever tried Japanese Udon?
There are three types of Japanese noodles that are popular which are Ramen, Soba, and Udon. When it comes to foreign visitors, the spotlight usually points to Ramen first, followed by Soba. Because of this, many people tend to overlook Udon.
But I’m here to talk to you about Udon; especially about Marugame Udon (a.k.a. Marugame Seimen “丸亀製麺”) which is the largest and one of the most popular Japanese udon restaurant chains.
Udon, like much traditional Japanese food, has a long history and it is an important part of the country’s culture. In this article, I will show you what Udon is as well as what makes Marugame Udon such a popular udon restaurant chain in Japan.
What is Udon?
First, let me explain a little about Udon. Udon is a thick noodle made from wheat flour, water, and salt. Its origin is not clear, having many theories, but it is believed to have come from China during the Kamakura era (12th to the beginning of the 14th century).
As I previously mentioned, udon has been an important part of Japanese culture. Since it is relatively easy to prepare because of the ingredients, it has been a substitute for white rice among the common people across Japan for centuries. Depending on how you prepare it, it is also served on special occasions.
In most cases, udon is thick and white in color. This makes it quite easy to distinguish from Ramen or Soba. And there is a wide variety of ways to prepare and serve it. The simplest and most standard way is called “Kake udon”, which is eaten with Kakejiru (broth soup) and toppings.
Both kakejiru and toppings may vary depending on the region or taste of the person preparing them. Some of the most famous udon in Japan are “Sanuki udon” from Kagawa prefecture, “Inaniwa udon” from Akita prefecture, and “Kishimen” from Aichi prefecture.
About Marugame Udon
Ok, now let’s talk about Marugame Udon. Marugame Udon, more commonly known in Japan as Marugame Seimen, started in the year 2000 when it opened its first restaurant in Kakogawa city, Hyogo prefecture.
First, they started expanding slowly, but from the mid-2000s they began to open new restaurants all across Japan at a fast pace, to the point that in November of 2009 they officially became the Udon restaurant chain with the most restaurants in the country. Even more, in May 2011, by opening their Okinawa branch, they became the first udon restaurant chain to have at least one restaurant in all 47 prefectures.
There are two main reasons why Marugame Udon became so popular which are the quality of the food and the open kitchen system that they implement in all of their restaurants.
The quality of their food comes not only from selecting good ingredients and having a good recipe but also because they have a noodle expert called Mensho (麺匠) who goes around all of the branches to teach how to properly prepare the udon noodles. There is only one Mensho, which may sound very inefficient, but this is to avoid inconsistency in the flavor and texture of their udon noodles across all their restaurants in the country.
Regarding the open kitchen system that they have implemented in all of their restaurants, showing the customers how they prepare the udon provides a sense of reassurance as well as it becoming entertainment for those who are waiting in line. This was a hit, and it helped to make it possible to open new restaurants in the food court areas of shopping malls and department buildings.
How to order at Marugame Udon
Before introducing what to order, let me first explain how to order in this restaurant, since it has a particular system of ordering. The system is similar to that of a school cafeteria. It works as follows:
1. Order from the menu: You get to choose the type of noodle, amount, and whether you want it hot or cold.
2. Receive the Udon: You will see how they prepare the Udon in front of you.
3. Choose an extra topping: If you want, you can choose from the extensive variety of extra toppings such as tempura and onigiri (rice balls with filling).
4. Payment: After choosing (or not choosing) an extra topping, you pay.
5. Get water and other toppings: Some of the toppings (negi (green onion), ginger slices, sesame, etc) and water is self-service
6. Enjoy your meal!
7. Return your tray: After you finish with your meal, just like a food court at a shopping mall, you return your trey to the assigned place.
What to Eat at Marugame Udon
Ok, now that you know how to order, here are some of the most popular dishes on the menu.
- Kama Age Udon (釜揚げうどん): This is the dish that best represents this restaurant. Usually, after boiling the udon noodles, it is passed by cold water so that the noodles are tightened and become smooth. However, in the case of this dish, it is served without passing it through cold water. This makes the noodles have a more chewy texture. It comes with a Dashi soup apart so that you can put on as much as you want to eat.
- Kake Udon (かけうどん): This is the most standard type of udon. The udon comes already in the Kakejiru soup. It goes well accompanied with tempura or onigiri, which you can add as a topping. There is also the “Bukkake Udon”(ぶっかけうどん) which is the same as Kake Udon, but it comes with a thicker Kakejiru soup.
- Zaru Udon (ざるうどん): As opposed to the previous Kama Age Udon, the noodles for this udon are passed by cold water after boiling so that the noodles are tightened and become smoother. The Dashi sauce also comes apart for this one. It is a popular option, especially during hot days.
As I mentioned, Marugame Udon is the largest udon restaurant chain in Japan. They have over 800 restaurants across Japan. They also have over 200 restaurants overseas including in the U.K., U.S., Cambodia, Vietnam, Philipines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, etc.
If you’re looking for their branches in Tokyo, they have over 70 restaurants. Some of the places where you can find these restaurants are Tokyo Dome City, Dogenzaka Shibuya, Shimokitazawa, Roppongi, and the Hibiya Imperial Theatre, just to name a few.
I hope you enjoyed this article about Marugame Udon (Marugame Seimen). Although Udon is less known compared to other Japanese noodles, it is a type of noodle that can be prepared and served in many different ways. Marugame udon and other udon restaurants tend to have very extensive menus making it fun to go there.
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