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The ongoing shift to home-made noodles – don’t start making your own noodles yet! It’s too late to know when you’ve started Chapter 1

This report analyses the Japanese market.

Why do udon noodle and ramen shops use noodle-making machines? If you simply want to start an udon-soba or ramen restaurant, there are many options to use fresh, boiled or frozen noodles from a noodle manufacturer instead of making your own noodles.

Even in Kagawa Prefecture, the home of Sanuki udon, decades ago, when I was in primary school, udon shops did not make their own noodles. Looking back, it seems unbelievable, but udon shops used to heat up boiled noodles delivered and brought by noodle makers and serve them with dashi (soup stock).

Then came the first Sanuki udon boom, when handmade home-made noodles became popular, and then the second Sanuki udon boom, when people began to realise the limitations of making noodles by hand, and handmade noodles were replaced by handmade noodle-making machines.

And in the third Sanuki udon boom, there were more than 900 udon shops in Kagawa Prefecture at its peak, almost all of which made their own noodles in house, and most of them used handmade noodle-making machines. Some shops still make noodles by hand, but even in these cases, few shops do everything by hand, from kneading. In Kagawa Prefecture, the home of Sanuki udon, it can be said that most Sanuki udon shops now make their own noodles with the help of handmade noodle-making machines.

More than 30 years ago, an unusual change occurred in Tokyo’s standing noodle shops. Until then, standing-only noodle shops served hot, boiled noodles brought in by noodle manufacturers. However, the emergence of so-called ‘Komoro Soba’, a high-class standing-only noodle shop, and the use of fresh noodles boiled and served in the shop, spread explosively. This led to the emergence of standing eateries all over Tokyo serving freshly boiled noodles in their shops.

In the case of soba (buckwheat noodles), it has long been said that the best soba is “freshly ground, freshly beaten and freshly boiled”. Although it was not possible to make ‘freshly ground’ or ‘freshly beaten’ noodles, they did make ‘freshly boiled’ noodles, which became a boom, and they soon had a network of shops all over Tokyo. This led to a boom, and in no time at all, a network of shops was set up all over Tokyo, and all standing-only noodle shops, which had previously operated with boiled noodles, switched to freshly boiled noodles. Even standing noodle shops are now like this.

The same is true of ramen shops, which began a ramen boom more than 30 years ago, with the initial competition being over soup. Recently, however, the competition for soup has almost run its course and competition has turned to unique noodle quality, with homemade noodles now becoming the norm. Furthermore, even in cases where the noodles are made in-house, it is noticeable that the noodle-making machines are proudly displayed in the shop or in front of the shop in order to promote their homemade noodles.

As described above, the environment surrounding the udon noodle and ramen restaurant industry has evolved significantly over the past 30 years, and this evolution is accelerating. Once consumers have tasted good food, there is no going back. Once we raise the level of taste for consumers and they become accustomed to it, it becomes the industry standard, and those who fail to follow this standard will naturally be left behind.

Freshness is vital for noodles, such as udon, soba and ramen. Freshly made noodles, like soba (buckwheat noodles), are at their best when they are freshly made. In particular, you can’t beat freshly ground, freshly beaten and freshly boiled soba noodles made from the best buckwheat flour. Udon noodles are also the best when freshly ground and freshly boiled, and of course, ramen noodles are also freshly boiled.

As mentioned above, it is assumed that home-made noodles will become the mainstream for udon, soba and ramen in the future, but the following problems can be seen from an expert’s point of view: “Why do we have to make our own noodles?
Why must the noodles be homemade?’ ‘Is it not enough to buy fresh noodles from the noodle-making industry and boil them in the shop?’

In the case of udon

The more water added to the noodles, the more difficult it is to cut them into noodles and store them. To prevent this, a lot of starch is used, or the noodles are made with a low water content to prevent sticking from the start. If this is done, the quality of the noodles with high water content deteriorates, or the noodles do not taste good because they are not high in water content. Therefore, if the best-tasting noodles are to be made, the most important thing is to make the noodles in the shop.

In the case of soba

As noted above, it has been the industry standard for more than 30 years for even standing-only noodle restaurants to boil and serve fresh noodles in-store. It can then naturally be assumed that in the future it will become the industry standard for standing-only restaurants to make their noodles in-store. If someone else is the first to do it and succeeds, consumers will make that taste the standard, and this will naturally be the direction in which they go. Therefore, the pursuit of a higher level of noodle quality will naturally become more important for ordinary soba shops, and whether or not they can provide truly tasty noodles, rather than homemade or handmade noodles, will become a condition for survival.

In the case of ramen

It is said that the success or failure of a ramen restaurant is determined by whether or not it can attract a queue when opening a ramen speciality restaurant. In this case, no matter how much research is done on the soup alone, there is a limit to how much you can rely on the soup alone, and the quality of the noodles is also an important factor. As with udon noodles, there is a limit to the noodles provided by the noodle-making industry. The noodle-making industry is in the business of producing and selling noodles, so inevitably, shelf-life and cost are important factors. It is difficult for noodle shops to understand the importance of good taste, slow extension of boiling, quantity, no additives, etc.

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