Posts Tagged ‘udon’

Recycled udon — a viable energy alternative or a sign of extreme extravagance?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

udon

Sanuki udon

Chiyoda Seisakusho in Kagawa Prefecture is exhibiting some of Japan’s waste-not spirit (mottainai!) by using leftover udon scraps to make electricity. Noodle power! But is this technique really as eco-friendly as it sounds?

Chiyoda was already making bio-ethanol out of scrapped udon, but there are dregs left over. The power plant project began from trying to think of a way to put those dregs to use. By fermenting them, plus uneaten udon collected from restaurants (1.5 tons, 1 ton respectively per day), methane gas is created, which can rotate a turbine. Chiyoda estimates it’ll be able to produce enough kilowatts to power 50 households in a year and that it’ll start selling power to Shikoku Electric Power Company as early as September. Additionally, since it got a waste disposal license, it can make extra money just by collecting the udon shop garbage.

All told, Chiyoda expects to make ¥12 million (about $124,572) per year. This, from an initial investment (at least, for the plant) of ¥80 million (about $830,480). If others are keen on replicating this feat, the company is also planning on taking orders for plants themselves beginning sometime this year.

While it may be possible to apply this idea to other starchy food items, such as potatoes or rice, udon is supposedly especially efficient.

Awesome, so villages in the future will live and run on udon! Not so fast. Critically thinking onlookers bring up some good points, the most obvious of which is:

“At first glance this seems eco-friendly, but aren’t we just making too much udon?”

This sentiment from a 2ch message board user also came up in the Aug. 8 episode of “Sukkiri!” a Japanese talk/variety show featuring commentator Terry Ito.

Kagawa Prefecture, famous for Sanuki Udon, makes 47,080 tons of udon a year (which is almost double the second highest, Saitama). It also scraps 6,000 tons a year. “The fact that 6,000 tons get scrapped is shocking. Makes you wonder if it wouldn’t be better to reduce that amount,” Ito said.

A reporter for the TV show investigated one reason for the massive waste. In a noodle shop in Takamatsu he was served bukkake udon in 14.7 seconds. That speed means cooks are boiling noodles ahead of the moment an order comes in — a practice certainly not limited to Kagawa Prefecture, by the way — but if they are boiled for over 20 minutes they lose the consistency that customers expect and are tossed. Tossed!

“I know I’m harping on this, but couldn’t we control ourselves and get 6,000 down to 3,000? I really don’t like the idea that throwing it away becomes justifiable,” Ito said.

The bottom line seems to be that as long as we don’t use udon power plants as an excuse to waste udon, then everything is fine. Stretch your mottainai mindset a little further and instead of thinking of creative ways to re-purpose garbage, reduce the amount of garbage in the first place. That’s a technique we can all stand to emulate.

2011 trends: B-kyu here to stay

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Cheap, filling and locally produced, B-kyu gourmet food has been trending for awhile now in Japan, so much so that rather than being a passing fad, it’s now become an integral part of Japan’s foodie culture. Driven at a grass-roots level by local chefs and fans, simple and satisfying B-kyu dishes are now also available in convenience stores and increasingly in metropolitan restaurants.

Mikihiro Ishiga, from the Hiruzen Yakisoba Fan Association accepts the B-kyu Grand Prix top prize this year. (Kyodo photo)

Though B-kyu dishes can now be sampled at food festivals throughout Japan, the nexus event for B-kyu gourmet is the B-1 Grand Prix. Established in 2008, the event pits teams of chefs from all over Japan against each other. Interest in the event is rapidly growing. At this year’s event last month in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, ticket sales reached a record high, totaling  ¥200,006,000, while a record number of 63 groups took part.

At this very democratic event, visitors get to pick the winners for themselves, by depositing their used chopsticks in a tin at the stall offering the dish they like the best. A win can boost local economies bringing foodie tourists to that area, and it can also get consumers interested in trying out local ingredients used in a dish.

Winning dishes can often get picked up by convenience stores, who then offer a version for sale in their stores. For example, Atami B-kyu Yaki Udon (fried noodles), which came fifth place in last year’s Hokkaido Grand Prix, was on sale for a limited period in Circle K and Sunkus this year. The ingredients for the dish’s trademark sour sauce, which included apples, shitake mushrooms and onions, were locally sourced in Iwate. Another B-kyu dish on sale in convenience stores was Tsuyama Hormone Udon (noodles), which went on sale in Poplar convenience stores.

Restaurants are also getting in on the act. Nakano B-kyu Izakaya has a menu based around the B-1 Grand Prix, allowing citizens in Japan’s capital city to get a taste of local dishes without having to travel. Filling, reasonably priced, and unpretentious, B-kyu dishes are perfectly suited to be served in izakaya (Japanese inns); other similar establishments, such as B-kyu Gourmet Village in Shibuya, also seem to be thriving.

Last month “Tokyo B-kyu Gourmet Chronicles,” Tokyo’s B-kyu version of the insanely popular Michelin Guide, was published. A guide to well-established local neighborhood eateries, which might have been passed over by the more elitist diner, the book’s emphasis is on eating well for under ¥1,000. With the economic downturn set to continue, it’s no wonder that this trend for homely cooking has taken root in Japan’s food culture.

Will fortune shine on a campaign for new year’s udon?

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Nissin's Toshi Ake Udon that contains your new year's fortune and bears the Toshi Ake seal

Can traditions be kickstarted with just a clever marketing campaign? Well, Kentucky Fried Chicken successfully managed to get the Japanese to associate Christmas with fried chicken, so there is a precedent. A campaign to get the nation to eat udon (thick wheat flour noodles) over the New Years’ holidays  is now in its third year and, according to J-Cast, it’s experiencing modest success.

Udon manufacturers in Kagawa Prefecture banded together in 2008 to form Sanuki Udon Promotion Committee. To combat declining udon sales, the committee launched the “Toshi Ake Udon” (start the New Year with udon) campaign to introduce the concept of eating a bowl of noodles on or after New Year’s day. Traditionally Japanese eat toshikoshi soba (end-of-year thin noodles) before New Year’s day (eating the long thin noodles is a way to promote a long healthy life), so the idea is to to get Japanese eating udon in the same way once the new year has begun. The udon is to be consumed with a celebratory red topping such as red kamaboko (slices of steamed fish paste), shrimp or ume boshi (dried plum).

Central to the campaign is a round seal that is displayed on products endorsed by the committee. Sanuki Udon Promotion Committee have announced that the number of companies applying to use their seal this year has increased. In November 2010, 391 companies in Japan had applied: an increase of 66 companies since January 2010. The number of restaurants serving toshi ake udon in Kagawa Prefecture has also increased: from 49 to 66 in the space of a year.

The reason why the committee was formed in Kagawa Prefecture is because Sanuki in Kagawa is known for its delicious noodles. The area even enjoyed something of a tourism boom earlier in the decade when a guide to the region’s noodle stores was published, and a movie, unimaginatively called “Udon,” was even made about the craze and even Haruki Murakami namechecked the town of Takamatsu in Kagawa, where his main character in “Kafka on the Shore” goes and enjoys a bowl of Sanuki udon.

So far a couple of major brands have launched products displaying the seal. Instant-noodle company Nissin launched its limited edition Donbei Toshi Ake Udon last year. It contains ume boshi, kamaboko and a fortune, which can be found at the bottom of the bowl. Last year the product sold out quickly and this year was reintroduced on Dec. 20. Udon chain store Hanamaru Udon has been selling toshi ake udon for three years running, each year with different ingredients. This year’s product is Medetai (congratulations) Toshi Ake Udon, which contains slices of seabream sashimi (the tai in medetai is the kanji for sea bream), served atop udon in a dashi broth. Available until Jan. 10, it costs ¥580. If you’re up for taking up a new tradition, pop by and fill up.

RSS

Recent Posts