Today I will be introducing a traditional Japanese dish called “Houtou”. Houtou is a popular dish that originated in Yamanashi Prefecture, which is located southwest of Tokyo on the Japanese island called “Honshu”. It is made by putting noodles similar to udon noodles into miso broth and cooking them along with various vegetables.
There are various differences between houtou noodles and udon noodles. Houtou is prepared by kneading the dough by hand. Houtou dough is tougher than udon dough. Most times, Houtou noodles are also wider and flatter than udon noodles. Also, unlike udon dough, houtou dough is boiled completely raw with all of the other ingredients. Udon noodles are usually preboiled. The dough used for houtou is cut into large pieces. It is thinner and flatter compared to udon, making the noodles thin and wide. However, the main difference is that you do not need to add any salt when you are kneading the noodles. By not adding any salt, there is less residue that has to be strained out of the broth, the broth is able to boil thoroughly. This gives houtou a unique flavor because the starch from the noodles also thickens the broth of the broth. The texture of houtou is chewier than udon, but not tough. If you are familiar with the Japanese food mochi, it has a similar texture.
Udon noodles tend to have an independent flavor and can be eaten alone, without any ingredients added for extra flavor. However, houtou is made by cooking noodles in broth and cooking them along with vegetables and the other ingredients in miso broth. The taste is made complete by all of these ingredients and is meant to be eaten together. Houtou is best enjoyed in this way. You can get various tastes and textures all in one dish!
The vegetables used in houtou change according to the season. In the summer scallions, onions and potatoes are popular. During the winter taro, carrots and Chinese cabbage tend to be used. Chicken or pork can also be included if one so chooses. Also, during the winter solstice eating houtou with cabocha (Japanese pumpkin) is extremely popular. Cabocha in houtou is always a popular choice. However, during winter solstice, people all over the country see it as the perfect time to enjoy houtou. Thus, many people around Japan indulge in houtou at this time of the year. Once finished, the dish can be eaten with white rice or on its own. This makes the dish very dynamic.
Since most of Yamanashi prefecture is covered with mountains, throughout history there have been very few rice paddies. This made cooked rice a very valuable food, and thus not a part of the daily diet. Instead of rice, the people of Yamanashi opted for dishes such as houtou. Long ago, houtou became the center of the Yamanashi diet. In the past, there was even a saying related to houtou which states, “If you do not knead houtou noodles then you cannot become a full-fledged adult.” This seems to have been the first step of marriage training. Houtou was so important to the people of Yamanashi that there were proverbs related to it.
There are many restaurants in Yamanashi where you can eat houtou. You can also buy the noodles (along with a broth flavoring) in souvenir shops and supermarkets in Yamanashi. This means you can cook the noodles at home and add your preferred vegetables and make houtou easily. In recent years, houtou has gained a lot of attention outside Yamanashi prefecture. This means you can also pick up houtou in supermarkets in the same area where you can pick up udon noodles all over Japan. If you happen to be browsing a Japanese supermarket, make sure that you check out the noodle section and see if you can find some houtou!