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Saitamanians’ Soul Food : Yamada Udon & Gyoza no Manshu

SAITAMA PREF, located next to Tokyo, has one million businesspeople commuting to and 100,000 students coming from central Tokyo every morning. Accordingly, Saitama's cultural identification has virtually integrated with Tokyo. However, there are a few genres left unique to the region, one of which is their food preferences.

YAMADA UDON is a roadside chain restaurant known for its iconic scarecrow. The family friendly restaurant has 80 branches all around Saitama but is never found in central Tokyo. Locals are so attached to them that they familiarly shorten the name to "DA-Udon" or "YAMA-U".

As this restaurant claims with its name, it has a wide variety of udon dishes, such as tempura or vegetable udon. Udon bowls can also be included in set meals of BBQ beef etc.

How does it taste? Noodles are soft and soup tastes simple. IT'S BLAND, frankly speaking, but somehow locals are fond of it. Some explain that their palettes have been used to the taste since their childhood because the same soft noodles have been served at school meals region wide.

Looking at what's on the table, not all guests order udon. In fact, the top selling dish is Miso marinated boiled pork offal named "PUNCH", which has something to do with its punchy spicy flavour.

Another popular dish is "Kakiage Don'', assorted tempura with poached egg rice bowl. Even udon noodles can be replaced by soba noodles, or both udon & soba in one plate.

Remarkably, all dishes are under 1,000yen or $8. The simplest Tanuki udon is just 340yen or $2.50. It makes sense that locals visit here every weekend to savour their taste of home and save money at the same time.

At nearly every train station in Saitama, GYOZA NO MANSHU has a branch. The Chinese style casual restaurant has one hundred shops nationwide, half of which are in Saitama.

As its name suggests, Gyoza is their main item. "Gyoza set meal", consisting of six pieces of baked gyoza with rice and soup, is the all-time bestseller. It's so simple but enough to satisfy local appetites. If you want more, just order "DOUBLE". Twelve pieces of gyoza is definitely filling.

Intriguingly, on a small sauce plate is the Japanese phrase "Sanwari Umai!". Literally translated, it means "THIRTY PERCENT TASTY!", which doesn't make sense. It could be interpreted as "Thirty percent tastier!", which is still off the point, though. On the official website, it's explained that "Tasty, Reasonable and Lively makes it thirty percent tastier." You can interpret that to mean what you wish, and I prefer not to explore more.

The chain restaurant has a good reputation for takeaway chilled gyoza. Simply heat up the pieces on a frying pan simmering with some water. Soon, the perfect quality gyoza is ready at home.

Personally, I’m happy to eat out gyoza for lunch and then have another gyoza for dinner at my table.

<Feb 2023 ©Larry_Tak>


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