Honolulu's Freshest Noodles
Meet the noodle makers rolling out the Island’s nicest noodles by hand... and foot!
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One of Jimbo’s cooks dedicates an entire eight-hour shift to producing the ropey, white noodles that lunch and dinner customers slurp down by the bowlful.
The dough has just two ingredients: salt water and wheat flour. The flour has a high gluten content, but if it’s not prepared just so, the udon won’t have its characteristic chewiness. The stomping process is, pardon the pun, a key step. Skip the stomp and the noodle won’t hold up to the bite. Stomp too much and you might be chewing it forever. So after the dough is mixed and left to rest, but before it’s rolled and cut into actual noodles, the cook slides a five-pound blob of it into a plastic bag, drops it on the floor, and gives it a stomping.
“For him, five times step,” says Jimbo proprietor Naoki “Jim” Motojima, referring to his 200-pound Micronesian cook, Martine, who gives his dough precisely five good stomps. Smaller cooks have to stomp a little more.
Motojima opened Jimbo in 1994, after spending two years in his native Japan learning how to make udon. He started as an apprentice to a master udon maker, who, Motojima says, was brilliant with noodles but had a wicked temper and a horrible gambling habit. After a few months of verbal abuse, and wondering if he would get paid, Motojima went to work for a big Japanese chain that specializes in udon. In his spare time, he embarked on a quest to expose his palate to Japan’s many udon variations, and find what he liked best.
As with ramen, each region in Japan puts its own spin on udon. Motojima ate all of it, identifying the subtle variations and developing opinions. The differences throughout Japan can be extreme. The city of Ise, for instance, makes a noodle as fat as a thumb and so soft you can gum it without teeth. Kagawa Prefecture, on the other hand, makes a noodle so chewy it wears out your jaw.
Motojima prefers the middle ground, chewy but not too chewy. “Too soft I don’t like, but I don’t want to 36 times bite one noodle,” he says. “My teeth is not strong.”
Motojima says that his udon is most similar to that of the island of Shikoku, where udon is eaten every day. His broth resembles the Osaka style, though it’s not as sweet. His dipping sauce, for cold noodles, is most influenced by the black dipping sauces of Tokyo and Osaka. In effect, Jimbo’s udon is unique unto itself, a South King Street hybrid.
“For me, my target is udon to make happy for Island people,” he says. 1936 King St., 947-2211.
Each evening Town restaurant in Kaimuki offers a hand-cut pasta dish on its ever changing menu, and each day the sauté chef who will be preparing the evening’s pasta dish comes in early to make the noodles.
“We just kind of feel that anything we make in-house, we would probably be able to produce better than anything we would be able to buy,” says Dave Caldiero, Town’s chef de cuisine and head noodle maker.
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