The Tiny Kokura Restaurant That Changed Noodle Eating Forever.

Today in Japan, and, in Japanese restaurants all over the world, the idea of frying udon noodles to make yaki udon is normal – but, if local legend is to be believed, we can thank a tiny 8-seater restaurant in Kokura, Western Japan for the invention of the dish. I popped along to try a plateful of history…

Darumado restaurant in Kokura, Western Japan is believed to be the first place in the world to make yaki udon. It's still going so we went to try it.


Disclaimer: My flights to Japan on this trip were paid for by the Japan National Tourism Organisation as part of a trip to Western Japan. See more details below.

Kokura is situated in western Japan on the island of Kyushu. It’s about 60km west of the main town in these parts, Fukuoka, and almost at the point where Kyushu island joins Honshu, home to the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka etc.

If history had been different, Kokura and this tiny restaurant, might not be here now. On the morning of October 9th 1945, a B-52 bomber called Bockscar set off to, frankly, annihilate it.

The bomber carried a nuclear missile known as Fatboy and a munitions storage area in Kokura was its target. However, as it came into the city, a haze or fog stopped the pilot from dropping the bomb. After a few failed swoops, he instead went to target two – a town about 200km west called Nagasaki. The rest is history.

How Yaki Udon Was Invented

While Kokura escaped this bombing, it didn’t escape the hardships of war and, in 1945, provisions in the town were scarce.

According to the story written on the back of the menu at Darumado (that’s how the name of the restaurant that invented yaki udon translates in English), it was this rationing that changed noodle eating as we know it.

Yaki Udon from Darumado, the tiny restaurant in Kokura, Western Japan that invented it.

The tale goes that one day after the war, the restaurant wanted to make yaki soba- a dish of fried soba noodles with vegetables – but, at that time in Kokura, there was no soba to be found. They did however, have some cut up dried udon noodles and so rather than let them go to waste they tried frying those instead.

It worked, people liked it – and so they added it to the menu.

The tiny store in an alley off of Kokura’s main shopping mall is still serving up its famous dish over 70 years later.

When I arrive at Darumado, I’m not sure if it’s open. It’s about 2.30 in the afternoon and many other shops in the tiny alley in which the shop is located have stopped serving lunch.

Enterance to Darumado, the tiny restaurant in Kokura, Western Japan where it's claimed yaki udon was invented.

The noren, the traditional curtain over the door of a shop or restaurant in Japan (that serves partly as the store sign and partly as a barrier to the outside world), hides whether anyone is inside, but I lift it to peep in.

Through the dusty window, I see the old lady who runs Darumado today. Sitting behind the counter she’s dressed in simple brown dress and a long blue apron, chatting to a man quickly forking up a plate of noodles. I smile and make what I hope is the internationally recognised sign of ‘are you open.’ She smiles back – I’m in.

The thousands of dishes served up from that simple hot plate have left their mark on the tiny room. Everything is coated with a fine layer of grease and smoke.

As I sit, a tiny beetle skitters across the counter, only to swiftly squished by the owner – she might be stooped over the grill and her hands shake a little as she serves my meal but there’s clearly nothing wrong with her eyesight or reflexes.

The menu is small – just five items – plain yaki udon, yaki udon with egg, rice, sake and beer. I’d asked someone to translate it for me before I left, but I didn’t need to. As soon I sit down, the old lady rises from her chair and starts to cook on a tiny hotplate hidden behind the counter. She’s decided what I’m having.

She reaches for noodles and ready-chopped cabbage – a spray of water on the hot place sends a plume of smoke up into the air. She brushes the dish with a thick black sauce – and then within a matter of minutes, the plate appears – a steaming plate of charred noodles as steeped in history as it is flavour.

The other diner pays his bill and heads out the door leaving just me and her in the tiny room.

A photograph of the owner of Darumado, the tiny restaurant in Kokura, Western Japan that is said to have invented yaki udon.

I ask her if it’s okay to take her picture and she nods. I notice a picture high up on the wall as I snap and ask if it’s her in this photograph too – she nods.

I translate what’s written underneath. It’s a write up of the restaurant and the picture shows her standing over her hotplate smiling. There’s a date on it, 1937 which I take to be the year she was born and what looks like a name – Chiyoda Sakata.

The article talks about how she was born in Kokura and how the taste of the noodles has never changed since the day they were invented. It also tells that even when this was written people were coming from miles around with their guide book in hand to taste the original yaki udon.

I wish the other diner was still here so I could ask more; to see who originally came up with the dish, whether she’s ever wanted to change things up a bit, to find out more about her life – but instead, I just eat.

Yaki Udon from Darumado, the restaurant in Kokura, Western Japan where it's believed to have originated.

The noodles are simple – just enough to take away my hunger. It’s clear that even as the harsh years after the war passed and Japan become more prosperous this tiny shop has felt no need to add big portions of meat or extra tofu to the mix – mine is just noodles, cabbage and onion.

It’s not gourmet, but it’s tradition – so, why mess with it.

Filled with food and a sense of history I pay my bill and leave. My host settles back down in her chair to, I hope, have a well-earned afternoon rest before the shop closes at 6pm.

If 1937 really is her birthdate on the article, she’s 81/82 now – and was around eight when the shop first started serving its iconic dish.

It dawns on me that one day, she’ll no longer be here to serve it – I’m glad I got the chance to try it while she does.

How to Find Darumado,The Birthplace of Yaki Udon

The shop address is 1 Chome-4-17 Uomachi, Kokurakita-ku, Kitakyūshū-shi, Fukuoka-ken 802-0006, Japan but, as that probably doesn’t mean much unless you’re Japanese, or very good with Japanese addresses, a better way to find it is to locate a bar called The Peach Pit on google maps.

Darumado restaurant in Kokura, Western Japan is believed to be the first place in the world to make yaki udon. It's still going so we went to try it.

Just slightly north of this you’ll see a small alley that runs from the road to a covered shopping precinct (there’s another bar here called Butabar – NB: I’ve not been to either bar, they’re just the only things in English!)- this is where you’ll find Darumado. It’s marked as this – だるま堂 – on the map.

It’s open six days a week – closed Thursday – from noon to 6pm. A simple yaki soba is the first dish on the menu and costs 460 yen.

The entrance is almost directly opposite a red post box. Look through the window and you’ll see the picture above. You’ll also know you’re in the right place if you see signatures and drawings on pieces of paper all over the wall, and, if all else fails, look for the big pink rotary dial telephone. It matches the place perfectly.

Sharing is Caring

Like this story about how yaki udon was invented in Kokura – then why not share it on social media.

If you're planning a trip to Kyushu, Western Japan, take a day trip to Kokura. and visit the tiny restaurant that invented yaki udon. Click to read their story or save it to your Japan or Kyushu boards for later. #japanesefood #yakiudon #kokura #kyushu #westernjapan


Disclaimer: My flights to Japan on this trip were paid for by the Japan National Tourism Organisation as part of a trip to Western Japan. I, however, paid for my own hotels and set my own itinerary for the Fukuoka part of the trip.

The JNTO also have no input into what I am writing about or what I’m saying about it – we’re just as independent and quirky as ever here at Differentville – we just got to go and find a heap of cool stuff we might not have done on our own.

Expect to see posts on all that coming soon so, if you’re interested in Western Japan, sign up to get posts as we add them.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

shares
%d bloggers like this: