As you may know, Japan loves to adapt ‘Western’ food to its own taste. The substitution of spaghetti to make ‘karubonāra udon’ is one inevitable result of this. I admit, I shunned such dishes for a while, having internalised a certain Italian orthodoxy about noodle-sauce combinations while living on the peninsula years ago. Now I heartily renounce that position. Try my udon alla carbonara recipe and see what you think!
on yōshoku (洋食)
In Japan, home-cooked dishes are usually divided into two categories. These are washoku (和食) or ‘Japanese-style food’ and yōshoku (洋食) or ‘Western-style food’. These two labels misleadingly imply a clear distinction between indigenous and imported dishes.
In fact, the line between the two is quite blurry, particularly for outsiders. Many yōshoku dishes have been adapted so much that Americans and Europeans now find them exotic or even typically Japanese. Take katsu, as in katsu curry: the word is actually short for katsuretsu, a Japanese rendering of ‘cutlet’. Although you wouldn’t know it, the dish is really as Japanese as schnitzel. For me, encountering reinterpreted foods is one of the joys of eating abroad. Japanese tourists enjoy British fish and chips just as their opposites delight in ‘traditional’ Japanese tempura. Does it matter that both dishes derive from the same Portuguese source? I don’t think so.
I hope my Italian friends will approve, if not of udon, at least of the method used below. As any Italian cook will tell you, the key to achieving a silky smooth carbonara is timing, not cream! Let the udon absorb the heat from the pan and gently give it out again. If you hurry, you will end up with scrambled egg. It won’t be a taste disaster but it won’t be your best carbonara either.
Good luck and ブオンアッペティート (buon appetito)!
recipe: udon alla carbonara
A chewy, satisfying variation on the classic spaghetti alla carbonara.
- 75 g guanciale (or pancetta or bacon, chopped into small pieces)
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 portions udon (pre-cooked or dried)
- 2 eggs
- pecorino (and/or parmesan, grated)
- black pepper (freshly ground)
- Bring plenty of water to boil in a saucepan. Simultaneously, heat the oil and begin frying the guanciale (or pancetta or bacon).
- If using dried udon, take two bundles (each equals one portion) from the packet and immerse them in the boiling water for 6-7 minutes. If using the fatter pre-cooked udon as pictured above, do the next step first and wait until the guanciale is nearly done. Pre-cooked udon only need boiling for a minute or two.
- Beat two eggs in a bowl and combine with lots of pepper and a small handful of grated cheese.
- When the guanciale is fried and the udon ready, drain the latter, allowing some water to cling to the noodles. Add the udon immediately to the pan with the guanciale and toss together.
- Remove the pan from the heat entirely and continue stirring for a minute, making sure the udon are completely coated in the oil.
- After a minute of stirring off the heat, pour in the egg and cheese mixture. Continue stirring. The egg should cook in the residual heat without scrambling.
- When the udon are coated in a smooth sauce, transfer them to serving dishes using tongs and serve immediately with optional extra cheese and pepper.
Guanciale and pecorino are the most traditional choices for a Roman-style carbonara, but are often harder to come by than pancetta, bacon and parmesan, at least in the UK. All are acceptable substitutions. Some recipes call for extra egg yolks or only egg yolks but for ease I always use one whole egg per person. To enjoy thick, chewy udon with this sauce, choose a pre-cooked variety. Dried udon do not expand much when cooked, and will be somewhat less distinguishable from spaghetti.