At first glance it didn't look like there would be anything out of the ordinary in Akabane. A 25-minute ride from Shinjuku, Akabane Station is thronged with commuters coming home or changing train lines -- the mark of suburbia. Its local Book-Off has a rather crappy selection of books. The shopping street nearby looked tired and run-down; half the shops were closed by the time we arrived. The immediate area around Akabane Station felt as though it was hanging on to some vestige of a livelier past, with faint strains of 80s pop floating through.
Walk past all of that, though, and on the edge of suburbia you'll find some of the best sanuki udon Tokyo has to offer. Welcome to Sumita:
Here is a bowl of bukkake udon:
Have you stopped sniggering yet? Good, because you won't be laughing if you taste this symphony in a bowl. Noodles, broth, egg (oyako bukkake... minds OUT of the gutter please) or grated daikon, a handful of chopped chives, sesame seeds, and chunks of rather uncommon chicken tempura. No, it's not the same as fried chicken.
The Princess and I fell in love with the chicken tempura, which, unlike a blind date, never disappoints. Sumita's version has chunks of battered, deep-fried salt-and-pepper marinated thigh meat. These are plunked on top of the noodles, where their crispy battered bottoms start soaking up that glorious broth about which I could go on for, well, the next five minutes.
The one is the kashiwa oroshi bukkake:
At first taste the broth is a tad too salty on its own, and one-dimensional. But stir in the grated daikon and the broth suddenly takes on a mellow sweetness, achieving some kind of cosmic balance of salty and sweet. In the oyako (mother and child) version, the onsen tamago (hot spring egg) performs a similar function, its gooey yolk-enriching the broth and downsizing the salt factor.
Lastly I must mention the sanuki udon itself, which is handmade, of course. These were beautifully resilient specimens that tasted as though they were made for their broth. They were real long, too -- slurping a single strand will leave you with a complete mouthful... of noodles. The whole affair is a bowl that makes you sit up and say, "Holy wow, now that was a bowl of udon!"
You could stop there, but you'd be foolish not to order some of the oden.
A well-simmered daikon slice is simple but revelatory, especially in Sumita's broth -- every inch of the tender (but not falling apart) daikon has been permeated by deep shoyu goodness. Paired with a bright mustard sauce that's sweeter and surprisingly less spicy than usual, it's a side dish I'd be happy to have for breakfast, lunch, tea, midnight snack... anytime, really.
Sumita is pretty highly-regarded by Tabelog (4 stars) and Dancyu, and it seems like a pretty popular place. The local folks of Akabane are lucky indeed to have such a fine udon establishment at their doorstep -- and a good thing too, for a place like this within the Yamanote line would have queues around the block.
If you're in Tokyo with a few hours to spare, Sumita should definitely be on your list! Also, there exists an 8-volume manga all about Akabane, so there's likely more than just udon in the area. I mean, just down the road from Sumita there's a restaurant called Wood House Texas which serves beef tataki. Exactly how Texan that is, I'll leave for you to decide.
*When not thinking about what to eat next, Furochan is thinking about what she last ate. A Malaysian student uprooted to Tokyo via London, she blogs at the adventures of furochan.