What many of my friends don't realize is that I am something of a connoisseur of Nabeyaki Udon. There is one other area in which my culinary connoisseurship shines and that is the Peach Melba. For years I would sample and keep notes on Peach Melbas around the world. I noted the cultural variances in the presentation and savored every object of my research of this dessert art-form. Actually I became very well-known for this research in an informal way and was consulted by many friends. I notice that this delicacy is really rare these days, and I have wondered if my dwindling interest in Peach Melbas contributed to the demise of its popularity.
About 20 years ago I was introduced to Nabeyaki Udon by a Korean friend. Although the dish has Japanese origins, I was told that the addition of a raw egg into the mix was a Korean variation which apparently became popular. In the area that I lived in at that time, I could find Nabeyaki Udon in a number of Asian restaurants, and I began to compare the texture, the ingredients, the care of preparation, the taste, the longevity (the amount of time the brew can last on the table and continue to accrue deliciousness and spicy presence), and the serving utensil, essential in maintaining a good temperature and allowing the mixture to continue to mature in taste and texture after it is served. A really good Nabeyaki Udon is consumed as though you are performing a musical work. There is an introduction, thematic ideas, and adding of nuances (dynamics) through the ground red pepper, which melds with the dish to create incredible variations of taste as you perform the act of consuming the various items. A good serving bowl extends the life of this dish so that you as the performer of this consumptive act can have an extended coda. This is an especially appropriate dish for the winter... really great in a major storm as you watch the blizzard rage outside and bask in the aroma of your Nabeyaki Udon.
But as the years progressed, I noticed fewer restaurants carrying this dish. Worse still, I would find instead Nabe Udon (often without the egg!) as I find at Choga, or a misplaced zeal for all sorts of Ramen, which although I like, I find do not deserved to be mentioned in the same sentence with a masterpiece like Nabeyaki Udon.
On some Saturdays I am given to exploring and was wandering around the East Village researching aspects as I prepare my new MoviOp, A Song for Second Avenue. I was checking all the little restaurants on St. Marks Place that are nested beneath the stairs of almost every building. This time I was reading their menus and trying to decide which one I might try. The menus were all pretty much the same. I was moving from Third Avenue toward Second Avenue on the north side of the street. Then, a little past midway, I came upon Zen Restaurant, and the first thing that caught my eye was Nabeyaki Udon.
The Nabeyaki Udon more than lived up to my expectations. It was a masterful concoction that was in the best of settings. The atmosphere inside was friendly, convivial, and outside, a light snow was punctuating the afternoon. Before me was the main attraction in a beautiful bowl that was also functional, designed to keep the broth nice and hot for quite some time. I began with a light sprinkling of the ground red pepper which is not spicy but adds several layers of taste as the broth marinates. Let it marinate and savor the moment.
Some day, I know there is a poem that will come of this rendezvous with Nabeyaki Udon. In the meantime, if food be the music of love, eat on!