Seeking Spice in Japan 10: Omen, Kyoto
When there is a ‘noodle shop’ that famously makes its own chile pepper mixes, the ChiliCult-ist cannot be far off…
The honten (original store) of this udon restaurant is basically located right on the walk from the Ginkakuji bus stop to the Tetsugaku-no-michi (Philosopher’s Walk) and, of course, Ginkakuji temple.
You just need to not hurry to the temple like pretty much all the other visitors, but turn south onto another road and walk down there for a hundred steps. If even that.
The House Special
Omen’s special – not surprisingly, given that the very name o-men means “noodles” – are udon noodles similar to the kara-age udon I had at Kamachiku. That is, udon that come in hot water, with the dashi (stock) for them in a separate bowl.
Here, however, it is all served with a small platter of different vegetables, cut into small strips and piled into elegant little mountains, on the side.
So, you don’t just move the noodles into the dashi and eat, you also add vegetables, as you wish.
Actually, to make that exact: For the non-local, a card on the table, in English, instructs you to add some of the sesame and kinpira (burdock) you also get into the dashi. (The burdock is the pickled vegetable in the bowl on the vegetable platter.) Then add “2 or 3 kinds of these vegetables” and eat with udon you dip in there, “little by little.”
As usual – but here, in a less common way – you are free to add a bit more spice to the mix.
What they have is not quite the usual ichimi and shichimi and/or sansho, though.
Rather, Omen makes its own mixes:
Ichimi Japanese (red) pepper, aka-zan-mi “red three flavors”, green pepper mix, and hachi-mi “eight flavors” mix (like shichimi, but with one additional flavor).
As so usual, I was able to learn a bit about the spices they used, but hardly as much as I would have liked to. Their sansho, for example, apparently comes from Kyushu (the island in the southwest of the Japanese main islands, where the climate turns subtropical). 😉
I would have liked for the dipping broth to be hotter, as the vegetables cool it down more and more, which I don’t much care for. That is about the extent of negatives I feel like I could possibly mention.
The entire meal of udon and vegetables was a great example of a very clean and clear dish, filling but not heavy, aromatic but not overbearing.
My tastes being as they are, I must admit to having been rather more interested in the side dish of sansho chicken I felt a need to try.
That was nicely grilled, a bit charcoal flavored in a good way. And it came with the little mound of sansho that gave it its name, and that made for a nicely lemony and tingling flavor.
That’s just the thing about the Japanese way of employing sansho; it is mainly harvested green, oftentimes made into this green Japanese pepper powder – and that has a very different character from the Chinese red Sichuan pepper. Much less woody, much lighter and more lemony, but almost equally as tingling in effect.
I’ll have to talk about that in and of itself even more, though…
I came at a good time, apparently, when there were not too many people yet. Even while I was there, the place filled up more and more, though, and mainly with Japanese coming for a family lunch, sitting in the ground floor tatami rooms. (I sat at the kitchen counter once again; there is an upstairs with Western-style tables, apparently.)
The building is not much to talk about. It is just another of Kyoto’s single-family (or similar) houses. Which does actually say something of this city where such houses are rather common, certainly more than the apartment blocks one might imagine in a large Japanese city.
(In Japanese: おめん)
Price range 1000-3000 JPY
Open Fr-Wed 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Closed on Thursday
Middling number of seats; wait to be expected at busy times
Not sure if cash only (?)
There are more than just the honten location in Kyoto, plus one branch restaurant in New York City