Yat Ka Mein Noodle House
Hyde Park Station
3546 Edwards Road
M-Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
I stopped by Yat Ka Mein on a whim one day after receiving a pedicure at a nearby spa. “Noodles For Your Noodle” proclaimed the signage. I’d never been there before and knew nothing about the restaurant, but a quick look at the menu posted in the window lured me in with the promise of Japanese udon.
I’m a real sucker for udon – well, I suppose one HAS to be, because this is the type of noodle that is meant to be slurped, noisily, one long strand at a time. Yes it is messy, and yes it sounds uncouth to the Western ear, but attempting to eat it quietly is next to impossible. In Japan it is considered an insult if the cook cannot hear how well you are enjoying your noodles, so don’t be afraid to slurp away to your heart’s content on this thick, wheat-based noodle soup.
The broth in its most basic form consists of dashi (a kelp-based cooking stock), shoyu (soy sauce) and mirin (a sweet, rice-based cooking wine), laced with thinly chopped scallions. It is prepared two ways, depending on which area of the country you are in; the eastern region of Japan prepares udon with a dark brown soy sauce, while the western half uses light brown. At Yat Ka Mein you must specify that you want the vegetarian broth; otherwise it comes with a chicken base.
Theirs is prepared in the western Japanese style and comes with tempura vegetables. Tempura is a type of lumpy, ice-cold batter in which the vegetables are dredged and fried quickly in hot oil, resulting in crisp veggies with a delicate, crunchy coating. It’s the type of dish that is friendly to the American palate, and was a big favorite of mine when I was an exchange student at Okayama University. My host mother could whip up a mean batch in no time flat. Ahhh.
The udon At Yat Ka Mein was perfect, but the tempura vegetables were too salty – something I was not expecting. I imagine the heavy-handedness with the salt was to appease western taste buds, but it was the woefully heavy batter that really turned me off. Instead of the light, golden crunch I was expecting, the vegetables were limp, greasy and tasted like the kind of deep-fried nonsense so prevalent in local sports bars. My husband found them agreeable, but then he comes from the land of fish & chips, so salty fried things make him a happy boy. I guess I ought to know by now that Chinese restaurants don’t do Japanese cuisine very well. Oh well, lesson learned.
Service is fast and friendly at Yat Ka Mein, and if you are not in a noodle mood there are ample traditional Chinese favorites on hand, and plenty of other vegetarian options (besides the disastrous tempura) to choose from.