Houtou (Hōtō): What Is It And Where Did It Come From?
Houtou is a noodle soup made with wheat noodles and a hot broth. It’s often served with a meat and/or vegetables, and is a popular dish in the winter months.
In this article, I’ll take you through the history, ingredients, and traditions of houtou, as well as some of the best places to try it in Japan.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is Houtou?
- 2 The Fascinating History of Houtou
- 3 Cooking Up a Delicious Hōtō
- 4 The Mysterious Origins of Hōtō
- 5 What’s the Difference Between Udon, Kishimen, and Houtou?
- 6 Conclusion
What is Houtou?
A Traditional Japanese Noodle Soup
Houtou is a traditional Japanese noodle soup that’s been around for centuries. It’s made with thick and short noodles, miso, and a variety of vegetables like pumpkin. It’s usually served hot and is a popular dish in Yamanashi Prefecture.
Why Isn’t it Considered an Udon Dish?
Some locals don’t consider Houtou an udon dish, and that’s because of the ingredients and the way it’s prepared. Houtou is made with thicker and shorter noodles than udon, and it’s cooked with miso and vegetables. Udon, on the other hand, is usually served with a light broth and doesn’t include vegetables.
What Does Houtou Taste Like?
Houtou has a unique flavor that’s unlike any other noodle soup. It’s savory and slightly sweet, with a hint of umami from the miso. The vegetables add a nice crunch and the noodles are chewy and satisfying. It’s a comforting and delicious dish that’s sure to warm you up on a cold day.
The Fascinating History of Houtou
The Origin Story
It’s said that Yamanashi prefecture’s houtou was born out of necessity. With rice harvests being limited, the locals had to get creative and started planting wheat and making bread. Sericulture had taken over the rice-growing fields, leaving the people with a shortage of food. So, they came up with houtou, a flour-based dish that could be cooked up quickly and easily.
It’s also believed that houtou was created by a local warlord, Takeda Shingen. After World War II, tourism became the prefecture’s main moneymaker, and Takeda Shingen’s image was used to promote the area’s regional products. People started saying that Takeda Shingen and his troops would eat houtou before each battle.
The Modern Day
These days, houtou is a popular dish in Yamanashi prefecture, and it’s even become a tourist attraction. It’s easy to make, and it’s a great way to get a taste of the area’s culture. Plus, it’s a great way to fill up on a budget.
If you’re ever in Yamanashi, you should definitely give houtou a try. It’s a delicious dish that’s sure to satisfy your hunger and give you a unique taste of the region.
Wheat Farming and the Flour Culture
It all started with a shortage of rice crops in Yamanashi prefecture. So, the locals got creative and decided to switch things up by introducing wheat farming and the flour culture. Sericulture then took over the lands that were traditionally used for rice crops, and hōtō was born as a way to combat the food shortage.
The Gunnai Region
The wheat farming trend spread throughout the prefecture and even to the neighboring prefectures of Nagano, Shizuoka, Saitama, and Gunma. But it all began in the Gunnai region of Yamanashi, where rice farming was impossible due to the cold temperatures and the volcanic debris in the soil.
Takeda Shingen and the Tourism Boom
The locals also popularized hōtō as a tourist food by claiming that it was the meal of choice for Takeda Shingen and his soldiers before each battle. Nowadays, tourists can enjoy hōtō in local restaurants, coffee shops, and even ice cream parlors.
Some people even go as far as to say that the descendants of the Takeda clan introduced the recipe to the Tokugawa shogunate, who then used it to develop Nagoya’s miso-nikomi udon. But that’s just a wild theory that’s yet to be proven!
Cooking Up a Delicious Hōtō
Kneading the Dough
Kneading the dough for hōtō is a bit of an art form. You’ll need to use your bare hands and a wooden bowl to get the perfect texture. Then, you’ll need to stretch it out and cut it into large pieces with a kitchen knife. It’s important to note that hōtō requires a tougher texture than udon, so you won’t be adding any salt or letting it sit.
Boiling it Up
The best part about hōtō is that you don’t need to parboil the noodles – you can just throw them in with the other ingredients and boil them up! To make the miso soup, you’ll need to use niboshi, and you can add whatever vegetables you like, depending on the season. In the summer, you can add negi, onions, and potatoes, while in the winter, you can add taro, carrots, and Chinese cabbage. If you’re feeling fancy, you can add some pork or chicken too.
Serving it Up
Hōtō noodles are usually wider and flatter than regular udon noodles. You can eat it as a hearty meal on its own, or you can serve it with white rice, just like miso soup. If you’re feeling extra fancy, you can serve it in an iron pot with thick, heavy noodles to give it a voluminous feel.
No matter how you serve it, hōtō is sure to provide you with a delicious meal packed with starch, vitamins, and fiber. So, why not give it a try?
The Mysterious Origins of Hōtō
The Chinese Connection
It’s commonly believed that hōtō got its name from a combination of two words: hakutaku (餺飥) and udon. The kanji “餺飥” first appeared in Nara period dictionaries, and their reading is listed in dictionaries of the cloistered rule period as hautau, showing that the pronunciation had already begun to transform into the reading hōtō.
Some linguists theorize that hōtō actually originated from local words when flour was turned into a popular dish. In the local dialect, the word for flour is hatakimono, while the local word for grinding crops into powder is hataku.
But there’s also a Chinese connection. In modern-day Shanxi province of China, the word wonton is written with similar kanji (餛飩), and is pronounced “hōtō.” Could this be where hōtō got its name?
The Japanese Meaning
There are also theories about the Japanese meaning of “houtou”. Some linguists disagree with the Chinese origin theory because there is no conclusive evidence that the word originated from China.
But from a historical viewpoint, the word hataku first appears in documents around 1484 in the Muromachi period, while hōtō (ほうとう) or hautau can be found much earlier in writings such as The Pillow Book. This contradicts the idea that hataku was the basis for the name of the dish.
The Treasure Sword Theory
The most interesting theory of all is the one about the “treasure sword”. The explanation is that Takeda Shingen cut the ingredients for the dish with his own sword. But linguists tend to view this idea as a clever play on words in an advertisement campaign rather than a legitimate theory.
So, the mystery of hōtō’s name remains unsolved. Was it born from a combination of two words, or did it come from China? Or did Takeda Shingen really cut the ingredients with his own sword? We may never know the answer.
What’s the Difference Between Udon, Kishimen, and Houtou?
Udon is a classic noodle dish that’s been around for centuries. It’s made with wheat flour, salt, and water, and is usually served in a hot broth. It’s a great option for a quick meal, and can be topped with a variety of ingredients.
Kishimen is a type of flat noodle that’s made with wheat flour, salt, and water. It’s usually served in a hot broth, and can be topped with a variety of ingredients. Kishimen is a great option for a hearty meal.
Houtou is a unique noodle dish that’s made without salt. It’s usually boiled in a miso soup, and the starch from the dough gives it a thick, flavorful texture. It’s a great way to add some extra depth to your meal, and can be topped with a variety of ingredients.
So, what’s the difference between Udon, Kishimen, and Houtou? Well, Udon and Kishimen are both made with salt, while Houtou is made without. Udon and Kishimen have a noodle shape, while Houtou doesn’t. And Houtou is boiled in a miso soup, giving it a unique flavor. Here’s a quick rundown of the differences:
- Udon and Kishimen: Made with salt, noodle shape
- Houtou: Made without salt, no noodle shape, boiled in miso soup
Houtou is a traditional Japanese dish that’s full of nourishment and flavor, especially during the winter months. It’s easy to make at home, too – just add your favorite fresh veggies to the noodles and soup. Plus, if you’re in Yamanashi prefecture, you can find a variety of noodles and soup noodles to choose from. So, don’t be afraid to give it a try – you won’t regret it! And don’t forget, when you’re eating houtou, you’re also practicing your chopstick skills – so you can become a Houtou MASTER!
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.