Translated by Jay Issei Karslake
Eat This And You'll Pass!? Osaka Tenmangu's Famous Suberan Udon
Written by Naoyo Kishimoto
Osaka Tenmangu Shrine is home to the god of studying and is where you will find some interesting items that are said to increase your likelihood of passing your exams. Suberan udon, a noodle dish sold at a shop in the grounds is said to do just that.
Suberan Udon, a Specialty Dish at Osaka Tenmangu
On the north side of Osaka Tenmangu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the famous god of studying and knowledge, just beyond Hoshiai pond stands the Hoshiaichaya, a tea shop that sells a dish perfect for students that come to pray for success on their exams.
Those praying for success at school should by all means have the suberan udonsold here.
Hoshiaichaya, a Traditional Tea Store
After passing under the torii, you will enter an area filled with nostalgic atmosphere for the Japanese. Hoshichaya is a tea house, built in a style that has been popular from the 12th to the 19th century.
The sight of the fujidana (*1) and endai (*2) here are sure to make anyone feel that they have stepped into the world of ukiyo-e illustrations.
*1 Fujidana: a wisteria trellis or arbor.
*2 Endai: a low wooden bench common in Japanese gardens and outside shops.
There is also a small shrine on the grounds of the shop, where offerings can be made. Both before and after eating in this shop, please take a good look around the grounds.
Praying to Pass Exams! Suberna Udon!
Tenjin udon (400 yen including tax)
Why is suberan udon perfect for those praying to pass exams?
Since ancient times the Japanese have believed in the power of words. The ‘suberan’ part of suberan udon, is the Kansai dialect version of the word ‘suberanai’, which means to fall, fail or slip; in Japanese to fail an exam is expressed by the phrasal verb ‘shiken ni suberu’. Therefore, this name means ‘not failing an exam udon’ (in other words, ‘passing exams udon’).
For this reason worshipers and students who are about to take their exams should eat this udon. In fact, it's thought that by praying to the god of studying at Osaka Tenmangu Shrine and eating this udon, your chances of success are doubled!
In Japan, dishes or tools that are intended to act as talismans and aid in achieving wishes are known as engimono and are highly prized. Suberan udon is one such wish-fulfilling item.
According to the shop staff, there are even some worshipers who have returned to the store to eat the suberan udon once again in order to express their gratitude for having their wish granted and passing their exams or tests. And, if you tell the staff members that you are about to take a test, you will receive a 'suberan sticker', which you can see in the lower left of the photo. If you are preparing to take a test, then please visit this shop.
Where Did the Name ‘Suberan Udon’ Come From?
Just as its name suggests, suberan udon has the further distinction of being udon that doesn't slip easily, even when eaten with chopsticks.
The reason that these noodles are not slippery is their unusual shape. There is a gap in the middle of the flat noodles that makes it easier for chopsticks or a fork to catch the noodles. Not only does this make it easier to eat, but the noodles get imbued with the taste of the broth more easily, which gives them a greater, more delicious flavor. The length of the noodles is also shorter than usual udon, making it easier for those with disabilities, the elderly, children and those who are not used to eating with chopsticks to eat.
However, if you intentionally try to hook the gap with chopsticks or a fork it becomes hard to do and more difficult to eat, so if you are putting your wishes into it when eating this dish, it's best to eat it normally.
For more information about udon and other noodles in Japan, please take a look at this article: Know Your Noodle: The Differences Between Soba And Udon.
The Menu and How to Order
On the outside left side of Hoshichaya there is a counter where suberan udon can be ordered.
In the above photo, the left page shows their regular menu while the right features their summer menu. During the summer the have cold udon. The menu has pictures of all the dishes offered, so that those who cannot speak Japanese can simply point to the dish that they would like to have.
Although not in the menu, we would like to recommend their kitsune udon with its extra large piece of fried tofu, and the Tenjin udon, which has tempura in it; or try the topping rich combination of the two, Tenjin kitsune (400 yen with tax).
On days with clear weather, the benches are placed under the trellis and you can eat outside at this shop. And, those that struggle to eat with chopsticks need not worry - there are forks available here too!
You can order sweets from the indoor counter too, like taiyaki, plum juice made from plums picked from within the premises and more.
Suberan Udon You Can Enjoy with the Family
You can also buy dried udon noodles to make suberan udon at home as well. The packet of noodles also comes with the powder to make the dashi (Japanese soup base), making it easy to make your very own suberan udon at home; a portion for one person costs 200 yen (tax included).
Those purchasing the boxed set (1000 yen with tax) will be happy to note that they also come with the suberan sticker inside. These would make the perfect souvenir for someone getting ready to take a test!
If You Come to Osaka Tenmangu, Have Suberan Udon for Lunch
I really enjoyed having the Tenjin kitsune udon while surrounded by the nostalgic air of old Japan. That air, it somehow radiated a warm, comforting sensation that I really appreciated. The vaguely sweet Japanese style broth unique to the Kansai region mixed with these noodles very well; it was so delicious. The cost performance of the dish is excellent too. Even if you aren't taking any exams any time soon, please pay a visit to this wonderful shop and enjoy some delicious udon.