Food for thought, in more ways than one.

We’ve eaten a lot of noodles in our time, but this week we came across a particularly unusual type we’d never tried before. What makes them so special is not necessarily the broth, nor is it the chef who makes them — it’s what’s written on them that give them their special magic.

Yes, you did read that correctly. These noodles are some of the most elegant we’ve ever seen as they’re adorned with beautiful calligraphy, and we purchased them from the souvenir corner at the “Nittanosho Kanzantei” Japanese restaurant in Ota City, Gunma Prefecture.

Unfortunately the restaurant doesn’t actually have the noodles on the menu for diners, but we were fine with eating them in the privacy of our own home. That’s because what’s written on these noodles is the heart sutra, which is often chanted by monks at funerals or memorial services, or read aloud by Buddhists, and sometimes even copied on paper as a meditative practice at temples.

Whichever way you’ve been introduced to it, the heart sutra is one of the most-well known in Japan, and it centres around the concept of emptiness. Some key passages include: “The Insight That Brings Us to the Other Shore” and “This body is emptiness, and emptiness is this body“.

That’s definitely food for thought, and best enjoyed in the quietness of one’s home rather than a busy restaurant filled with other diners.

The entire 260-character sutra is printed on thick strips of udon wheat noodles, and it’s advised that you spend a moment reading the sutra on the included leaflet, as well as the noodles, before boiling them.

The leaflet includes the full text with furigana lettering to help read the more difficult kanji, and a modern language translation guide for those being introduced to the sutra for the first time.

It seemed immoral to boil the sutra in boiling water, but that’s what these were designed for, so we popped them in a pot of boiling water as instructed.

The instructions suggest adding vegetables and meat to the noodles to create a more filling meal, but we decided to enjoy the noodles on their own, with the dashi broth included in the pack.

Once the noodles were ready, we poured them out into a bowl, and were amazed to see the sutra hadn’t disappeared — the characters were still visible, although they had faded somewhat, giving them a more mysterious aura.

This bowl of mysterious noodles looked like something you’d see in an anime rather than real life. We took a deep breath and exhaled before bowing our heads and slurping up the first of our heart sutra noodles.

The flavour was incredibly impressive — the noodles had the perfect amount of chewiness, and the soup was thick and flavourful, creating a heavenly match for the udon.

It was delicious to eat, and it felt great going down. The whole process of bringing religion to food in this way really made us stop and taste the noodles in a way we never really have before.

If you’d like to consume a Buddhist sutra and become one with it, this udon is definitely worth a try, and at 1,620 yen (US$11.80) for a pack of three, it’s worth stocking up on.

Reference: Nittanosho
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