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Noodles star of the bowl at udon joint

Customers put their order together step by step: choosing noodle style, condiments and additions.
Customers put their order together step by step: choosing noodle style, condiments and additions. Pha Lina

Noodles star of the bowl at udon joint

New restaurant claims to have the freshest strands in town made by on-site machine

Marugame Udon is a massive new fresh noodle-production factory, the biggest assembly line style udon restaurant in Phnom Penh. And it’s drawing big crowds.

On Tuesday night this week, the place was buzzing. Khmer families, young couples and after-work business people occupied nearly every booth and table, slurping happily out of pretty ceramic bowls.

The smell of dashi soup stock and flowers lingered on the AC currents, the scent stemming from the dozen or so congratulations-on-the-opening bouquets positioned throughout.

It’s a big, boxy place, but the interior is tasteful, with slanted wooden paneling on the walls and giant glass windows through which you can watch the omnipresent Street 63 traffic.

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The strands of noodles are thick and resilient. Pha Lina

The menu is large, though not intimidatingly so: 13 styles of udon, available in broth or dry, plus lots of tempura add-ons (each costs around $0.60; the udon bowls $1.90-$4.80).

While you choose, you can watch the udon-making machines crank out the plump strands which are then chucked in bunches into a large tub of bubbling water by a cook in a white bandana.

There are so many noodle bunches in the tub that the cook uses industrial-sized nets to wrangle them out, like a marine biologist collecting octopi out of a geothermic tide pool.

There are helpers at nearly every step of the process too: someone to help you order from the cashier at the register; someone to pour your fruit juice for you; someone to add soy, tempura or shoyu sauce into your bowl at the condiments table. They leave transporting the noodles from bowl to mouth to the customers though.

While the udon broth did not wow, the noodles managed to avoid the pitfalls characteristic of ugly udon: weak ropes that fall apart.

These were plump, thick and slurpable, indicative of their freshness, with meat on the bone, so to speak. The actual meat in this order however, the “spicy” pork, was mostly fat.

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Cooks use nets to scoop out the bunches of udon. Pha Lina

According to Soklin Chhai, the restaurant’s marketing director, the new eatery is one of nearly a thousand Marugame locations the world over. Most of them are in Japan, where the chain originates, she said. This was the first in Cambodia.

But what separates Marugame from the Phnom Penh udon pack?

“The speciality of our udon is that we have an udon-making machine in the restaurant made directly for the customer,” Chhai said. In other words, freshness is paramount. But so is transparency.

“All the things that we are cooking will be seen by the customer, so the customer can make sure that the food is clean and freshly made,”
she said.

Marugame Udon is located at #189 Street 63. Open: 11am-9pm.

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