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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Yawatahama Champon (八幡浜 ちゃんぽん)

It was really hard to decide what to make for Yawatahama. I wanted to bring you something not just uniquely from Shikoku in origin, but Yawatahama itself. However, I was a bit stumped. A lot of what makes Shikoku cuisine unique is the island itself. For instance, the most famous local food of Shikoku is sanuki udon because the island has the best wheat production in Japan. However, that dish hails from Kagawa prefecture, not Ehime prefecture where Yawatahama is located.

Citrus is a huge part of Ehime's agriculture, however I don't have access to the more unique citrus that Japan has. I could do a citrus recipe, even though it's summer and citrus is at its peak in winter, and call it good. But there's not a lot of recipes for citrus that are unique to Ehime because the citrus is normally just eaten simply and the fruit is savored in its original form, and I've already blogged about that. I'd basically be slapping together a marmalade and making a flimsy connection to Yawatahama, something I didn't want to do. I could do a recipe of a nearby city, like Imabari or Uwajima, instead of Yawatahama. I found some awesome regional foods when I researched, however they still weren't strictly from Yawatahama.

I guess I stressed over this so much because I felt so connected to Yawatahama when I visited. My family is buried there. My family lived and died, and continues to live, there. Our creaky old ancestral house stands firmly on its soil. A tiny portion of my soul, my very essence, I think was left on that hilltop surrounded by graves and citrus and the smell of the ocean. A bigger portion was left in that house where I shared tea and smiles with family. It's only natural I wanted to share some of Yawatahama's soul with you.

I'm not normally this cheesy, but truly it was a special experience.

So really, the choice was made for me. If I was going to share a bit of Yawatahama's soul, I was going to have to get serious about creating a dish I've never actually eaten: Yawatahama-style Champon.

Yawatahama-style Champon is considered the beloved soul food of Yawatahama, and an important part of their culture. Their city mascot, Hamapon, actually carries around a bowl of champon and his name is a portmanteau of the last letters in Yawatahama Champon.
The mascot of Yawatahama: Hamapon! Photo cred

Yawatahama is a small town (population around 40,000) but it has over fifty champon restaurants, to give you a bit of scope on how popular this dish is. How did Champon get so popular, and what the hell is it? Champon is a noodle dish that traces its roots back to China, just like ramen does. There's two different theories on how it got so popular in Yawatahama and both theories trace back to the fact it is a port city. Either directly from China, or from Nagasaki, another important port city, Champon came over on those trade ships and won Yawatahama's heart and soul in the 1950s.

Champon is unique in that you boil the noodles directly in the broth, unlike ramen. Also different: it also includes a lot of veggies not typically seen in ramen. The whole dish is stir fried, so it starts looking very much like a Chinese dish of stir fried veggies and meat, until the broth and noodles appear and it goes in a very different direction. Overall, it's a unique dish that I had to try and bring to you.

Just about to pour the broth over to serve!
Yawatahama-style champon differs from the more well-known Nagasaki-style champon in subtle ways. The broth is lighter in the Yawatahama version, the noodles are thicker, and the toppings tend to have more seafood. Even then, there is a huge variation in broths and toppings, as every champon shop has its own interpretation of the dish.

Check out this video on Youtube that introduces Hamapon and shows you several different Yawatahama restaurant's champon.

In my photos I neglected to take any pictures that highlighted the shrimp in this dish, but rest assured they are there. They all were at the bottom and being hungry I forgot to make sure to style one on top. Feel free to substitute with whatever fresh seafood you want!

I made sure to have my grandmother taste test this recipe and she gave it two thumbs up as Yawatahama-style champon.

Yawatahama Champon (八幡浜 ちゃんぽん)
serves two

1/3lbs of pork belly, thinly sliced and cut into 2" pieces
2 packs of fresh ramen noodles*
1/2 cup small shrimp
1/2 cup cabbage cut into bite sized pieces (roughly 1")
1/2 cup of bean sprouts
1/4 cup julienned carrots
1/2 a block of kamaboko cut into thin slices
1 tbs canola oil (or similar unobtrusive oil)

For the broth:
3 cups of chicken stock
2 tbs shoyu (I used light shoyu for color)
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

*Try to find the widest you can find, or consider even using spaghetti noodles I won't judge!

In a large wok (or large saucepan), heat the oil over medium heat until warm but not smoking. Add in the pork and stir fry until cooked through. Add in the shrimp and stir fry until they just turn pink, do not overcook!

Add in the carrots and cabbage, and stir fry until the cabbage has just begun to lose some of its crunch and everything is covered in oil, less than a minute.

Mix in the bean sprouts and kamaboko and then pour in the broth ingredients. Bring the broth to a boil and then drop in the noodles. After about one minute of boiling the noodles, remove from head.

Divide into two bowls and serve! I find the easiest way to avoid making a mess is to divide the noodles and such up into two bowls first, then pour the broth into them.

See Also:
Toshikoshi Soba
Tsukimi Ramen 
Turkey and Hominy Soup 

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