You may have spotted its name on the menu of your favorite Japanese restaurant, or stumbled across it in a stir-fry cookbook, but yaki udon is a delicious dish you need to know.

Yaki udon is a popular Japanese stir-fry dish, often served up in izakaya (Japan's casual pubs) as a late night meal or snack. It's made with chewy udon noodles, a salty soy- and mirin-based sauce, your choice of protein, and vegetables.

Yaki udon is actually very similar to yakisoba, another Japanese noodle stir-fry that uses very thin Chinese noodles. The widely accepted story of yaki udon's origins is that in post-World War II Japan a noodle shop couldn't get their regular yakisoba noodles due to food shortages. Instead they substituted them with chewy udon noodles and soon a new specialty dish was born.

Stir Fry Udon with red chopstick
Credit: astari lee / Getty Images

Traditionally yaki udon uses pork, either ground or pork belly, as the protein. But it's also common to see beef, chicken, seafood, or even tofu as options for the dish. You can use whatever veggies you have on hand in yaki udon. Some popular choices would include carrots, scallions, mushrooms, and bell peppers.

The main thing that makes yaki udon stand apart is the use of udon noodles. Thick, chewy, and made with wheat, these hearty noodles are the base for the dish. Try to use frozen udon noodles if you can find them, they stand up well to stir-frying better than the refrigerated or dried versions and retain their bouncy texture.

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