A recipe for Miso Carbonara Udon inspired by our visit to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California! Thick udon noodles are coated in a creamy miso sauce with plenty of cheese.
Little Tokyo (小東京) in downtown Los Angeles is one of only three historically Japanese districts in the United States (the other two are also in California- one in San Francisco and the other in San Jose).
Roughly the size of 5 city blocks, it is bordered by 1st Street to the north, 3rd Street to the south, Los Angeles Street to the west, and Alameda Street to the east.
The population in Little Tokyo grew from 3,500 in 1905 to around 30,000 by its peak in 1941. With the forced incarceration of immigrants and American citizens with Japanese ancestry following the signing of Executive Order 9066, the area emptied and briefly transformed into Bronzeville.
After their release at the end of the war, many of the previous residents moved to nearby neighborhoods due to lack of housing and space. The district has continued to rebuild amid threats of development and was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1995.
The Home is Little Tokyo mural in the photo above is located across the street from the Japanese American National Museum on the southwest corner of E 1st Street and S Central Avenue.
It was created by Tony Osumi, Sergio Diaz, and Jorge Diaz with help from hundreds of community members. The 16-by-40-foot mural was completed in 2005 and is filled with images from Little Tokyo’s history.
Japanese American National Museum
Founded in 1992 and moved to its current building in January 1999, the Japanese American National Museum is located at 100 North Central Avenue in Little Tokyo.
This museum focuses on the 130 years of Japanese-American history in the United States from the first waves of immigration to the internment camps and aftermath following the end of World War II.
Admission at the time of this post (2021) is $16 for adults, $7 for seniors and youth, and free for children 5 and under. Allow 90 minutes to 2 hours to see the exhibits. Special events are held throughout the year.
Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys
Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys was a temporary exhibition during our visit from September 15th, 2018 to March 24, 2019.
The toy industry in Japan was one of the first to reinvent itself and helped boost the economy during the early postwar reconstruction period.
At the age of 9 in 1973, Mark Nagata was sent a box of kaiju (strange creature or monster) and hero Japanese toys with art-laden packaging from his aunt and uncle stationed on a US military base in Japan.
This began his path to becoming a toy designer, toy collector, and illustrator (particularly known for his work with Goosebumps). The exhibit featured hundreds of vintage and contemporary Japanese vinyl toys on display along with his creations such as Drazoran and Captain Maxx, artwork, and history.
Common Ground: The Heart of Community
Common Ground: The Heart of Community highlights Japanese-American history beginning with the original Issei (first generation immigrants), their new lives in America, and how they were treated.
The exhibit continues to explain the events leading up to the signing of Executive Order 9066 by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese-Americans along with the aftermath of rebuilding their lives following their release.
Over 2,260 Japanese-Latin Americans were also sent to the internment camps from 13 countries (80% from Peru). Most weren’t allowed to return back to Latin America and were deported to Japan at the end the war (and often had never been to Japan and had no ties to the country).
Hundreds of objects, documents, photographs, and notable artifacts (including a Heart Mountain barracks and pages of the original Civil Liberties Act document with Reagan’s signature- on loan from the National Archives) are on display.
Audio guides in English, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Spanish are available for this exhibit at the front desk of the museum.
Sadako’s Crane is an ongoing special display at the Japanese American National Museum.
Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. She was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 12. A fellow patient told her of the Japanese belief that anyone who folds one thousand cranes would be granted a wish. She folded 1,300 cranes in hopes of recovering, but unfortunately died on October 25, 1955.
The crane in the photo above was donated to the JANM on May 29, 2016 by members of her family. Other organizations with her original cranes include the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, 9/11 Tribute Center, USS Arizona Memorial, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, and Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution.
The Children’s Peace Monument was built in Sadako’s honor at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in 1958 and is always surrounded by origami cranes sent in from around the world.
Go for Broke Monument
By the parking lot just behind the Japanese American National Museum is the Go for Broke Monument.
Dedicated on June 5, 1999, this monument honors the Japanese-Americans who served in the United States Army during World War II and remained unrecognized by the government.
The side of the black granite monument holds the names of 16,131 Japanese-American men and women who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company, and 1399 Engineer Construction Battalion.
Katie Yamasaki’s Moon Beholders mural was unveiled to the public on November 19th, 2014 following the end of an 11 year ban of murals in Los Angeles in August 2013.
It is located on the north wall of the museum’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy near the Go for Broke Monument. Yamasaki has painted over 60 murals around the world, but this was her first in Los Angeles.
From the JANM blog: “Against a bright gold background, a smiling young girl lies clothed in a variety of furoshiki—traditional cloths long used to preserve, protect, and transport items. The pattern and color on each furoshiki represents a unique moment in Japanese American history, such as a pale blue sky covered in yellow barbed wire symbolizing the WWII incarceration camps.”
Located at 327 E 1st Street, Daikokuya Ramen is one of the most popular restaurants in Little Tokyo.
We visited on a very hot August day, so I opted for the Tsukemen- chilled noodles with seared chashu, egg, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, green onions, and a pork broth dipping sauce on the side. It was such a refreshing meal to help beat the heat.
The restaurant is small and during peak hours the wait can be up to an hour (outside). It is cash only and does not take to-go orders. There are also currently locations in El Monte, West Hollywood, Sawtelle, and Monterey Park.
Next door to Daikokuya is Marugame Monzo. Like Daikokuya, this space is also small and intimate with often long waits.
I arrived around 10 minutes before opening on a Sunday and joined the already forming line. I got the second to last table with a perfect view of the udon station in the glass-walled kitchen. The handmade traditional sanuki udon is a noodle lover’s dream.
I tried the Miso Carbonara Udon (味噌カルボナーラうどん) and it is definitely in the top 10 noodle dishes I have ever tried, so much so that I immediately wanted to remake it at home (recipe at the end of the post).
Other signature dishes include the Mentai Squid Butter Udon, Udon Gratin (also on my list), Mushroom Cream Udon, and Seafood Tomato Cream Udon along with plenty of traditional options.
Born in Gifu, Japan, Seiichi Kito opened Fugetsu-Do in 1903, making it one of the oldest still-running food establishments in Los Angeles.
The Kito family was forced to liquidate their inventory during WWII before being sent to an internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
After their release, the War Relocation Authority tried to encourage the family to move to another location, but Seiichi and son Roy were set on returning to Little Tokyo and struggled to rebuild their business. They were finally about to reopen Fugetsu-Do on May 5, 1946.
Today, the shop is run by Roy and Kazuko’s youngest child, Brian, and is well-known for their fresh mochi in a variety of traditional and modern flavors along with packaged products perfect for taking home to friends and family.
Tea Master Matcha Cafe and Green Tea Shop
Hidden in a small shopping center on 450 E 2nd Street, Tea Master Matcha Cafe & Green Tea Shop features green tea drinks and soft-serve ice cream.
They focus on a small menu and everything I have tried has been incredible. They also sell a handful of tea-related household items and snacks.
The Friendship Knot at the entrance to Weller Court was created by Shinkichi Tajiri.
Originally located at his home in the Netherlands and called the Square Knot, the sculpture was shipped to Los Angeles and dedicated on August 5, 1981.
The memorial for Ellison Shoji Onizuka stands on Onizuka Street by Midori Matcha.
Born in Kealakekua, Hawaii, Onizuka was the first Asian-American/Japanese-American/Hawaiian astronaut in space with the launch of the space shuttle Discovery on January 24, 1985.
He died at the age of 39 on his second space flight during the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28th, 1986.
Midori Matcha is a fairly new addition to Little Tokyo.
Opened in 2017, there are also locations in Pasadena and Costa Mesa. They serve organic Japanese ceremonial grade matcha tea and desserts.
I especially loved the soft serve matcha and black sesame swirl.
This location in Little Tokyo has a wonderful collection of Japanese cookbooks along with stationery, children’s books, crafts, gifts, travel, and Japanese language books (plus plenty for Korean, Tagalog, and more).
We started 2019 with an Oshogatsu celebration in Little Tokyo. The festival featured booths, street food, and entertainment throughout the day in Weller Court and Japanese Village Plaza.
Highlights included the Taiko Drums, Sake Barrel Breaking, Shishimai (Lion Dance), Japanese folk music, Aikido, dancing, and a Kimono fashion show.
Japanese Village Plaza
Yamazaki Bakery features a variety of bread, desserts, drinks, and other bakery treats.
The Sanrio Store is filled with all things Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters. You will find plenty of clothing, bags, toys, jewelry, bento products, accessories, and more.
There are also events held throughout the year.
Mikawaya Mochi (now closed) was founded in 1910 by Ryuzaburo Hashimoto as a traditional Japanese wagashi shop (Koroku and Haru Hashimoto were forced to close in 1942 and relocate to an internment camp in Poston, Arizona until the war’s end when they were finally able to reopen in 1945).
Owner Frances Hashimoto was actually the first to create Mochi ice cream (もちアイス, ice cream wrapped in a layer of soft and chewy mochi dough) in 1994 following an idea her husband had during a trip to Japan.
Mikawaya’s mochi ice cream is now available in the freezer section of stores across the United States. I have also learned how to make my own: Mochi Ice Cream and Mochi Magic.
We often get to Little Tokyo early on Sunday mornings to avoid traffic and find easy parking.
While most of the shops and restaurants don’t open until closer to noon, Cafe Dulce opens at 8 am and is usually our first stop for coffee and a pastry or two. The kids especially love the doughnuts.
They also have a second location at 777 S Alameda Street.
Entertainment Hobby Shop Jungle
Under the Japanese Village Plaza parking garage is a collection of shops featuring anime, cards, dvds, cosplay, and other related products.
Chad and Evan always stop by Entertainment Hobby Shop Jungle when in the area. Here you will find anime, toys, games, collectibles, figurines, manga, stationery, J-POP, and more. Evan likes to look at all the “robots” while Claire enjoys the Funko Pop Disney characters.
There are so many other notable spots in Little Tokyo in addition to what I have featured here including Nijiya Market (I haven’t actually stopped at this one since there is another location by my house in Torrance), Marukai Market (under Kinokuniya- I picked up a beautiful donabe here), James Irvine Japanese Garden (under renovation during 2019), Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, Jist, Bae, Milk + T, Mitsuru, and more.
Miso Carbonara Udon
Inspired by Marugame Monzo, I was so excited to figure out how easy it is to make Miso Carbonara Udon (味噌カルボナーラうどん) at home! Overall, everything comes together in about 20-30 minutes.
Thick and chewy udon noodles are tossed with an egg and cheese-based mixture until creamy with crisp pieces of guanciale or bacon.
While the noodles cook in boiling water, whisk together the shredded cheese, egg yolks, miso, and a little freshly ground black pepper in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of the hot pasta water to create a creamy sauce.
In the meantime, pan-fry the guanciale or bacon until crisp, then add the garlic and deglaze the pan with a large splash of sake (this part is optional if you are avoiding alcohol).
Add the tender udon, remove from heat for 1-2 minutes, then toss in the miso-based sauce until well combined and creamy.
Serve the udon immediately after tossing everything together. While updating this post, I topped the Miso Carbonara Udon with more shredded cheese, additional pieces of the guanciale, and an egg yolk (consume raw egg at your own risk) for a more vibrant presentation.
Udon are long, thick noodles with a smooth and chewy texture. You can use frozen Sanuki udon (讃岐うどん) found in the freezer section of larger American grocery stores or markets with East Asian ingredients or make your own Homemade Udon Noodles.
Miso is a Japanese condiment created by fermenting soy with salt. Sometimes rice and barley are also used. There are many types of miso available. Lighter colored misos are usually more sweet and less salty. As the color darkens, the flavor generally becomes stronger and more salty.
Once opened, refrigerate and use within a year. I used a white miso (shiro miso) in this Miso Carbonara Udon, but feel free to play around with your favorite or what you have on hand.
Guanciale is an Italian cured meat using pork jowl. It can be found in markets with specialty Italian ingredients. If unavailable, substitute with bacon, but keep in mind that smoked bacon or any added spices will change the flavor. Thick-cut bacon will hold up better with the chewy noodles and creamy sauce.
A Few Miso Carbonara Udon Tips
I didn’t add any salt since the miso and cheese had plenty to season the noodles. Add a little and adjust to taste if desired.
If the eggs touch the very hot pan, they may start to scramble and lose the notable creamy texture. Remove the pan from heat about 1 to 2 minutes before tossing the sauce with the noodles.
I topped the carbonara udon with more black pepper, but you can also add a sprinkling of Shichimi Togarashi if you want a little heat. Shichimi Togarashi is a Japanese seven-spice chili seasoning blend.
This recipe was originally posted in February 2019 and updated in September 2023.
Miso Carbonara Udon Recipe
Adapted from Rice with Everything
Miso Carbonara Udon
- 1.75 pounds (794 grams) frozen Sanuki Udon about 3 bricks
- 2 ounces (57 grams) freshly grated Parmesan divided
- 2 ounces (57 grams) freshly grated Pecorino divided
- 3 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons (34 grams) white miso
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) pasta water
- 1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter
- 3.5 ounces (99 grams) diced guanciale or thick-cut bacon
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) sake optional
- 1 green onion thinly sliced
- 2 Egg yolks optional
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the udon bricks and cook until tender. Reserve 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of the cooking water, drain, and set aside.
- While the water is coming to a boil, whisk together 3/4 of the Parmesan, 3/4 of the Pecorino, egg yolks, miso, and black pepper. Slowly whisk in the reserved hot cooking water until smooth. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a wok or large pan over medium heat.
- Add the guanciale or bacon pieces and cook, stirring often, until the fat has rendered and the pieces are crisp. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the grease. If desired, set aside a few pieces of the pork to use as garnish.
- Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. If using, pour in the sake to deglaze the pan and simmer until nearly evaporated.
- Toss in the tender udon until evenly combined and remove from heat. After 1-2 minutes, quickly toss in the egg yolk miso mixture.
- Serve immediately topped with thinly sliced green onions, the remaining 1/4 Parmesan and Pecorino, egg yolks if desired (consume raw eggs at your own risk), pork pieces if reserved, and an additional sprinkling of black pepper.