What confuses most people is the specifically Japanse flavour umami, which exists in almost anything Japanese. Typical chinese cooking is sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy. Umami is the ultimate 'tastiness' factor in Japanese cooking.
The Japanese use a stock called Dashi. And the best dashi is made with freshly shaved katsuobushi (smoked bonita fish flakes) and konbu (kelp) brewed in water and then strained to get the broth.
You can do two brews each time. Depending on the dish, you can use either the first or the second. Dashi stock makes the basic broth for noodle dishes. To make life simpler, we can use dashi granules (like our chicken or beef stock).
One of our favourite is Nikku Udon (meat udon) and we love the beef version (gyu). Would do this at home if I am lazy.
1.8 - 2 liter of water
2 tbsp of dashi granules
2 tbsp of sugar
3 tbsp of light soya (Kikoman or Japanese brandshoyu)
1 tbsp of dark soya (Use Japanese brand)
1-2 tbsp of cooking sake
1- 2 stalk of leek, sliced thinly
150 gm of beef
1) Put all ingredients into a soup pot and boil. Add beef when boiling. Turn to simmer for 1 hour or so. Taste. If not tasty enough for you, add a little more dashi, sugar and light soya a little at a time.
Fresh packets of udon noodles or dried udon/soba noodles
Thin slices of beef (shabu shabu cut) 25 to 40 gm per person
More leek thinly sliced
Some anaori (small flakes of dried laver like nori to sprinkle)
2) Prepare a small pot of boiling water and put in noodles with boiling. If fresh udon cooking time is shorter like 3-5 min. Dried ones takes longer like 6-8 min. Make sure it is cooked through but not too soft.
3) Dish out and place in bowls. Turn up fire for soup, dip thin beef slices into boiling soup 30 sec per slice. Skip dipping if you like your beef raw. Place on top of noodles. Pour hot soup onto noodles. Sprinkle leek and anaori.
Soup will serve 4-5.
You can get most of the above ingredients from Choice Daily Supermarket in Stutong. I usually stock up whenever we go KL. Jusco and Isetan have a huge selection of Japanese ingredients at 15 to 30% cheaper than Kuching.