In Tokyo, soy sauce is added. Up north, on the island of Hokkaido, it’s miso. But wherever you eat yaki­udon in Japan, this noodle dish is all about the chew.

And that comes from udon, a hearty wheat noodle, says Takashi Yagihashi, founder of the Slurping Turtle restaurants in Chicago and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Those noodles—and the yakiudon they make—should have “a chewiness that fills your mouth.”

Yakiudon—a simple stir-fry of noodles, vegetables and often meat—is found in izakayas, or Japan’s version of a tavern. It’s as likely to be lunch as a late-night snack.

Yagihashi recommends shrimp and mushrooms. Pork and cabbage are common ingredients, too. But this dish is flexible. “What you have in the refrigerator, you should use,” he says.

That left us plenty of room for improvising, so we decided to start with the chew factor. Though we liked fresh udon noodles, we used dry because they are more widely available. To get that dense chew, we borrowed an Italian technique, cooking the noodles al dente.

Japanese noodles are often rinsed after cooking, and chilling helps firm their texture. We streamlined by adding ice to the strainer as we rinsed the udon under cold water.

An umami-rich sauce of soy, dried shiitakes and mirin flavored fresh shiitakes and baby bok choy. To balance the savoriness, we turned to pickled ginger; a homemade version took minutes to make. For extra flavor, sprinkle on the Japanese spice blend shichimi togarashi at the table.