Tsukimi Udon (Udon noodles with an egg on top)
If you like Japanese food, or have made Japanese dishes yourself, you probably know or at least heard of dashi broth. The word dashi usually means unseasoned stock made by boiling things like kelp, bonito flakes, dried baby fish or mushrooms. Sometimes it can mean seasoned broth for noodle dishes, as in the title of this post, but maybe the word tsuyu is more commonly used in that case.
As some of you may know, in Japan, the region covering Tokyo (capital) and several surrounding prefectures is called Kanto, and that covering Osaka and neighboring prefectures is called Kansai. And broths of udon noodle dishes in Kanto and those in Kansai are distinctively different. The Kanto version and Kansai version have been considered as two major types of udon broths in Japan, and (I suppose) udon broths in other regions have been roughly categorized in either of those two. The difference? Well, take a look at this website of a popular Japanese TV show. What’s in those bottles are udon broths collected from different regions in Japan. (A staff rode a west-bound bullet train from Tokyo and ate udon to collect broth samples at the stalls on the platform at the major stops. :D) The bottle at the far right is udon broth from Tokyo, and it goes west as it goes to the left. You see the color difference?
It is said that in Kanto, they use mainly bonito flakes to make the dashi stock, and then season it with generous amount of regular soy sauce which makes the broth dark brown. On the other hand, in Kansai, more kelp and even dried baby fish are used to make stock in addition to bonito flakes, and often their bonito flakes are not the thinly shaved ones usually used for Japanese traditional clear soup.
The above photo is the thinly shaved bonito flakes usually used for traditional clear soup. But I heard that they use much thicker bonito flakes for Kansai udon broth and even mix flakes of a few different kinds of dried bonitos. And the most important seasoning ingredient is LIGHT soy sauce. Yes, it's got to be light soy sauce.
Now, have you noticed that I kept writing “it is said,” “they say” and “I heard” in above passages? Here’s my confession: I had never made udon broth from scratch until this time -- I always used instant udon dashi mix. And my mom did so, too. Even though I have lived in Kansai region for apx. 20 years, I never knew exactly what they used for making udon dashi there.
Thus, what's in the photo below are the udon broth ingredients I bought this time, based on the knowledge I have gained from the Internet. :P
See how thick the bonito flakes are?
Well, the broth I made with these ingredients and the seasonings in the recipe below tasted pretty close to the udon broth I had in Kansai and here in Kochi, so I think I’m on the right track.
Now, thanks for your patience. Finally, here's the recipe I came up with by conbining a couple of Kansai udon broth recipes on the net.
Udon dashi (tsuyu) recipe, Kansai type
* For making the stock (for 2 to 3 servings?)
1700 mL water
20 g dried baby fish
30 g dried kelp
30 g bonito flakes (thick type, mixture of different kinds, if available)
Put 1700 mL water, dried kelp and dried baby fish in the pot. Leave for more than 30 minutes. (Remove the heads and guts of the dried fish beforehand if you want the broth milder.) Heat over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes and take out the kelp before it starts boiling. (DO NOT boil the kelp, or the slimy stuff from the kelp will really ruin the flavor of the broth!) Turn the heat to high and add bonito flakes and boil for about 5 minutes, if used thick bonito flakes (and maybe 3 minutes if used thin bonito flakes). Drain. * The photo shows how I drain it. --->
* For making udon dashi broth (for 2 to 3 servings?)
1000 mL dashi stock
1 teasp. salt
1+1/2 Tbsp. light soy sauce
1+1/2 Tbsp. mirin
Heat dashi stock, add seasonings. Add boiled udon noodles and cook for a couple of minutes. Serve with your favorite toppings such as minced green onions, wakame kelp, slices of kamaboko or sumaki (steamed fish cake products), tempura, tenkasu (tempura batter flakes) and shichimi pepper.
* If you are interested in making udon noodles yourself, see this website.
Now, as some of you readers have brought up in the comments, there is another place that you cannot miss when talking about udon culture in Japan. It is Kagawa prefecture known as Sanuki in olden days, and their thick-n-chewy Sanuki udon noodles are made by putting the udon dough in plastic bags and stepping on it to knead it with heels. And the key ingredient of their udon broth are dried baby sardines called iriko and their local light soy sauce.
Those facts were already known (at least, among some people) in other areas in Japan, too, but what really made Sanuki udon -- as well as the udon culture in Kagawa prefecture -- popular throughout the country were probably this book, "Osorubeki Sanuki Udon" and this recent(?) movie called “UDON.”
Thanks to the media attention, recently some people even dare to add a third category, "Sanuki udon broth" to the big two, Kanto and Kansai versions, and say that Sanuki version is a bit saltier and lighter-colored than Kansai broth.
Unfortunately I have never had a chance to eat udon in Kagawa, but rumor has it that there are more udon noodle shops than traffic lights over there, or Kagawa natives only eat udon for lunch, or local people bring their own udon bowls and chopsticks to local udon noodle manufacturers (small, mom-and-pop type places) and enjoy old-fashioned good udon dishes which are not available at regular restaurants, etc. etc. And the place I’m interested in the most is this hilarious udon school where they teach you to dance on the udon dough to knead it. I’m not kidding. Believe me. Lucas of Nihon no Ryori actually gave it a try there. And here is another post about the udon school. Looks like a lot of fun, right?
But even before they wrote about it, the taste of Sanuki udon must have been already introduced outside Japan, because someone picked it as one of “The Top 50 things every foodie should do” in 2005.
How flattering. ;)