Thursday, March 06, 2008

Udon Dashi (Tsuyu)

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. ;)



K and S said...

whoo hoo can't wait!!

Anonymous said...

Obachan, Your meals always look so good!!! You must be a really great cook !!
I want you to come to my house and cook for me everyday ^O^
From where do you get all the recipes and ideas ?? And that delicious Cake... YAAAAAAMMI !!!!

Hollywood Tai Tai said...

yay! This is such perfect timing. I was searching for udon recipes on epicurious and the one I like with soup requires a lot of effort and some ingredients which is hard to get for me to make the stock.

Looking forward to your recipe!

Anonymous said...

U can cook for me, too. Oh, yes, we will stay tuned.

Rei said...

Oh boy, lucky us=:) Your photo of udon looks soooo appetizing.
I wonder if everyone knows just how famous Shikoku is for udon... Sanuki udon!
Thank you Obachan. Even with your busy schedule and new job you keep your blog fresh and us hungry for more.

donna said...

I live near a restaurant that is called Sanuki no Sato and they make the best dashi for udon and soba. I am Japanese American and don't know anything about noodles. Is Sanuki a city known for their udon? I love your blog by the way. Your English is amazing...

Anonymous said...

I never knew about the Kanto vs Kansai udon broths, very interesting!

Anonymous said...

I've made homemade udon before and wasn't the happiest with the stock.
But I'm very excited to try your recipe!
Domo arigatou gozaimasu Obachan!

yamo said...

Can't you get sanuki udon in kochi as well? I'm going to try to make udon soon hopefull, I'll see how it goes.

Also, my mom (if you remember, she's from kochi) always has to buy fresh katsuobushi when she visits Japan. Maybe because katsuo is so good in kochi-ken :D (BTW, I've had katsuo sashim during summer there, so good!)

Hollywood Tai Tai said...

Heya, I was checking in today to see if the udon recipe was up and voila! Thank you for sharing with us on the different types of udon! I learnt to much just from reading this one post.

Hee, I will have to pop by a Japanese supermarket to get the ingredients. One day I shall attempt my own udon! (from your recipe of cos) ;)

obachan said...

K & S
Haha… I miss eating udon at the stall on the platform of a JR station in Osaka. (Maybe it was Kyobashi stn. of the loop line?) I always ate kitsune udon there and it warmed me up before my night time job. AH… good old days…

Thanks, but to tell you the truth, my camera is doing a better job than I do. Hehehe…
Sure, I would love to come to your house and cook for you if you’d pay for the flight – round trip. ;)

Mmmm… I wonder if you can get the ingredients called for in my recipe over there…

OK, I’ll cook for you if you would do the dishes. Deal. ;)

The funny thing is that many Japanese people do know (or at least have heard of) Sanuki udon, but do not know that Sanuki is in Shikoku.

Yes, Sanuki is VERY famous for their udon. It’s a shame that I live in the neighboring prefecture but have never been there to enjoy their udon…

We have instant udon noodles here, which come in Styrofoam bowls and all you need to do is pouring boiling water over the instant noodles, freeze-dried toppings and powdered dashi soup mix, then wait for a few minutes. I heard that some instant udon manufacturers make and pack two different kinds of dashi soup mixes: Kanto and Kansai type, for their instant udon to suit the taste of the people in the eastern and western part of Japan. The product name and the package design are exactly the same and the difference in the taste of the soup is not mentioned anywhere. The only indication is a tiny alphabet “E” and “W” somewhere on the package: “E” for the eastern Japan and “W” for the western Japan, and the products are sold in the respective regions. So this is one of my ambitions… one day, when I visit Kanto, I’ve got to buy a bowl of instant udon and see if it has an “E” mark.

Hope you like this recipe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t care for it very much. Because less amount of soy sauce is used, the flavor of Kansai udon broth is largely determined by the dashi ingredients such as kelp, dried baby fish and bonito flakes. Unless you like these fishy stuff from before, and unless you can find your favorite kind of dashi ingredients, the dashi broth won’t taste the way you like. It’s not just how you make it -- you really need a good luck in finding your kind of dashi ingredients and light soy sauce, I think. Good luck!

We can buy udon labeled as “Sanuki udon" here in Kochi. But my hunch is that it is not as good as the real Sanuki udon made in Kagawa prefecture.
Of course, katsuobushi in Kochi is very good.

I read somewhere that everyone thinks the fish in his/her own hometown (or the place where (s)he spent the childhood) tastes the best. Maybe the taste imprinted in the childhood determines the preference? Anyway, I’m going to take advantage of living in kochi -– katsuobushi paradise-- and use more and more katsuobushi for my cooking. :)

Hollywood tai tai
Hi! Yeah, your favorite combination of dashi ingredients can be different from mine, so please do experiment. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the information about dashi and udon. How big are those dried baby fish? I don't think I've come across them here. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to find thick bonito flakes here, either. But, I have some iriko and have been planning to try making dashi with it. By the way, I made udon a few times. It is quite fun. Pictures are on my blog.

Rei said...

Can't wait to try "your" Sanuki Udon recipe (I like utsukushi shoyu with my dashi too)! I also have to try making fresh noodles! I've never had fresh udon noodles before. But fresh pasta I've had and the difference is like night and day!
I will also have to look for the movie/DVD?, "UDON",and book
"Osorubeki Sanuki Udon", only if it comes in English! I enjoyed, TAMPOPO and BABETTE'S FEAST, though both are hard to find in DVD.
Thanks again for searching out so many interesting pieces of info for us.
Domo arigato gozaimasu for the lovely photos too! Udon with egg, scallions (yes, naganegi is probably best, but not readily available here yet), satsumage/ chikuwa and a generous sprinkle of togarashi...mmmmm yummmm that my favorite udon! But I have to go try them at their source!

obachan said...

The dried baby fish I used were about 5 to 6 cm long each. They are baby horse mackerels, I think. My mom often uses them for making miso soup, so I’m familiarized with their flavor AND they are very affordable here in Kochi (could be cheaper and fresher than the iriko we can buy here).

I guess thin bonito flakes are just fine and I think you can make tasty udon broth by combining them with iriko and konbu.

And thanks for the link to the post on your udon adventure! The photos showing the udon–making procedure step by step are so great! Your noodles look like what we call “Kishimen” here in Japan— flatter and wider variety which is popular in Nagoya.

Oh, I’m sorry! My English is not very good and confusing. My udon broth recipe is not Sanuki version. It’s Kansai version with a little modification on some of the dashi ingredients i.e., the thick bonito flakes and dried baby fish I used were the ones popular here in Kochi but may not be so in other places in Kansai.

I don’t know if there’s an English version of “Osorubeki sanuki udon.” The movie UDON was on TV last Saturday and I saw it. It was a bit like Tampopo, but personally I think Tampopo is a lot more “entertaining.” I guess people from not-very-rich rural cities (incl. myself) can empathize with the world described in UDON. You know, things like youngsters wanting to get out of there, pursuing their dreams, what a sudden “fad” can do to such small, rural place, the “after-the-fair” kind of feeling you have to face after the “fad” is over, and a reconciliation between old-fashioned and strict father and his son. And the movie made me think what my “soul food” is – not limited to African-American people’s soul food but the “soul food” as the simple, basic, soothing food that you grew up with and that always makes you feel at home and happy.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the recipes. Ever since my family ate kitsune udon in Osaka (Samba) at Usami-tei Matsubaya, I have been trying to make a proper broth for udon. I finally found your simple recipe, and now that I have kombu, too, I will try it tonight!

vespajeff said...

Obachan, Arigatou!! I lived in Kochi for while and miss the fall harvest season flavors. Now i'm in NYC and making them on my own, with a portrait of Sakamoto Ryoma looking onward!