For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that I’m a big meat eater. I’d rarely, if ever, order a salad as a main dish at a restaurant nor would I prefer to eat vegetarian dishes if I had the choice. All of my friends are meat eaters too so I don’t have the problem of having to find a vegetarian restaurant, apart from the odd once a year/every 2 years that my brother’s music teacher visits us from Vienna (his whole family is vegetarian). Even at vegetarian restaurants, I try to order the closest ‘meat-like’ dish I can find. With that said, there is one Japanese vegetarian dish that I would gladly make and eat at home and often have cravings for and that is the kitsune udon.
OK so technically kitsune udon isn’t totally vegetarian as it has pieces of fishcake in it, but it’s definitely vegetarian enough for me.
“Kitsune” is the Japanese word for “fox”. Like Nami from Just One Cookbook mentioned in her kitsune udon post, there is a myth that foxes like aburaage (deep-fried tofu pockets) which is the hero of this dish, hence the name was born. Foxes are sacred creatures in Japanese folktales and religion, so they appear a lot in various settings.
One example is at Kyoto’s famous Fushimi Inari Shrine which I visited last year. Foxes are thought of as Inari’s messengers (the shinto god worshiped at this shrine) and thus fox figures and statues can be seen everywhere. Many local restaurants also serve kitsune udon as a result (although it was a shame I didn’t ‘actually have this dish when I was there).
I’m a huge fan of slightly sweet soy sauce flavours, I think that’s why I love this dish so much. It’s also a very healthy and light dish that you can have when you’re not very hungry or to have as a snack before a main meal (just don’t make too much udon and you’ll be fine ;)). Japanese people would often have this dish along with a bowl of rice with some sort of topping. I never understood this concept of eating 2 starchy dishes in one meal but it is definitely a very common thing in Japan.
We used a store bought un-marinated aburaage, but you can easily skip the aburaage cooking process by purchasing the pre-marinated variety. These are usually available from Japanese grocery stores (and maybe other large Asian grocery stores). We’ve also used dried udon noodles but I think using fresh noodles would taste better. Just follow the packet instructions for boiling the noodles.
Time to prepare: 5 minutes
Time to cook: 15 minutes
• 300g dry udon noodles
• 1 aburaage pocket
• 4 cups dashi stock*
• 5 tbsp light soy sauce
• 4 tbsp mirin
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 1/2 spring onion
• 80g narutomaki* fish cake
* Dashi is a dried stock powder made from boiling konbu (kelp) and katsuobushi (preserved and fermented skipjack tuna) that is used in most Japanese stocks, broths, soups and sauces. Dashi stock is made by adding hot water to the stock powder (available in most Asian grocery stores) while following packet guidelines for proportions. Fresh dashi can be made as well but for home cooking purposes, using dashi powder is sufficient and close enough to the original taste).
** A type of Japanese cured fish cake that is similar to fish balls and crab sticks. Narutomaki, named after the Japanese city of Naruto comes in a long cylinder form and has a pink swirl in the middle to represent whirlpools in the ocean. Most commonly used as a topping on noodle dishes.
1. Finely slice spring onion and slice narutomaki diagonally. Soak aburaage in hot water and dry with paper towels, then cut in half.
2. Heat sugar, 1 tbsp mirin and 2 tbsp soy sauce in saucepan on low heat. Stir until sugar is dissolve and add aburaage.
3. Gently simmer aburaage in soysauce mixture, turning every 2 minutes until all the sauce is absorbed.
4. Cook udon according to packet instructions (normally takes around 10-15 minutes or less for fresh udon). After udon is cooked, make sure to drain and rinse well for a smooth final texture.
5. Heat dashi stock, remaining soy sauce and mirin until boiling, then remove from heat. Add salt to taste.
6. Place noodles, narutomaki and prepared aburaage in a bowl. Pour on dashi mixture and top with chopped spring onions to serve.
Question time: Have you ever been to a vegetarian restaurant? And would you normally order salads as a main meal?