Haibun: Making Udon

For Magaly’s Prose prompt at Poet’s United.

 

Haibun: Making Udon
“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is to keep moving” Paul Kornfield

On one of my trips to Japan, after I had walked out on my profession as chef, my faithful guide Nikko suggested we go to the suburb in which he lived, about a 15 train ride from downtown Tokyo. Amazingly, fields of green crops rested between the clustered houses – buckwheat, wheat, and soybeans. He wanted us to have lunch at a small restaurant where the owner handmade udon noodles in the old way. He knew I would want to see and taste.

The owner and his wife went to the restaurant everyday. Outside the restaurant was his family’s farm – several acres of buckwheat or soybeans at different seasons. A small patch of cucumbers, melons, squash, corn, tomatoes – were just being planted. The owner happily let me watch him mix udonko – udon flour – with sea salt and water in a huge bowl. Carefully he pulled together every scrap and shaped into a ball which he covered with plastic wrap and then placed the bowl on the floor. Putting on clean socks, he began to knead the dough with his feet. It is a tough dough and the body weight makes it easier to knead. This was done several times with resting between the kneading. Finally he rolled it out and cut into perfect strips and cooked me a bowl of noodles, vegetables, and miso.

Soon I was using my chopsticks to convey the fresh doughy noodles into my mouth, alternately raising the bowl and sipping the rich miso broth. He saw how much I enjoyed my meal. Nikko told me he said that if what he did made others happy, then he was happy. All the holes in my heart healed in that moment. I again remembered why I loved to cook – it made other people happy. I realized that was the reason for this journey – to regain hope, happiness, joy of sharing without restraint. A bowl of noodles changed my life. Yes, it truly did. I look at the world around me – then and now – I don’t have to stay negative and angry and crazy. I can feel pain at life, but I don’t have to let it obsess me. I make udon today, as I was taught those years ago. And when I feed the noodles or any food to people and they are happy, then I am happy.
small green buckwheat plants
under pale spring sky – watching
them grow my soul grows.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Magaly Guerrero
    Mar 04, 2019 @ 18:16:45

    The image of the man kneading with his feet will stay with me. I will place right next with my own days of dancing on grapes, to squeeze the first wine of the season and use it to bless the vineyard.

    Isn’t it wonderful how the thought of seeing other people smiles makes us smiles and inspires us to share it? That is my favorite part–the lesson, and how it continues to spread.

    Reply

  2. kanzensakura
    Mar 04, 2019 @ 18:59:37

    Thank you Magaly. I usually put on several changes to listen to while I knead my udon. Blessing the vineyard, seeing people smile, planting rice plant by plant, pulling sun warmed tomatoes, it all goes back to our roots with the earth and basic food. This is why I volunteer several days a week at the local soup kitchen. Watching people being fed and smiling while they eat, few things can bring such happiness.

    Reply

  3. el34ax7
    Mar 05, 2019 @ 00:51:27

    Those little shops here can sneak up on you, and are often amazing. There seem to be fewer than even just a few short years ago, but the ones that remain are all the more precious. Much like those who can appreciate.

    Thanks for taking me with to this place!

    Reply

    • kanzensakura
      Mar 05, 2019 @ 06:38:42

      You know, I often think of that same tiny noodle shop. I think of that small farm with the ugly houses creeping closer. I imagine Otaro is dead now and that beautiful green farm is gone. I make udon in the old way, the way he taught me. I make excellent udon.

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      Reply

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