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.

Udon Noodle Soup うどん

Udon (oo-dahn) are thick Japanese noodles made from wheat flour and salted water, kneaded and cut into strips. Often in cold weather, udon are eaten in a simple broth of dashi, soy, and sake and/or mirin. In the summer, they are eaten cold with a dressing or in salads. Udon can be purchased, depending on your area, fresh, frozen, or dried. Homemade is the best of course and after that, fresh then frozen noodles. Dried noodles are fine too. They are thick and have a soft, chewy texture. In the summer, I’ll toss the cooled, cooked noodles with a soy and ginger dressing and put over a salad of crisp greens, celery, matchstick carrots, and slivered scallions. Chunks of cooked chicken or drained white tuna adds a good, lean protein to the mix. Good, but not necessary. I have also used cubed marinated tofu with delicious results.

As an ingredient in a soup, they are filling and homey. Chunks of cooked chicken, beef, whatever added with some al dente veggies cooked in the broth are tasty, warming, and comforting. A bowl is a good one dish meal. Regional differences abound as to ingredients, broth, etc. In the western region of Japan, broths are usually dark brown; in the east, lighter broths are preferred. Regional differences are also found in the noodles themselves.

Find what suits you best by using more soy, beef, chicken, dashi, miso for the broth. I have previously posted a good basic miso soup that would make an excellent broth for udon. I actually prefer it.  It is a warm and slurpy soup.  You may want to wear a napkin around your neck!

If any of you express an interest, I will do a post on making your own udon. Cheap and easy!!!! So – get cracking on this soup. Add or subtract ingredients: chopped cooked meats, poultry, seafood, eggs; scallions, boy choy, slivered snow peas, carrots…Become the udon king (or queen) and have it your own way! Dependent on how you divide this up, makes two to three servings.

どうぞめしあがれ douzo meshiagare, y’all!

Ingredients
2 packages frozen Udon (use frozen or thawed) or
equivalent of dried (package will give equivalents)
4 cups Dashi , chicken, miso, vegetable broth
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp Mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
2 Tbsp Sake
1 chicken breast (cut into bite size pieces)
4 green onions (thinly and diagonally cut)
1/4 slivered celery, napa cabbage, or spinach
a bit of grated ginger
good sprinkle of red pepper powder (optional)

Instructions
Cut green onions or other veggies thinly and diagonally. Set aside some greener parts for garnish. Heat broth to a boil. Add salt, soy sauce, Mirin, Sake to Dashi, then chicken. Skim fat and other particles from the surface of the soup if there are any. Simmer veggies al dente. Add Udon to the soup and let it simmer for 2-3 minutes. Put in most of green onions including white parts, immediately turn off heat. Divide noodles and soup into bowls and sprinkle on the rest of the green onions and red pepper powder if you like.

udon soup

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