Memoirs of Japan

It was a stunning wedding.  The type that magazines fight over who gets to feature it.  Ai-san and Ryujin-san were gorgeously complete together and we were invited to join the festivities.  That did mean travelling across the Pacific ocean again (never thought I’d get another chance), and spending a week with the newlyweds and their family, as Mom and I were treated to each family member’s favorite parts of Japan.  Yes, we suffered bravely through what the upper half must live like.  Fresh bakeries, local delicacies, modern/traditional wedding, old friends from years back.  Poor, poor Mom & I.  Though stories and pictures will likely sift down to here for quite a while, let me tell you about one that came back to the States for an unexpected reprise.

After a fabulous day at Nikko, the “national treasure of Japan,” Mr Watanabe, the bride’s father, decided we should rejuvenate over some chikara udon.  Having always treasured udon noodles for their divinely thick chewiness, I was more than willing to oblige.  Chikara udon is a big bowl of piping hot udon noodles in seasoned broth, topped with fried chunks of mochi & various other goodies.  It’s also called power udon, because all those noodles plus fried mochi equals impressive calories.  Sugoi oishii!  Especially since mochi happens to be yet another of my many loves.

Did I pack some up to bring back to the States?  No, that would be too straight forward.  Instead I fantasized about those noodles for months.  You can actually buy them in most large grocers nowadays, but I didn’t want to tarnish the memory of the noodles made by some mama-san and papa-san on the side of the road thousands of miles away.  I realized that I had to make them myself. (plus, those packets are too pricey to make a meal for 4, especially for college roommates who might not like them).  So I searched, high and low, for the perfect recipe.  Or maybe it was the simplest.  Or was it cheapest?
Torn, I finally decided on Kevin’s recipe from Closet Cooking.  I found his site a while back while trying to figure out how to use a huge tub of gochujang that I’d been given, and liked what I saw.  Simple recipe, few ingredients, and some toe-tapping fun, like all the best recipes recommended.

Udon Noodles – recipe from Closet Cooking

1 tsp sal
2/3 cup water
2 1/2 cups flour

1. Dissolve the salt into the water.
2. Mix the water into the flour in a large bowl.
3. Knead the dough for 10 minutes.
4. Place the dough into a freezer bag and step on it to flatten it with shoes off.
5. Remove the dough from the plastic bag and roll it out.
6. Fold the dough in half.
7. Repeat steps 4-6 a few times.
8. Let the dough rest for a few hours.
9. Roll the dough out until it is about 1/8 inch thick.
10. Fold the dough 2 or three times and slice into thin strips.
11. Cook the noodles in boiling water for about 10 minutes.

If you’ve never tried, I highly recommend anything that involves getting you hands covered in something new.  This was my first time with dough.  From the advice of other dough-experienced persons, I decided that my dough was too dry at first.  It looked really “shaggy.”  That’s how they described it, and once I saw it for myself, I understood perfectly how a lump of dough can be shaggy.  So continue kneading with the addition of a few drop of water at a time.  A little went a long way, and I was ready for the baggie step.

Oh Lord, it was fun.  My roommates were worried about me stepping circles in the kitchen, but it didn’t bother them too much.  Not after seeing me play capoeira.  That is until they realized I was playing with food this time.  P & Ja just shook it off, but J had to come and do his own tap dance on the dough.  Good news, after just a few times of flattening, the dough gets really strong.   No damage whatsoever, hooray!  It undergoes this magical transformation that turns a slightly shaggy blob into a gorgeous, silky, hunk of future noodles.

Flatten incredibly thin, fold and slice, and I had made my first noodles.  I would advise: cut the noodles so that they’re square by cutting the thickness of each layer, not the 3 folded layers.  Or you get (still tasty, but kinda funny looking) ribbony noodles more like flat rice noodles.  I wanted mine thick, but next time…

I also had to boil a little bit longer, and decided they were done when most of the noodle was transparent, except for just a bit of the center.  That’s when they were the perfect chewiness.
Also, I rinsed the noodles to remove the starch that would make them stick together and become goopy, and the cold water cooled them, so that they were perfect with a bit of cold dipping sauce.  I’d picked up at some mentsuyu at the grocers that I diluted to the proper taste & added some furikake.  Heaven all over again.

Following a tradition I learned at another cozey restaurant nestled in another set of mountains, after I’d finished off the noodles (didn’t take very long) I added some of the water from boiling with the used mentsuyu and enjoyed the last of the meal.

The most rewarding part of it all was that J (who hates Asian food and anything fishy, poor guy) liked the noodles and another friend (Salvadorean) couldn’t get enough of them.


One response to “Memoirs of Japan

  1. Sounds like quite the wedding experience! And to find a recipe that mimics the dish you had there is a treat!

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