In honor of my author friend Susan Spann’s debut release, I invited her to the blog today to talk Japanese street food and her protagonist’s favorite dish–udon noodles– for Beth Fish’s #WeekendCooking. I adore Japanese food and I couldn’t help but envision myself slurping up the fat, succulent noodles while reading her novel.
Take it away, Susan!
Like many Asian cultures, the Japanese have a long and elaborate relationship with street foods. For centuries, street-side vendors have offered everything from skewered meats to soups, along with exotic treats like octopus dumplings. When writing Claws of the Cat, I decided to give my ninja detective, Hiro, a taste for the local fare. We all have favorite dishes, and Hiro needed to have one too.
I decided on noodles.
The Japanese have many types of noodles, most of which have been around since at least the medieval age. Udon, soba, and ramen are the most common, but since many Western palates consider “ramen” a freeze-dried cube of college-kid fare and don’t have a solid reference point for soba, I decided to let udon be the noodles Hiro loves.
Udon are long, thick noodles made from wheat flour – the type you usually see in Japanese soups.
In fact, the simplest form of Udon (called “kake udon”) consists of noodles served in a flavored broth composed of soy sauce, dashi (a Japanese fish stock) and a low-alcohol content rice wine known as mirin. The soup is sometimes topped with scallions, fish, or shrimp.
The simplest recipe for udon (aside from “order in restaurant”) is simply adding udon to your favorite broth or soup. Most udon don’t require much cooking a couple of minutes is usually enough, but be sure to check the package directions for proper preparation of the variety you buy.
– prepackaged Udon (I prefer fresh, but they come in frozen varieties too)
– 2 cups dashi
– 1 Tablespoon each of soy sauce, mirin (or rice wine), and sake
– 1 chicken breast, cut into half-inch cubes
– 1 scallion, chopped or cut on a bias
– pinch of salt
- Heat the dashi almost to a boil, and then add the soy sauce, mirin, and sake, as well as the salt.
- As the mixture comes to a boil, add the chicken. Boil for 2-3 minutes.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and add the udon. Simmer for 2-3 minutes (or according to package directions).
- Transfer the udon and soup to bowls. Sprinkle with scallions. Enjoy!
Traditional Japanese Street Food
Traditional Japanese street food usually featured fish instead of chicken, so you can substitute chopped shrimp or fish for the chicken if you prefer a more authentic flavor.
In the alternative, those of you (like me) with the misfortune to be allergic to fish can substitute chicken broth for the dashi and have a cluck-worthy alternative to the traditional dish.
Hiro’s favorite udon feature bits of grilled fish, and scallions, and a hearty broth that’s heavier on the soy sauce than the one I’ve described above. He’s not picky, though. In fact, he’s never met a noodle he didn’t like.
When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro Hattori has just three days to find the killer before the dead man’s vengeful son kills both the beautiful geisha accused of the crime and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest that Hiro has pledged his own life to protect. The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they quickly learn that everyone from an elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery.
About Susan Spann
Susan is a transactional attorney and former law school professor whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. Claws of the Cat, her debut shinobi mystery featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori, released on July 16, 2013, from Minotaur Books (for more information visit: Macmillan’s site HERE ). Susan has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include Asian cooking, fencing, traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, and horseback riding, and she keeps a marine aquarium where she raises seahorses and rare corals. You can find Susan online at her website HERE, or on Twitter @SusanSpann.