Sink Your Claws into Udon & Japanese Street Fare with Susan Spann

Posted by on Jul 20, 2013 in Foodie Advice | 11 comments

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.

udon 2Traditional Udon Recipe:

– 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.

claws-coverAbout the Book:

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.






Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Laurie C

    Sounds like a good mystery! I love the cover. As for the Udon recipe, it sounds delicious, but I’m curious about whether Japanese noodles are ever cooked “al dente” or are they always soft because they’re in broth? I prefer noodles/pasta to have a bit of bite left after cooking!

  2. Beth F

    Fun guest post! I’ll have to add this mystery to my list. I fell in love with Japanese noodle dishes when I lived in Hawaii in the late 70s. Tasty and simple.

  3. Tina

    I could eat udon noodles every single day. Cool book, I will check it out.

  4. JoAnn @Lakeside Musing

    Thanks for the guest post! I love noodles, but usually only eat them in a restaurant… might try them myself now. And I’ll look for this mystery, too.

  5. Susan Spann

    Hi Laurie! The Japanese actually like their noodles with a bit of “tooth” to them too. In fact, in many cases the noodles are added to hot broth and allowed to simply cook between the kitchen and the table. If you prefer your noodles more al dente, you can experiment with a shorter cooking time – sometimes even a minute and a half will do it. (I’m not a fan of mushy noodles either!)

    Thank you Beth, Tina and JoAnn. I really appreciate the comments, and I hope you like the book!

  6. Carole

    I haven’t used udon noodles much. And I don’t have any dashi – will have to think Japanese! Good luck to the author with her book.

  7. Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll)

    Great post for Weekend Cooking. I’ve had udon noodles in restaurants but never fixed them at home. Sounds yummy!

  8. Col (Col Reads)

    I love the chewy goodness of udon noodles, but not the taste of dashi. So I substitute chicken broth with soy sauce and sesame oil. Are there any other broths to use?

    Congratulations on your new book!

  9. heckety

    The mystery sounds great, and I always love travelling in my reading and hearing about cultures and places I’ll probably never get to visit.
    Its odd you used ‘udon’ as the dish because there is a restaurant in Dublin which has been making, serving, promoting it, and I read a long and fascinating article last month written by the chef explaining the history and deliciousness of ‘udon’.
    I hope your book flies off the shelves!!

  10. Cecelia

    Books with food in them invariably make me HUNGRY. I do like Japanese noodles, but I usually by ramen or soba just because I know what to do with them. I’ll have to try this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Susan Spann

    Thank you for all the compliments and good wishes!

    If you don’t like dashi, chicken broth is the closest in terms of delicacy, but you might also want to try a combination of beef and vegetable stocks – half beef and half clear vegetarian. That way the beef doesn’t overwhelm the lighter elements of the dish.

    And I definitely understand not liking dashi – for most of us in the US, it’s an unfamiliar and acquired taste (unless, like me, you’re allergic!).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *