Wheat Flour, Salt, and Water – Authentic Udon

28 May

There are few pleasures in life comparable to that of slurping a piping hot noodle from a pair of wooden chopsticks. Beads of broth cling to the noodle like glistening gems of gustatory delight. Then, there are those who, caught in the rush of modern life or simply to save a few dollars choose to consume a pack of instant udon.

The noodles from such a pack are as pleasant as rubbing sand paper along the palette of your tongue. The boiling water added to a tiny pack of artificial flavor is tinny and thin. The tiny flecks of freeze dried vegetables look more like goldfish food than something fit for human consumption.

While studying abroad at Waseda University last semester, I was on a quest to find a bowl of authentic udon. One evening, when the world smelled of wet pavement and the rain tapped at your umbrella like an impatient lover, I found myself walking back from campus hungry for something filling, delicious, and cheap. After passing a flower shop and a lantern suspended in a puddle, I came upon a quiet wooden door. The script for “udon” flowed across a polished plank like an elderly woman’s ambulation through a quiet park.

I entered the small shop and found the waitress and her parents bustling about in a cloud of steam, shining wooden boards, clinking bowls, and a torrent of slurps. I ordered a bowl of meat and tofu udon and listened to the sound of the water dripping from an umbrella stand bursting with a bouquet of color.

At last the udon arrived.

I had found it. A veritable dinner of authentic udon. The noodles were tender, the broth seasoned with time. The meat and tofu were succulent and the Japanese pickles had a satisfying crunch. I had to know how the old woman in the kitchen with an apron of embroidered petunias had achieved such a feat, a masterpiece of taste and tradition.

“The secret,” she said with a smile, “to making a real bowl of udon is the simplicity and purity of the ingredients. Flour. Salt. Water. And don’t forget patience. Pour the salt little by little into the flour and don’t rush or you’ll have a bowl tasting like a puddle of tears.  Now, none of those mechanical contraptions that mix the flour with a harsh metal whisk. Hands! Keep them washed and soft and dig right in and knead the dough! Then, I use this blade here that was made from a master sword-smith who used to serve only the most highly ranked samurai. This blade here has never failed me. Sprinkle some flour to prevent the noodles from sticking. And there you go my dear. The perfect noodle.”

She returned to the kitchen with a smile on a face like a wrinkled apricot.

“But, wait!” I called. “How do you make authentic udon broth?” I asked as she emerged from a kitchen, a constellation of cutlery, collectible calendars and flower aprons.

“That my dear is a family secret,” she chuckled as the rain tapped at the door as if saying, “tell me more old woman, tell me more!”

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