August 2013: Japan

Quick Facts

Official Language(s): Japanese
Some Other Languages Spoken: Ainu, Amami-Oshima, Kikai, Kunigami, Miyako, Okinawan, Yaeyama, and Yonaguni.
Ethnic Groups: Japanese 98.5%, Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, other 0.6%

Food Facts:
Japanese cuisine not only revolves around the food itself, but also the preparation and way of eating. Rice is a staple food in Japanese and is also used to create and brew sake. Traditionally, meals are centered around rice with accompanying side dishes, including pickled vegetables, soups, and fish (served raw, grilled, or fried in a tempura batter). Noodles, such as soba and udon, are also very common, are served hot or cold, and replace the rice in a normal meal. Meat based dishes have become more popular in the last century, with dishes such as tonkatsu (deep fried, breaded pork cutlet), grilled chicken, and teriyaki beef. Traditional flavorings include dashi, sake, mirin, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and salt.

Recipe: Udon Noodle Soup with Prawns and Poached Egg
As in most Japanese dishes, udon soups have a balance of flavors, colors, and textures. Dashi, a common Japanese stock made from dried kelp and bonito flakes, is a fundamental ingredient that provides a savory taste (known as the fifth taste “umami”), while other ingredients impart sweet, salty, sour, and bitter flavors. Though there are many different types of udon soups, ingredients commonly include assorted vegetables (including carrots, mushrooms, peas, scallions, and leafy greens), shellfish, tofu, chicken, tempura, and raw egg. The Dashi broth can also vary in ingredients, resulting in clear to slightly yellow or cloudy broths.

For the Dashi Stock
2-3 large strips of Dried Kombu, cut into roughly 4×4 inch squares
1 handful or about 3 packages of bonito flakes
4 cups of cold water
optional additional items: 4 dried shiitake mushrooms or dried sardines

For the Soup
4 cups dashi stock from above
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin
2 tsp sugar
1 carrot, cut into 1/2 inch segments on the diagonal and then thinly sliced
1/2 bunch of spinach, coarsely chopped
shiitake mushroom from above, thinly sliced
1 scallion, thinly sliced on the diagonal
eggs (raw or poached)
1 tbsp white vinegar if poaching eggs
udon noodles (about 6 oz.)


For the Stock:
First soak the dried kombu and shiitake mushrooms in the cold water in a pot for about 20 minutes and then bring to boil. Remove the seaweed and shiitake and add 3 small packages or a heaping handful of the bonito flakes, turn off heat, and allow it to steep for another 5-10 minutes or so. Strain with fine sieve, pressing out the stock from the bonito flakes. Save the shiitake mushrooms. The broth should be a clear light golden yellow color.

For the Soup:
Bring a pot of water to boil and quickly blanch the spinach and carrots and set aside. In the same pot, add the udon noodles and cook until al dente. Cooking time varies depends on the thickness of noodles. When ready, strain in colander and shock with cold water to stop the cooking.

Crack egg and place in small bowl or ramekin. Using the same pot filled 1/4-1/2 way with water, add about 1 tbsp of white vinegar. Bring to rolling simmer and give it a few good stirs. Gently lower the egg into the water and pour it out in the direction of the flowing water. The movement of the water helps to make the poached egg a nice oval shape. It will begin to float when done, about 3-4 minutes. Carefully remove and shock in cold water bath and set aside. Or skip this step and just crack a raw egg in the soup.

Layer your noodles, mushrooms, spinach and carrots in a soup bowl. Heat the dashi and add the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar along with the prawns and bring to slow rolling boil. Make final adjustments with salt if needed and ladle broth over the noodle bowls. Top with prawns, poached eggs, and scallions and enjoy!

Serves 2.


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