Kitsune Udon is one of the ultimate Japanese comfort dishes. Thick udon noodles served in a delicious umami packed dashi broth, topped with a sweet and flavourful twice-fried tofu pouch we call "aburaage". This is a classic dish that you can enjoy down to the very last slurp!
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What is Kitsune Udon?
Kitsune udon is a noodle soup dish. Thick chewy udon noodles are served in a savory dashi broth and then topped with seasoned aburaage (fried tofu), kamaboko (fish cake) and spring onion. It's one of the most popular udon dishes in Japan and one of the ultimate comfort dishes.
Although it varies from region to region, the aburaage used here is first boiled in hot water to remove its oil and then seasoned with sugar, soy sauce, and mirin.
It is available not only hot, but also cold and in hot pots.
History of Kitsune Udon
The history of Kitsune Udon is actually unclear in spite of it's popularity. Some theories suggest that the dish was already formed during Edo period (1600-1868) but the others suggest it only emerged during Meiji period (1868-1912)
Nonetheless, the one who named this dish of udon and aburaage was believed to be Usami Yotaro (宇佐美 要太郎) from a restaurant called "Usamitei Matsubaya" (うさみ亭松葉屋) in Osaka during mid-Meiji era.
Indeed, kitsune (狐) means fox in Japanese. While the origin of the name is not certain, there are some interesting theories about where its' name came from.
- In Japanese folklore, a fox's favourite food is twice fried tofu (aburaage).
- The colour of aburaage is similar to a foxes' fur (we often say to cook food until "fox colour" - golden/brown/orange).
- The shape of aburaage looks like the shape of a fox crouching down.
They are all interesting! Which theory do you like?
Classic but still favourite
While this is an extremely simple dish, it is still all time favourite comfort food in Japan. It's not only served at udon restaurants, but "instant kitsune udon" is also available!
The most well known brands of instant kitsune udon are Maruchan's Akai Kitsune and Nissin Donbei Kitsune Udon (affiliate links). You can find either in pretty much any supermarket or convenience store in Japan.
FYI, Maruchan's kitsune udon has red packaging while green is Midori no Tanuki Soba (another classic noodle dish.)
To make things unnecessarily confusing, Donbei's kitsune udon has green packaging while the red one is Tempura soba. Be careful not to mix them up! (You can buy an assortment of Donbei kitsune udon and tempura soba on Amazon.)
Tips for making the best Kitsune Aburaage
The most complex part of this recipe is how to flavour the aburaage (fried tofu) especially for kitsune udon. To make it easier, here are some tips!
Drain off the oil by boiling it in hot water
Aburaage is a kind of tofu that is deep fried twice. When you buy it (or make it from scratch) it is quite oily, so it is recommended to drain the oil off by boiling it in hot water before flavouring it. It not only makes the sauce stick better to aburaage, but also the aburaage becomes extra soft.
3 minutes is enough time to remove the oil, but after that, make sure to wash it under cold running water then squeeze it dry too!
Add salt to the hot water for extra cleaning
When you clean the aburaage in the hot water, adding approximately 1 tsp of salt can help extra oil drain off.
You might wonder if it makes the kitsune aburaage too salty, but we will wash them in cold water at the end and this removes the salt. This method doesn't make it salty, don't worry!
Use a "Otoshibuta" Drop Lid
In this recipe, I use an "otoshibuta" (落し蓋) or Japanese drop lid. This is a tool we use to help distribute the heat evenly around the food and to stop large bubbles from forming and prevent delicate ingredients from breaking.
You can buy drop lids made from made from wood, stainless steal and silicone on Amazon (affiliate links) but to be honest, if you don't use a drop lid that often you can make it from baking paper or foil. You can learn more about otoshibuta and how to make it on my "How to make Otoshibuta" post (includes pictures/video).
Rest it in the fridge
It's not essential, but resting the kitsune aburaage in the fridge after it's been cooked in the sauce will greatly improve the flavour! If you have enough time, I definitely recommend putting them in fridge for a few hours or even overnight.
Kitsune Udon Broth
Kitsune udon is always served in a light dashi broth. There's a number of ways to make dashi, but for the best flavour, I strongly recommend making your own dashi from scratch. It doesn't take long and it helps you create restaurant quality kitsune udon.
If you want to save time, you can alternatively use "dashi bags" or "mentsuyu sauce" to make your udon soup. These are shortcut methods and you can purchase them on amazon. To learn more about how to use these to make udon soup, check out my Kake Udon Recipe for more information.
There are a number of theories but the most popular ones are:
• Aburaage (deep fried tofu) is a foxes favourite food in Japanese folklore
• Aburaage is the color of a fox
• Aburaage is a similar shape to a fox
Kitsune udon is topped with deep fried tofu, no foxes are harmed in the making of kitsune udon!
Udon broth is made from Japanese dashi stock, soy sauce and mirin.
I'd say that kitsune udon is tastier than other udon dishes because the broth is flavoured by the seasoned tofu. It's a bit sweet too.
Because the dashi broth contains katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and niboshi (dried sardines), it's not suitable for vegetarians. It usually has kamaboko or narutomaki as well, both are types of Japanese fishcake. If you omit the fishcake and make a vegetarian/vegan dashi then you can easily make kitsune udon into a meat and fish-free dish.
Yes, some people eat it cold. Especially in summer.