Mysteries of Japanese Noodles: Fox/Raccoon Dog? Udon/Soba? Red/Green?
Udon and Soba; they have close relationships with one another as they are both noodle dishes that represent Japan. However, the different varieties of these noodles are a little bit complex and unique. So, we created a summary of the different names and flavors of udon and soba by region.
Kitsune (fox)/Tanuki (raccoon dog)
In Japan, the kitsune (fox) and tanuki (raccoon dog) have been recognized as animals with special powers of transforming themselves. They often appear in folk tales as well. These two major animals are also used in relation to udon and soba noodles as explained below.
The Kanto Region
Kitsune Soba, http://www.gnavi.co.jp/
In the Kanto Region, kitsune refers to udon/soba which is topped with fried bean curd (abura-age) that’s cooked salty sweet. The reason is because abura-age is said to be a favorite food of the fox. You may have heard of Inari Jinja Shrine or Inari-zushi which comes into mind when we speak of fried bean curd.
Tanuki Udon, http://tabelog.com/
Tanuki Soba, http://soba-quu.com/
In the Kanto Region, tanuki refers to udon/soba topped with bits of fried batter. It is said that the name was given because in the old days, the dark color of the fried batter reminded people of the color of the raccoon dog. There are several other tales on how the name originated.
Kitsune: Udon with fried bean curd (Called Kitsune Udon in the Kanto Region)
Tanuki: Soba with fried bean curd (Called Kitsune Soba in the Kanto Region)
In the Kanto Region, kitsune/tanuki refers to fried bean curd/fried batter. On the other hand, in the Kansai region, kitsune/tanuki refers to udon/soba. Thus the topping of fried bean curd generally stays the same; so what people refer to as kitsune-soba or tanuki-udon in the Kanto Region does not exist in Kansai so the Kansai people wouldn’t know what you’re talking about if you mentioned these names.
And in Kyoto, tanuki refers to udon with sliced up fried bean curd (called kitsune-udon in the Kanto region) topped with a thick starchy sauce. So confusing…
|Kanto Region||Kansai Region|
|Udon/soba topped with fried bean curd||Udon topped with fried bean curd|
|Tanuki||Udon/soba topped with bits of fried batter||
Soba with fried bean curd
To give a simpler explanation, in Tokyo, soba with fried bean curd is known as kitsune and the same is recognized as tanuki in Osaka.
*For Udon and Soba there are additionally ways of eating it hot/cold so there’s a lot of variety.
Red Kitsune vs Green Tanuki
Additionally there are kitsune and tanuki in Japanese cup noodles as well. They are the Akai kitsune and Midori no tanuki that any Japanese would know. It’s a long-time seller; so much so that Japanese associate kitsune with the red color and tanuki with the green color.
This cup noodle series has 4 different varieties offered based on region and tastes (Hokkaido, East Japan, West Japan and Kansai). They use a differently seasoned broth to change the flavors. The reason is that the people of Kanto region have traditionally favored a darker soy sauce and the Kansai region has traditionally favored a lighter soy sauce.
Extra Tip: Chikara Udon/Soba
In fact, other than kitsune/tanuki, there is another type of noodle with the name of chikara or power. The chikara refers to mochi or rice cake. There are various stories on how the name originated such as the mochi being very filling and thus can be energizing/give power; a play on words between chikara-mochi meaning powerful and the word mochi which is rice cake. The mochi is traditionally considered an auspicious food in Japan and thus appears in many events and ceremonies. Therefore, the chikara-udon in the photo is a very good dish.
So, which combination would you like to try? Kitsune, tanuki, udon, soba… It may also be interesting to compare the flavors of the different cup noodles by region.