FOOD ARTICLES: Japanese
My life in Japan has been filled with cultural and culinary
discoveries. Among fond recollections from my first summer many
years ago in Kanonji, a coastal township on the island of Shikoku,
was a lesson in making udon noodles under the guidance of Kiyoko
Andoh, the diminutive but energetic woman who, several years
later, would become my mother-in-law.
Born Kiyoko Shinohara in 1907, my mother-in-law was the eldest
daughter of a prominent landowner in Niihama, a coastal farming
community on the Inland Sea. At the age of 20, she had an arranged
marriage to Hisao Andoh, a businessman in nearby Kanonji. She
bore him nine children — the second youngest, Atsunori, became
My mother-in-law died in 1998, but her skills live on every
time I make udon — not by hand, but by foot. The dense, stiff
dough, a combination of high-gluten wheat flour and salt water,
requires tremendous strength to knead — especially in hot weather,
when additional salt must be added. Stomping power is far more
effective, and certainly more fun, than pressing or squeezing
with your hands.
The basic technique involves sandwiching dough between sheets
of heavy-duty plastic and placing it on the floor (which, ideally,
should be covered with a Japanese-style tatami mat for cushioning).
One then stomps and turns, stopping occasionally to refold the
dough, until it is smooth and elastic. It can then be rolled
out and cut into long strands.
This process can easily become a social occasion. Years ago,
when my daughter Rena was a toddler in Tokyo, we would often
invite her park playmates to join us for a noodle-stomping session.
We kept a special kit ready in our pantry, with a tin of high-gluten
wheat flour, a small bag of good sea salt, a bottle of mineral
water, a wide sheet of plastic cloth, and several pairs of freshly
laundered socks in various sizes — for the kids, and their mothers,
too. When the weather was bad, making udon became a terrific
rainy-day playdate — with lunch included.