The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House
舞妓さんちのまかないさん A series on Netflix about Food & Friendship set in a Maiko house in Kyoto.
Photo Credit: The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House, 2023. Netflix
From acclaimed filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda
Adapted from the manga series “Kiyo in Kyoto”by Aiko Koyama,
season 1 episode 7
When Sumire falls sick Kiyo decides to make her rice porridge. However when mother Azusa asks what she is doing she explains that in Kyoto they serve udon when someone isn’t feeling well. Udon is a soul food in Japan. It is easily digested and simple to make. The perfect comfort food when someone is sick. Mother Azusa goes on to say that Kyoto’s udon is not dark like the ones served in Kanto. Kiyo looks puzzled.
Udon noodles are served with a broth which has soy sauce (shoyu) as one of the ingredients. You are probably familiar by now with soy sauce as a cooking ingredient adding umami, with its salty, sour flavour to soups, stir fries and nimono (simmered dishes). Soy sauce is made by fermenting soaked and steamed soybeans then mixing with roasted ground wheat and aspergillus oryzae a culturing mold. Then salt brine is added and is left for several months until it is then pasteurised and filtered. Usukuchi Shoyu (薄口醤油) is a lighter coloured soy sauce which has additional salt which is used in the Kansai region. The lighter colour does not darken the final dish quite as much, so when Kiyo is told the Udon are not dark, this is what they are referring to.
Kiyo sets off over the Sanjo-Ohashi bridge to find the perfect ingredients to make the udon extra special for Sumire. She goes first to a shop keeper on Demachi-Masugata shopping street.
The shop keeper asks if Kiyo would like Kitsuneきつね or Tanukiたぬき for her udon. Kitsune you may have already come across. The name Kitsune means fox, it is believed that the favourite food of the Shinto messenger fox god is deep fried tofu, another theory is that the aburaage 油揚げ fried tofu is the same colour as a fox . The exact origin of kitsune udon is unknown but it is thought it may have originated in Osaka in the Edo period. Tanuki is the name for a raccoon dog. Tanuki udon is udon noodles with a topping of tenkasu 天かす also called agedama (揚げ玉) tempura batter crumbs). The Japanese word for without main toppings is Tanenuki タネ抜き so as the udon has no other toppings other than tempura crumbs the word was changed to Tanuki for this topping this has nothing really to do with the raccoon dog. It is widely thought that Tanuki udon originated in the Kanto region again in the Edo period (1603-1868)
“I’d like some Oage-san please”. Oage-san is a term of endearment used for aburaage, thin deep fried tofu that has already been seasoned with a sweet savoury flavour using sugar soy sauce and mirin. You can do this yourself by pouring boiling water over the fried aburaage blotting it with kitchen towel and then simmering in 1/2 cup of water 1 tablespoon of soy sauce 1 tablespoon of mirin and 1/2 a tablespoon of sugar. Simmer for 15-20 minutes with a drop lid on top called a otoshibuta, if you don’t have one place a cut piece of parchment paper on top, then remove and squeeze out the liquid. Put to one side. However for my recipe later on you can do this included in the recipe.
“You had better make it delicious” said the shop keeper “ I’ll do my best” said Kiyo.
Kiyo then sets off to buy items to make her dashi, first she goes to Tanaka dried bonito shop. As bonito is made from dried smoked fermented fish fillets, being vegan we will not be using this for our dashi.
She then finds her way under the recommendation of the bonito shop owner to the Okada-ya Konbu seaweed shop. Kiyo says to the shop owner that it was her first time buying natural kelp and had planned to use powdered dashi from the supermarket. The shop keeps comments “that’s like eating a luxury kaiseki feast with broken disposable chopsticks”. Kiyo goes for the recommendation of the shop keeper and picks up some rausu kelp the shop keeper says this is natural and very flavourful. Rausu is known as the “queen of kombu” a high quality kelp rich in minerals and other nutrients, it has outstanding umami and will enhance the flavour of a dish. Even though Kiyo is making a humble meal she is still making it extra special with the ingredients she is choosing to use.
We are then back in the kitchen of the maiko house. We see Kiyo simmering her kombu to make her dashi, she chops diagonal slices of naga negi long green onion and slices up strips of the aburaage and adds the strips to the dashi she has made. Kiyo boils up some udon and adds them to a bowl adds the broth green onion and aburaage, finishing off with some grated ginger.
Kiyo serves the udon to Sumire “This udon I could eat forever”
Again there is a cross over of meals from The Makanai to Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories and you can see this in season 2 episode 7. The show has a nostalgic feel and for anyone who loves food in Japan it’s a must to watch. You can find lots more information and vegan recipes I have created to go with the series on my midnight diner pages.
I wanted to make this kitsune udon as near to the way that Kiyo made it minus the bonito flakes. I picked out the best ingredients I could find at the time or I already had. As I didn’t have any of the usukuchi lighter coloured soy sauce I decided to purchase an organic one made at the Shichifuku brewery in Aichi prefecture.
They are masters of brewing this particular soy sauce and rely on traditional principles of giving the soy sauce time to mature in wooden barrels under strict temperature controls. Thus producing a lighter soy sauce that is sweeter in flavour. I bought Udon noodles by Clearspring which are organic and are vegan and made by an artisan family producer in Japan. The kombu I had was also from Clearspring and is a sustainable harvested kombu from Hokkaido. I managed to get some naga negi from natural natural an amazing Japanese super market in London and also picked up some frozen aburaage.
Kitsune Udon きつねうどん
You will need:
x1 piece of dried kombu kelp
x1 piece per person of aburaage fried tofu defrosted if frozen
naga negi or similar green onion
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
x1 teaspoon sugar
grated ginger (using a Japanese grater like an oroshigane or kyocera if possible)
Udon noodles of choice
First make your dashi using a piece of kombu kelp. Soak the kombu in a pan with a litre of fresh cold water for at least three hours. Then turn on the heat to a simmer as soon, as the water starts to produce bubbles around the kelp remove the kelp and put your dashi to one side. Do not boil the kelp in the water as this will make the kelp slimy.
Prepare your aburaage from defrosted. Place your aburaage in a colander and pour over boiling water to remove the excess oil then blot with kitchen towel. Slice your aburaage into strips like Kiyo did with hers.
Slice your green onion diagonally.
Per person you will need 3 cups of dashi add this to a pan with soy sauce, mirin and sugar. ( This is why I decided not to pre season my aburaage as it will be cooking in this liquid). Bring your dashi to a gentle simmer and drop in your sliced aburaage.
Cook your udon as the package instructions direct. Drain and divide into your bowls. Pour over your hot dashi broth with aburaage and add your green onions and grated ginger.
A perfect hearty noodle dish full of rich flavour you can serve at any time but especially when you’re in need of some series comfort food.