The other day, I sat down on the train next to a man who had about 3 or 4 inches of space to his right. I was sitting on his left, uncomfortably smooshed between the aforementioned man and another, rather large gentleman. Usually, people are perfectly willing to scoot over so that seating is a bit more comfortably spaced. However, this man with the extra room did not seem keen to give me that small amount of space so that I didn’t have to sit with my shoulders scrunched up to my ears and my arms awkwardly wrapped around my bulging 6 months pregnant belly. After the 20 minute train ride, he finally got up and I was able to wiggle my way into the grooves of the blue cushioned seat for the remaining 60 seconds of my trip. The only thing that got me through that experience without completely freaking out was the thought of what I was going to have for dinner when I got home. Yes, food is healing in many ways.
In all seriousness though, Japanese food has been more healing to me now than ever before. I’ve been a much more picky eater recently, thanks to my pregnancy heartburn, and Japanese food has been the only constant variety of food that I can seem to eat on a daily basis. Even during my time in the U.S. this past spring, I spent a lot of time trying to find and prepare Japanese food in my parents’ kitchen in Minnesota. This is also when I realized that I don’t know even a fraction of what I want to about Japanese home-cooking. So, I’m working on that. These moon viewing noodles, or tsukimi udon, were a perfect addition to my slowly expanding repertoire of Japanese dishes.
Moon viewing in Japan happens mid-autumn, usually around the end of September or early October. These noodles are eaten around that time, with egg symbolizing the harvest moon. In a manner similar to that of hanami, or cherry blossom celebrations, moon viewing is a pretty big event. We have not quite reached autumn here in Tokyo, but since many of you reading this are enjoying cooler temperatures and fall weather, I thought you might appreciate this recipe.
In Japan, the egg is often served raw in the bowl of hot broth and noodles, but I prefer mine lightly poached prior to adding it to the bowl. Once the broth and noodles are made, the assembly of the dish takes only about 10 minutes, so make sure everyone is ready to eat right away, since these are not as good if they are too cold. I would suggest making the broth and noodles ahead of time (no more than 2 or 3 days) to save yourself some prep when you decide to serve this dish. The broth is simple to make and easy to store in the refrigerator. For the noodles, simply cook them, run cold water over them immediately after cooking, and store in a ziploc bag. When you’re ready to use them, just run more water over the noodles to loosen them up. The hot broth will heat the noodles through before you serve them.
Moon Viewing Noodles
Slightly adapted from Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh
For the Sanuki Sea Stock:
*You may wish to use regular dashi rather than the sea stock if dried sardines are hard to find. I still like to add the shiitakes to the broth for extra flavor. If you can’t find any of the needed ingredients for sea stock or dashi, try using light chicken broth or vegetable broth. The flavor will be different but still tasty.
4 cups cold water
8 dried sardines
3 pieces of kombu, about 4″x4″ each
5 shiitake mushroom stems or 2 dried shiitakes
For the rest of the dish:
4 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons saké
2 teaspoons sugar
4 large eggs
12 ounces dried udon noodles
1 scallion, both green and white parts thinly sliced
In a medium saucepan, add the water, dried sardines, kombu and mushrooms. Allow to sit for about half an hour.
In the meantime, cook your Udon noodles. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the noodles. Cook for about 4-6 minutes for smaller noodles, a little longer for the thicker noodles. Drain and run under cold water. Set aside.
Place the broth over medium high heat until small bubbles begin to form. Turn the heat down to medium (or adjust accordingly) to maintain a low simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover for 3-5 minutes. Strain the broth through a coffee strainer fitted with a coffee filter. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the soy sauce, saké and sugar over low heat. Stir until the sugar has just dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Prepare the serving bowls by dividing 1/4 of the noodles among each dish. Have these nearby so you can easily transfer the egg and broth to the bowls.
In a small saucepan, add 1 cup of the broth and 1/4 of the soy sauce mixture (a scant tablespoon). Bring to a boil. Add one of the raw eggs and poach for about 3 minutes or until desired doneness. Using a slotted spoon, remove the egg and add it to one of the bowls. Using a fine mesh strainer, pour the broth into the bowl being carefully not to break the egg. Repeat this process with the remaining 3 bowls. (You may also poach the eggs all together in water and simply bring the broth and soy mixture to a boil without poaching the eggs in it, though the flavor will not be the same.)
Garnish each bowl with the sliced scallion and serve with chopsticks and a spoon.