Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sanuki Udon – A Master Demonstration

Sausalito has for over 20 years been the sister city of Sakaide, a city located on the north coast of the Japanese island of Shikoku on the Inland Sea.  Sakaide is the point on Shikoku where the Seto Ohashi Bridge that connects Shikoku with Honshu comes ashore, and the original motivation for the sister city relationship between Sakaide and Sausalito was influenced by the two cities’ proximity to major bridges.

The most significant element of the relationship has been annual student trips – one year one way and the next year the other way. Last year a group of students from Sakaide visited Sausalito, and just this past month a group headed to Sakaide from Sausaito.

This weekend is the annual Sausalito Art Festival which has grown over its 59 years of operation to become a major event. In addition to the displays of art and live music, a number of Sausalito non-profit organizations operate food booths at the Festival which provides important operating funds for them. The Sausalito/Sakaide Sister City group has done so in the past and is doing so again this weekend.

As indicated on the above map, Sakaide is located within the Japanese prefecture of Kagawa. However, in the Tokugawa period, Kagawa’s name was Sanuki and it was divided into a number of feudal “han.”

The Japanese “udon” noodle has been a specialty of the Kagawa area since the 13th century, and the udon from Kagawa is called “Sanuki udon” after the old name of the region. Sanuki udon is quite famous in Japan, and a good deal of it is produced in Sakaide which has over 40 udon shops -- quite a significant number for a city of just over 50,000 residents.

Given the popularity of Sanuki udon and its connection to Sakaide, the Sausalito/Sakaide Sister City group decided to serve Sanuki udon at its booth at the Art Festival this year. I had some this morning for “brunch” and it was excellent! I went with the shrimp version, but there were several thumbs up from others for the beef as well.

No doubt one reason that the Sanuki udon I had this morning was so good is that Yoshi Tome, the owner of Sushi Ran in Sausalito, who has been a long-time supporter of the Sausalito/Sakaide sister city relationship and a key promoter of Japanese cuisine in the US, took the lead to oversee its preparation. Yoshi also helped to coordinate a visit to the Art Festival by a group from Sakaide.

Among that group of Sakaide visitors to Sausalito is Osamu Miyoshi, one of Japan’s premier Sanuki udon artisans, and the owner of the Hinode restaurant in Sakaide which, needless to say, specializes in Sanuki udon.

Osamu and his father, Kiyoshi, between them have received the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ award for Sanuki udon craftsmanship a total of five times. Osamu has also put on demonstrations outside of Japan as indicated in this New York Times article.

Given that, it was a special treat this morning at the Art Festival to have a demonstration of Sanuki udon preparation by Miyoshi-san. The demonstration was kicked off with a welcome from Sausalito’s Vice Mayor, Mike Kelly (who was part of the delegation to Sakaide last month), and included comments by Yoshi and Mr. Shintani, the leader of the Sakaide delegation.

Then it was time for Miyoshi-san to work his magic. Sanuki-udon preparation is relatively easy from an ingredients standpoint – it contains only wheat flour, water and salt – but as with so many other “simple” products, the secret is in the quality of the ingredients and the technique of preparation. As Yoshi explained during the demonstration, the quality that Japanese look for in Sanuki udon is “koshi ga tsuyoi” – literally “strong hips,” but in this case meaning a firm and chewy texture.

Miyoshi-san first mixed the wheat flour with water, then added some salt (no doubt brought with him from Sakaide since Sakaide is also famous for its salt). He then kneaded the mixture. At this point in udon preparation the udon needs to be set aside to rest. However, Miyoshi-san had with him a ball of dough that he had prepared earlier. Using that, he rolled it out with a long rolling pin (a process which took several minutes), folded it and then cut it using a cleaver which was attached to a cutting board. He then tossed the noodles with a bit of flour and they were ready to go.

It was a pleasure to meet Miyoshi-san today.

I was lucky enough to receive some of the noodles which he made this morning and, as soon as I am done with this post, will be heading to the kitchen to enjoy them – perhaps with a bit of scallion and ham – maybe even with an egg added (a variant called “tsukimi" or "moon viewing").

I have found this receipe for making udon should anyone wish to give it a try. In addition, here is a clip from the 2006 film “Udon” that sounds like it may be worth tracking down. That clip shows the traditional way to prepare the udon which is to stomp it with your feet.

And finally, here is a very good photo sequence of Miyoshi-san in action at a demonstration at the Japan Society in New York.

There are two more days to go during the Sausalito Art Festival where you can enjoy Sanuki udon at the Sausalito/Sakaide Sister City stand, and I believe Sushi Ran is now serving it as well.  Off to the kitchen now!

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