A bowl of kitsune udon with seasoning and green onion on top

Kitsune Udon: Osaka’s Traditional Twist on Udon

The Osakan people take their food seriously and always have. This means that Osaka has tons of delicious food in the city and is even the birthplace of Japanese food favorites like okonomiyaki and takoyaki. However, one of Osaka’s creations stands out among the rest for noodle lovers like us. That standout dish is kitsune udon!

What is kitsune udon and why is it so good? Where did it come from? Read on and learn more about this delicious noodle dish!

What is Kitsune Udon?

A bowl of kitsune udon with a large piece of fried tofu and plenty of green onion
A bowl of this Osaka specialty is great year-round but is an especially comforting treat in winter. Image via Instagram (@mochadai)

Kitsune udon is a dish of classic warm udon in a dashi soup with a topping of aburaage. Aburaage is the Japanese term for marinated deep-fried tofu pouch. This “simple” dish is well loved all over as a perfect combo of sweet and savory. You get your umami with the delicious udon broth made with a konbu (kelp) and dashi (Japanese soup stock) base and the tasty, thick wheat noodles.

The flavor created by the broth a bit gentler than ramen but is still flavorful. The sweetness actually comes from the fried tofu, which often has a sweetness to it thanks to it being marinated in a sweet soy sauce blend. The fried tofu also has another function. Fried tofu also does a great job of absorbing flavor, making the fried tofu an amazing bite of rich flavor in between slurps of Osaka’s famously soft udon noodles.

Many shops work to perfect this balance in order to serve a super satisfying, comforting bowl of udon. Kitsune udon is so comforting that people often call it “Osaka soul food.”

Because of the inclusion of katsuobushi (dried bonito) in the stock, kitsune udon isn’t usually a vegetarian friendly dish. However, the use of shitake mushrooms instead of katsuboshi can allow even your most strict plant-based friend to enjoy this Osaka original.

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Where Did Kitsune Udon Come From?

A pair of chopsticks holds up a thick slab of fried tofu from kitsune udon
The best part of kitsune udon, in our opinion, is the thick, juicy fried tofu that takes the dish to a whole 'nother level. Image via Instagram (@hokurikuguuru.etochin)

Like we mentioned, kitsune udon is famous as an Osakan original food. But what are the origins of this dish?

Well, Osaka actually has quite a history with noodles. Although the origin of udon (and soba) isn’t clear, what is clear is that Osaka took its noodle game very seriously from a long time ago. For example, there are records stating that udon and soba shops took off thanks to the hungry workers building Osaka Castle (whose construction started in 1583).

Fast forward to around the mid-Edo period (1603-1867) and Osaka became one of Japan’s udon hotspot. By that time, it had gained the nickname “Japan’s Kitchen” and this was thanks to ingredients sold by merchants from different parts of Japan. Udon thrived thanks to these merchants and the quality continued to improve.

A steamy bowl of udon with green onion sits on a table next to some tea
So how did Osaka take this traditional dish and put its own classic twist on it? Image via Unsplash

Supposedly, sometime during the late Edo period, kitsune udon suddenly popped into existence. Although there’s not a definitive origin story, the most supported theory is that it was started by an Osaka shop called Matsubaya in 1893.

Supposedly, a customer ordered udon and a side of fried tofu. This customer put his fried tofu on top of his udon, and it tasted really good. From that point on, the shop started selling “Osaka kitsune udon”.

Of course, it has evolved over time with plenty of shops creating recipes for the perfect broth, noodle and tofu combo to create the perfect bowl.

Why ‘Kitsune’?

Two fox figurines sit in front of a Japanese torii gate
Kitsune are often viewed as lucky creatures who act as messengers to the gods. However, they have to live 1000 years to get there, so what do they do in the meantime? Cause mischief and eat tofu, of course. Image via Unsplash

Did you know that kitsune means ‘fox’? So, when you translate it directly, it becomes ‘fox udon.’ But there’s luckily no fox in the dish, so why? Well, the major going theory comes from the folklore around Japanese foxes. It was said that Japanese foxes loved aburaage.

How does a fox even eat fried tofu? It’s simple.

Many believed that fox spirits would shapeshift to humans or possess humans. In their human form, they would eat tons of aburaage. It was to the point where the possessed human would hate fried tofu after being possessed because they ate so much of it. The fox’s love of fried tofu may be the source of its name.

Another theory is that the beautiful color of the fried tofu is similar to the color of foxes in Japan. Although this may be part of it, it isn’t quite as fun as shapeshifting, body-snatching mystical foxes who love tofu.

A bowl of kitsune udon with a strip of fried tofu, lots of green onion and some kamaboko
Well, looking at aburaage, it does have an interesting foxlike hue. Image via Instagram (@__yka_25)

Regardless of how it got its name, kitsune udon is a delicious combination of flavors that we can’t get enough of. Have you ever tried kitsune udon? How did you like it? Where does it rank in your noodle dish ranking? Let us know in the comments!

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