Kitsune Udon is a Japanese noodle soup in dashi broth, topped with seasoned fried tofu, pink-swirl narutomaki fish cake, and scallions. This hearty udon soup is one of the most popular, classic Japanese noodle dishes.
If you’re looking for the ultimate Japanese comfort dish that can lift up your mood any time of year, I can’t recommend enough cooking this bowl of Kitsune Udon (Noodle Soup) (きつねうどん).
The rich broth, the chewy noodles, and the fried tofu – everything comes together so nicely that you just want to hold your face above the bowl and let the aroma envelop you. It’s so simple and quick to make, so there is no excuse not to try it!
What is Kitsune Udon?
Kitsune literary means ‘fox’ in Japanese. Why do we call the dish ‘fox udon’? There are a few theories about the origin of the name.
One theory says aburaage (deep-fried tofu pouch) often appears as a fox’s favorite food in Japanese folktales, so people started to call the udon noodle soup topped with tofu pouch as “kitsune udon.”
Another theory is that people call aburaage by “kitsune” because the color of the deep-fried tofu pouch is like the color of a fox. I think this makes the most sense since we often say in Japanese recipes “cook till fox color” to figuratively describe “cook till golden brown”.
So what is kitsune udon? It’s made of chewy thick udon noodles, clear dashi broth, and aburaage seasoned well with soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Kitsune udon is served as a hot noodle soup, but in the steamy summer months, it is also served chilled with a few spoonfuls of dashi based sauce poured over.
3 Key Ingredients for Kitsune Udon
To make the perfect bowl of kitsune udon, you need high-quality ingredients, starting with these three: dashi, udon noodles, and aburaage.
1. Dashi Broth
I can’t stress enough about having good quality dashi. The dashi broth gives the noodle soup that rich, umami flavor that will have you sipping up the last drops.
Dashi is so important, which is why I have previously shared three ways to make dashi – using dashi powder or a dashi packet and making dashi from scratch.
For this kitsune udon recipe, I only recommend making dashi using a dashi packet or making it from scratch. Making it with dashi powder doesn’t have the depth needed to make a flavorful enough broth. Please don’t get intimidated with making dashi from scratch. It really doesn’t take a lot of time compared to using dashi powder. Spend the extra 20 minutes to make a super tasty broth – trust me, it’s worth your time, and it’s easy to make!
For vegetarian/vegan dashi, use Kombu Dashi.
2. Udon Noodles
Udon noodles are getting very popular outside of Japan, so you can easily purchase the noodles in regular grocery stores in the U.S. However, many products are not very good. The noodles don’t have the right texture and tend to break into pieces.
If your local Japanese or Asian grocery stores carry frozen udon noodles or packaged udon noodles that say “Sanuki”, try one of those options. They are chewier and not doughy/floury, and won’t break easily.
3. Packaged vs. Homemade Aburaage
Living outside of Japan, I know that raw ingredients can be harder to find than prepackaged foods.
Inari age (seasoned deep-fried tofu pouch) is made of aburaage (deep-fried tofu pouch). When you want to make homemade Inari age, you need aburaage, but it’s really difficult to find unless you have a well-stocked Japanese grocery store.
If you are the lucky one who can find aburaage, try making my Homemade Inari Age! It’s preservative-free and really delicious!
Vegetarian/Vegan-Friendly Kitsune Udon
There is a misconception that dashi is not vegetarian/vegan; however, that’s not completely true. Most well-known dashi is made with bonito flakes and kombu, but in our daily Japanese cooking, we also use Kombu Dashi, which is 100% vegetarian/vegan.
To make vegetarian/vegan kitsune udon, make kombu dashi and skip those spiral fish cakes as a garnish. And as simple as that, you have vegetarian/vegan kitsune udon!
Did You Watch Netflix “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” Season 2?
You can find this Kitsune Udon dish featured on the popular Netflix® – Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (Season 2, Episode 7).
In the show, the master prepares a bowl of Kitsune Udon with a large homemade Inari age. It’s such a humble dish, yet so comforting and satisfying.
Other Hot Udon Noodle Soup Recipes
For the Soup Broth
- 2½ cups dashi (Japanese soup stock; click to learn more) (homemade dashi recipe below; or 2½ cups water + 1 to 1¼ tsp dashi powder)
- 1 Tbsp mirin
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp usukuchi (light-colored) soy sauce (or regular soy sauce; we use the light-colored version here so the soup doesn't become too dark)
- ½ tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
For the Kitsune Udon
- 2 servings udon noodles (6.3 oz/180 g dry udon noodles; 1.1 lb/500 g frozen or parboiled udon noodles)
- 4 Inari age (seasoned fried tofu pouch) (you can buy canned or refrigerated Inari age; for my homemade Inari age recipe, click here)
- 1 green onion/scallion
- 4 slices narutomaki (fish cakes) (optional; skip for vegetarian/vegan)
- shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) (optional; sprinkle at the table)
Before You Start…
- Gather all the ingredients. It's really important to have good flavorful dashi for this recipe. Although you can take a shortcut by using dashi powder or a dashi packet, I encourage you to make dashi from scratch because the broth tastes so much better! It only takes less than 30 minutes to make. For vegetarian/vegan, please use Kombu Dashi (instructions below).
To Make the Homemade Dashi
- Put the kombu and water in a measuring cup for at least 30 minutes. If you have time, soak for 3 hours or up to half a day. The kombu’s flavor comes out naturally from soaking it in water. If you don’t have time, skip soaking.
- Transfer the kombu and water to a saucepan. Slowly bring to a boil over medium-low heat.
- Just before the liquid boils (you will see bubbles around the edges of the pan), remove the kombu. If you leave the kombu inside, the dashi will become slimy and bitter. Now, this broth is vegetarian/vegan-friendly Kombu Dashi and it's ready to use. For non-vegetarian/vegan, add the katsuobushi and bring it to a boil again.
- Once the dashi is boiling, reduce the heat, simmer for just 15 seconds, and turn off the heat. Let the katsuobushi sink to the bottom, about 10-15 minutes. Strain the dashi through a fine-mesh sieve set over a saucepan. Now you have homemade Awase Dashi.
To Make the Soup Broth
- In a saucepan, add the dashi, mirin, sugar, soy sauce, and salt and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, turn off the heat or cover and keep on a low simmer.
To Prepare the Toppings
- Squeeze the excess liquid from the Inari age (or you can keep it as is). Cut the green onion into thin slices. Cut the narutomaki fish cake into ⅛-inch (3 mm) slices.
To Cook the Udon Noodles
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the udon noodles. My favorite udon is frozen Sanuki udon. Reheat the frozen udon noodles in boiling water for 1 minute (no need to defrost). If you use dry noodles, follow the package instructions.
- Pick up the noodles in a strainer or drain the hot water. Make sure to shake off the excess water (which will end up diluting your soup).
- Divide the drained udon noodles into individual serving bowls. Pour the hot broth over the noodles to cover. Top with the Inari age, narutomaki, and green onions. Sprinkle the shichimi togarashi on top (optional).
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on May 25, 2011. Pictures were updated in November 2017. The new video was added in April 2018. The post has been updated in May 2020.