The Meanings of Kitsune and Tanuki in Soba and Udon
“Kitsune (きつね)” and “Tanuki (たぬき)” are both the Japanese word for an animal; the former, Kitsune means fox in Japanese, while the latter Tanuki is a raccoon dog.
However, if you have a chance to go to Soba and Udon restaurants in Japan, you will notice that there are dishes on the menu whose name includes the animal name, Kitsune or Tanuki.
Actually, in addition to having the meanings of fox and raccoon dog, the 2 Japanese words, Kitsune and Tanuki respectively can refer to a Soba or Udon noodle soup dish.
Kitsune Udon and Kitsune Soba
Specifically, Kitsune Udon and Kitsune Soba are soy sauce-based dashi-rich dishes featuring the deep-fried tofu “Aburaage (油揚げ)” topping the noodle soup.
The deep-fried tofu, Aburaage is usually seasoned with sugar, soy sauce, and mirin (sweet cooking rice wine), so the tofu topping on the noodle soup is usually sweet with a moderate saltiness.
Meaning of Kitsune
One primary reason why Kitsune Udon and Kitsune Soba include the word meaning fox “Kitsune (きつね)” in their names is that it is believed in Japan that the fox likes to eat Aburaage.
Both Kitsune Udon and Kitsune Soba are popular noodle dishes in Japan. Especially, Kitsune Udon is one of the most commonly eaten Udon dishes thanks to Japan’s No.1 instant Udon bowl “Maruchan Akai Kitsune“.
Tanuki Soba and Tanuki Udon
On the other hand, the main characteristic of Tanuki Soba and Tanuki Udon is that they are garnished with “Tenkasu (天かす)” topping.
Tenkasu are crispy bits of deep-fried batter that are left after Tempura is cooked. It is also known as “Agedama (揚げ玉)”.
Since the topping of Tanuki Soba and Tanuki Udon mostly consists of Tenkasu, as with Kitsune Udon and Kitsune Soba, they are also simple noodle dishes.
Meaning of Tanuki
One theory holds that the reason why their names include the word meaning raccoon dog “Tanuki (たぬき)” is that they both have no main toppings other than Tenkasu.
Actually, here, it is said that the Japanese term meaning “without main toppings”, “Tanenuki (タネ抜き)” was corrupted into Tanuki.
Both Tanuki Soba and Tanuki Udon are noodle soups often enjoyed by us Japanese. Especially, Tanuki Soba is one of Japan’s most commonly eaten Soba dishes, thanks to Japan’s No.1 instant Soba bowl, “Maruchan Midori no Tanuki“.