The Meanings of Kitsune & Tanuki in Soba & Udon

Kitsune (きつね) and Tanuki (たぬき) are both Japanese words for animals; the former Kitsune means fox, while the latter Tanuki is a raccoon dog.

However, if you dine at Soba and Udon restaurants in Japan, you may notice the names of some dishes on the menu include the animal name Kitsune or Tanuki.

In addition to having the meaning of fox and raccoon dog, each of the two Japanese words can actually refer to a Soba or Udon noodle soup dish.

Kitsune Udon & Kitsune Soba

Kitsune Udon Instant Noodles

Specifically, Kitsune Udon and Kitsune Soba are soy sauce-based dashi-rich dishes featuring the Aburaage (油揚げ) deep-fried tofu topping the noodle soup. 

Since Aburaage is usually seasoned with sugar, soy sauce, and mirin/sweet cooking rice wine, the thick, rectangle tofu topping on the noodle soup is sweetish with a moderate saltiness.

Meaning of Kitsune (きつね) 

One primary reason why Kitsune Udon and Kitsune Soba include Kitsune (きつね), meaning fox, in their names is that it is believed in Japan that the fox likes to eat Aburaage.

Instant Noodles

Both Kitsune Udon and Kitsune Soba are popular noodle dishes in Japan. Especially, Kitsune Udon is one of the most consumed dishes thanks to Japan’s No.1 instant Udon bowl Maruchan Akai Kitsune.

Tanuki Soba & Tanuki Udon

Tanuki Soba Instant Noodles

On the other hand, the main characteristic of Tanuki Soba and Tanuki Udon is that they are both garnished with Tenkasu (天かす) topping.

Tenkasu, a.k.a. Agedama (揚げ玉), is crispy bits of deep-fried batter left after cooking Tempura.

Since Tanuki Soba and Tanuki Udon use Tenkasu/Agedama a lot as a topping, as with Kitsune Udon and Kitsune Soba, they are also simple dishes.

Meaning of Tanuki (たぬき)

One theory holds that because the dishes have no main toppings other than Tenkasu/Agedama, their names include Tanuki (たぬき).

Here, it is said that the Japanese term Tanenuki (タネ抜き), meaning without main toppings, was corrupted into Tanuki.

Instant Noodles

Tanuki Soba and Tanuki Udon are noodle soups widely enjoyed by us Japanese. Especially, Tanuki Soba is one of Japan’s most loved dishes, thanks to Japan’s No.1 instant Soba cup, Maruchan Midori no Tanuki.

(Reference Pages: Wikipedia きつね (麺類), たぬき (麺類) )


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. For the purpose of enriching your life, I would like to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures, and facts and trivia.

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