Buddha Bellies Cooking School – Stomping on Udon

Buddha Bellies Cooking School – Stomping on Udon

“Alright everyone, the timer has been set to 5 minutes. Time to start stomping!”

I never thought I’d be making udon noodles with our feet, and yet there we were, at Buddha Bellies Cooking School in Tokyo, on our first 5 minute round (of 3 rounds total) stomping away on our clear plastic bags filled with dough. It certainly is an unforgettable way to learn how to cook. Because sharing is caring, we’re going to share with you what it’s like to do a cooking class at Buddha Bellies and give you the most outstanding Udon noodle recipe as well!

Back to the noodles. As we did our best Flashdance moves on our little bags of dough, our patient teacher Ayuko gave us the history of Udon noodles. Unlike pasta, udon does not contain eggs, and grew in popularity from one of Japan’s southern islands where they couldn’t grow rice, so they grew wheat and created noodles instead.

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Pinterest Udon Noodles
Buddha Bellies Cooking School, Tokyo

Buddha Bellies Cooking School

Ayuko is the founder and chef of Buddha Bellies Cooking School. As a teenager, she studied in the UK and speaks excellent English. She was a teacher, but her love for food and cooking took her on a different path, where she studied to become a professional sushi instructor, Sake sommelier and professional cook. But rather than open up a restaurant, her love of teaching and meeting people lead her to open Buddha Bellies Cooking School, and how lucky for us she did!

Cooking classes, Tokyo

The Udon Workout

We started the day with what I now like to refer to as the Udon workout – 3 x 5 minutes of stomping on the spot, mixing and kneading the flour and water into a smooth malleable dough. Then came out the udon machine (similar to a pasta machine) to roll and cut the noodles. We also learnt a bit about simple Japanese ingredients that can transform a dish. The simple sesame paste we made was out of this world and a recipe we will be attempting to recreate when we get home!

How to make Udon Noodles
Cooking udon noodles in Tokyo
Buddha Bellies Cooking Classes

Teriyaki and Udon = The perfect combo

We then whipped together a teriyaki sauce and fried our chicken for what I can confidently say was the best chicken teriyaki we’ve ever tasted. And then came the udon. Boiled in water and then served in a warm, full-flavoured broth with mushrooms and tofu, these udon noodles were as good as any we had tried in a restaurant.

Learning to cook in Tokyo

 

Love Japanese food? Check out our other post on what to eat in Japan.

Ayuko is not only a fantastic teacher, with a wealth of knowledge of Japanese cuisine and flavours, she’s a great host, who made sure we were comfortable throughout the day, topping up our water, answering any questions we had and even serving us beer and wine once our food was ready to be eaten!
Japanese Food, Tokyo

Heading to Japan soon? Make sure you read our Checklist on things to do before you go!

Do homemade udon noodles live up to the hype?

So does the udon live up to the hype? Yes. Yes it does. But don’t take my word for it; you can try it yourself! Ayuko has kindly shared her recipe with all our readers, so have a go and let us know how it turned out! Remember, as Ayuko says, “Fresh is best!”.

If you are in Tokyo and would love to learn how to make delicious Japanese food, book a class with Ayuko at Buddha Bellies Cooking School, Tokyo – your tastebuds will thank you!

Recipe: Udon Noodles

Cooking Udon in Tokyo

Ingredients (serves 1)

  • 50g Plain Flour
  • 50g bread flour (this has more gluten, and will provide the right texture)
  • 50g water
  • 1tsp salt
  • Clear cooking bags or freezer bags (you will need multiple, as they often split during the rounds)

Method

  1. In a bowl, sift the flour well. In a separate bowl, stir the salt in the water until completely dissolved. Add water to flour and mix well.
  2. When the flour begins to form pieces of dough, stop mixing. Gather all of the flour and form into a ball.
  3. Place dough into a plastic bag. Put it in an additional bag to avoid mess. Make sure there are no air bubbles before doing your best flashdance routine (continuous stomping) on it for 5 minutes.
  4. After first 5 minutes of stepping, gather the udon dough into a ball again. Repeat steps 2 – 3 two more times (15 minutes of stepping total). If bag has broken, replace bag.
  5. Rest the udon dough ball in cling wrap for 30 minutes
  6. Spread the udon dough with a pasta machine (or rolling pin). Make sure the dough is 5mm thick. Use a little flour, fold and cut the rolled out dough into noodles.
  7. Put the udon in a pot of boiling water and boil for 2 minutes (or until it’s at the texture you like).
  8. Strain the udon and wash well with water to remove starch.

After more fun things to do in Tokyo? Why not Fight a Sumo? Read about that crazy experience on our blog!

Mentsuyu (Broth)

Udon Noodle Recipe

Ingredients

  • 100ml Mirin
  • 100ml Soy Sauce
  • 400ml Water
  • 4cm x 4cm Kombu (dried seaweed)
  • 10g Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

Method

  1. Bring the mirin to boil in a pot
  2. Add the soy sauce, water and kombu all together and bring to boil again.
  3. Add katsuobushi and reduce heat to low. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Drain the sauce with a strainer.
    NB: If you are using this as a dipping sauce, you can use as is, however if it’s for hot soup udon, add more water to taste (to reduce saltiness)
  4. Add mushrooms, tofu and whatever else you like to the mix.
Delicious food of Japan

And it’s that simple! If you love udon as much as we do, have a go and let us know how yours turned out!

A huge thanks to Ayuko for having us as guests at Buddha Bellies Cooking SchoolAs always, our opinions, terrible jokes and cooking results are our own.

Tokyo: The day I fought a Sumo

Tokyo: The day I fought a Sumo

I’ve been fascinated by sumo for years now.

Their strength, flexibility, the many traditions that go along with it. And how gents that large can move so fast, I will never quite understand.

So when I had the chance to wrestle a real sumo while visiting Tokyo, Japan, it’s safe to say that I was excited. REALLY excited. This is the story of how it went down.

Pre-fight preparation

In prep for our Japan vacation, I was pretty keen to try and do some quintessentially Japanese experiences, like dress up as Mario characters and drive go-karts through the streets of Tokyo, go to a cooking school, or soak in a traditional onsen (hot bath house).

So it was with some glee that we stumbled across the Asakusa Sumo Experience which offers just such a cool experience – the opportunity to wrestle a sumo and find out all about their training and lifestyles. This was just too good to pass up and I had to do it!

The event is held in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighbourhood, one of the nicest areas that we had the pleasure of exploring. Right across the road from the train station you will find the restaurant where the sumo experience is held on the second floor, where you will meet the other participants and Japanese hosts. No equipment or training necessary, they provide everything you need.

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Sumo training tours in Tokyo

Fight day

 

Training for sumo wrestling

Once we had entered and swapped our shoes for slippers, we managed to score front row seats to a carpeted wrestling area and a long table full of other guests stretched out behind us. Our host discussed many interesting details of sumo training and life while we awaited the arrival of the sumos, such as:

  1. The first formal sumo tournament was conducted 400 years ago, but sumo matches have occurred for well over 1000 years
  2. Sumo generally start serious training from the age of 15
  3. Sumo will normally train for 5 hours per day
  4. Sumo tournaments are held in every odd-numbered month, but the main ones in Tokyo are in January, May and September
  5. A grand champion, or Yokozuna, can earn up to US$5 million per year!

With the introductions complete, out walked the two sumo who would be our guides for the experience. They. Were. Huge. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise, being sumo wrestlers and all, but up close and personal these boys are absolute man-mountains.

Japanese sumo wrestlers

Over the next half hour, our two sumo guides explained to us some of the traditions and rituals of sumo tournaments, some of the basic techniques that sumo are taught, and what not to do (my game plan went out the window here). They also showed us a mini sumo match, pitting themselves against each other in what was a pretty even match. When they hit each other it was like two planets colliding and the sound up close was something to remember.

Finally, it was out turn. Our hosts called for volunteers (both male and females are encouraged to give it a go) and I strategically waited for a few other challengers to come forward before putting my hand up. All the better for me to test my game strategy, I told myself.

Loving Japan? If you want more, read the things to do before your trip and what to eat in Japan.

Wrestling a sumo in Tokyo, Japan

When my time came, I suited up in a mock sumo costume and faced off with a real sumo. We completed the initial rituals, I threw in some cocky smack talk to calm my nerves (it didn’t work) and we were off.

Now I should say here, I’m not a small person. I mean, I lift a few weights, like to think that I am reasonably strong and could at least make some kind of an impact, right? Wrong. I didn’t hold back in the opening hit…. and it didn’t matter at all. He didn’t budge. Not even a shudder. This was going to be a long match.

Wrestling a sumo in Tokyo, Japan

We tussled for a little bit and I made some embarrassing noises as I tried to lift his belt up to see if I could unbalance him at all. He obviously didn’t move one bit, and at one point, my feet lifted off of the floor and my sumo opponent, in complete control by this stage, twirled me around like I was a ballerina.

Having thoroughly ruined any chance of me thinking that I could out-compete a sumo, he casually gave me an opening and allowed me to push him out of the ring. Which, mind you, still took a bit of effort!

Wrestling a sumo in Asakusa Tokyo

Post-Fight

 

Chankonabe in Tokyo, Japan

After our mini-tournaments, all participants got served a generous bento box with tonkatsu, rice, etc and we also got to try the sumo meal of choice – chanko-nabe. It’s a delicious, thick soupy dish of vegetables, tofu and balls of chicken and pork, which is very filling.

Chankonabe in Tokyo, Japan

We also got to interact with the sumos, taking pictures with them, asking questions about their careers and learning more about the training regimes of sumos and they were happy to oblige us as many questions as we wanted on any topics.

Conclusion

This was one of most fun experiences that we had in Tokyo. It’s not often that you get the chance, as an Australian, to wrestle a sumo, have lunch with them and find out about this fascinating aspect of Japanese society. Although sadly my dreams of world sumo domination now appear shaky, I’m super glad that I took the opportunity to do this, as it really is a one of a kind experience.

Would you get in the ring with a Japanese sumo? Or would you rather check them out in a tournament? Let us know in the comments below!

Thanks to Beauty of Japan for providing us with this experience. If you want to test your strength, skill and, let’s be honest, pride, you can book your Sumo Experience through them here.

Things to do Before Your Trip to Japan

Things to do Before Your Trip to Japan

Are you heading to Japan soon? Maybe you picked up some cheap flights to TokyoYay! Get ready to eat all the yummy food, see amazing temples and lose yourself in exciting cities. But before you jump on the plane, there’s a few other things you should get ready to ensure a fantastic trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. We’ve written up things that should be done BEFORE getting on the plane. We’ve even created a checklist, so scroll down for more info!

Order a Japan Rail Pass

A Rail Pass is a necessity in Japan, as rail is the best way to get around. The Japan Rail Pass saves a lot of money on rail travel and can even be used on the shinkansen (bullet train). The only catch is, you have to purchase it outside Japan and be a temporary visitor. You will need to provide your passport details, travel dates and select how many days of rail travel you would use (7, 14 or 21 days). I would order it 1-2 weeks prior to departure to ensure it is delivered to you on time. Upon arriving in Japan, you validate the pass at the various venues. For more details: http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/index.html

Planning a trip to Japan

Check out discounted fares from ANA and JAL

JAL and ANA offer cheap, flat-rate flights between domestic cities in Japan for people residing outside of Japan and who hold an international return flight (similar to the JR Rail Pass). ANA’s Experience Japan fare and JAL’s Explorer Pass are cheaper than the same fares offered through other booking systems. We saved 40% on our domestic flights by booking these.

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Things to do before travelling to Japan

Travel Insurance

We never travel without it, and neither should you. Medical treatment in Japan is not cheap, and the right cover of travel insurance can cover you for emergency evacuations, disasters, stolen luggage, and more. Knowing that you are covered while you are travelling far outweighs the cost of insurance.

Like checklists? Pin and print our checklist below!

Japan Checklist

Passports & Visas

It might sound silly for the seasoned travellers, but for those who are travelling for the first time, make sure you check if you need a visa to enter Japan (based on your country of residence). You also need 6 months of validity on your passport BEYOND your travel return date (so if you are travelling in June, your passport needs to be valid at least until December). I’ve been told this is to cover you in case an emergency occurs, and you are stuck overseas for longer than expected.

Want to know what to eat in Japan? Read our post, More than Sushi.

International Driver’s Licence

The idea of driving in somewhere like Tokyo makes me anxious, however driving in the quieter parts of Japan would be lovely. If you are visiting more remote areas, or the islands, driving is the best way to get around, so you will need an International Driver’s Licence to hire a car. For our Australian readers, you can get them from NRMA.

What you need for Japan

Get Cashed Up

Despite Japan being ahead in the technology stakes, cash is still the preferred method of payment. A lot of shops and restaurants do not accept international cards and even those that accept cards may not work when you try to use it in the machine. Change as much money as you can to Japanese Yen before you go, or get an international travel card that you can top up in local currency (however, note that a lot of ATMs don’t accept foreign cards). If you are worried about walking around with a load of cash on you though, rest assured general crime and pick pockets are not a huge concern here.

You need cash for Japan

Wi-Fi

Again, it may come as a surprise, but for the metropolis, high-speed futuristic country Japan may seem, wi-fi is a bit of a hit and miss. There is free wi-fi available in many cities, but the signal is not always that reliable. It might not seem like that big of an issue at first (I mean, we can always post to Instagram later, right?), but when you are lost and trying to find your way around a city that doesn’t have clear street signs or a metro system that only an engineer might be able to read, you’ll be wishing you had reliable wi-fi and Google Maps ready to save the day. Thankfully, you can order internet dongles in advance and pick them up from the airport or have them delivered to your hotel.

Learn some Japanese phrases

Japanese people appreciate the effort taken to learn some phrases, and in some places English isn’t widely spoken, so here are some phrases that may come in handy:

Hello                                       Konichiwa
My name is _________         Watashi wa ______
Please                                    Onegai shimasu
Thank you                              Arigatou gozaimasu
Excuse me                             Sumimasen
Yes                                         Hai
No                                          Iie
Sorry                                      Gomen’nasai
Do you speak English?          Eigo o hanashimasu ka?
I don’t understand                  Wakarimasen
Where is the subway?            Chikatetsu wa doko desu ka?
How much does that cost?     Kore wa ikura desu ka?
Where is the bathroom?         Ofuro wa doko desu ka?

Book Accommodation

Personally, I am a bit OTT when it comes to our travel planning, and create multiple spreadsheets, notes and detailed itineraries with accommodation, transport and activities long before we’ve arrived at our destination! So with that in mind, I like to know where we are staying before we arrive, so I can work out how to get there from the airport/train station. If you are at the other end of the traveller’s spectrum though, we’d still recommend booking at least your first night’s accommodation, so you aren’t wandering around a foreign city, searching for a place to sleep.

Bustling cities in Japan

Have you been to Japan? Are there any other things you should do before the trip? Let us know below!

This post contains some affiliate links. Booking via these links won’t cost you any extra, but will help me get closer to my dream career, so thank you in advance!

What to Eat in Japan – More Than Sushi

What to Eat in Japan – More Than Sushi

If you visit Japan and just stick to eating sushi or ramen, you are doing it wrong.

Japan is a foodie’s delight, with a plethora of food options that will please all tastes. Fresh seafood, flavoursome soups and delicious street food are just a small selection of the food options for travellers to Japan. I was fortunate enough to spend a week exploring Osaka, Sakai and Kobe and found myself looking forward to each meal along the way. Here is a small selection of dishes you should try when visiting Japan:

Okonomiyaki

This might be my favourite dish when I visited Japan in 2016. To describe it best, it’s a mix between a pancake or fritter, with its main ingredient being cabbage. Okonomiyaki is a popular dish in Osaka, however other regions also have their own take on the simple-but-satisfying dish.

Okonomiyaki - A favourite Japanese dish

My first introduction to Okonomiyaki was during my first day in Japan. After a long 10 hour flight, and bus trip to the hotel, we were ushered straight to lunch at Fugetsu in Universal City. They prepare the Okonomiyaki in the Osaka style, however they top it with noodles (which is technically not the traditional way of doing it in Osaka, but nevertheless, I loved it!). What really makes this dish is the mix of the okonomiyaki sauce (similar to oyster sauce) and Japanese mayonnaise.

Okonomiyaki with noodles

 

Takoyaki

I’m still on the fence with this one, as I’m not a fan of octopus, but am quite prone to gooey balls of batter and cheese. Takoyaki is a popular street food in Osaka, however Takomasa restaurant in Sakai have turned this common snack into a locally loved dish, served as a course with rice, salad and crumbed oysters. If you don’t mind the texture of octopus (rubbery, for the uninitiated), then takoyaki is a great on-the-go snack.

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Takoyaki - Japanese street food
What to eat in Japan

Udonsuki

Udon noodles are one of my favourite types of noodles. Who am I kidding, I love all noodles! But, udon noodles have got a unique texture and are delicious in Udonsuki – a soupy mix of broth, vegetables, meat, seafood and, of course, udon noodles. Japanese eating culture is quite sociable and the art of sharing a large, communal Udonsuki is a great example of that.

Udonsuki - Udon soup and veges
Japanese food

If you want to read more from my visit to Japan, read my posts Highlights of Osaka & Day Trips from Osaka at Mapping Megan.

 

Shabu Shabu

Another hot pot dish, this is a fun, social way to eat. You essentially order the type of meat you want (in our case, we had delicately thin slices of beef, pork and chicken) and the type of ‘soup’ you want. There are choices from a soy-based soup (which tastes nicer than it sounds), or your standard clear soups. Then, you pretty much cook your own meal, adding whatever vegetables and noodles you want to the bubbling liquid. Condiments are also provided, so you can add extra spice and flavour to your own individual bowl.

Shabu Shabu ingredients
Popular food in Japan - Shabu Shabu

Kobe Beef

I am a carnivore, through and through and love my red meat. After spending a week politely avoiding fish (which is harder than you think in Japan!), I was so happy to find out we were going to Kobe Plaisir, a restaurant that specialises in Kobe Beef on our final night. Perfectly marbled and seasoned just right, Kobe Beef is cooked in front of us by an experienced chef. Served with salad and rice, the beef is definitely the highlight, which just melts in the mouth. For our carnivorous readers, this is a must!

Kobe Beef is a Japanese delicacy

 

Katsu Curry & Rice

This is one of my favourite comfort foods. It turns out it’s also a favourite for the Japanese Navy where (I’m told) every Friday is ‘Curry and Rice’ day. Typically Katsu is a thin, crumbed, pork or chicken cutlet, but with the deliciously rich curry sauce and rice, it brings the flavour to a whole new level. Although curry isn’t technically a traditional dish of Japan, they have certainly made it their own (and, in my opinion, made it better!).

Bento Boxes

Bento Boxes are extremely popular in Japan, with an assortment of meat, rice and vegetables, all beautifully presented in cute individual dishes in a box. Kinda like a happy meal, but for grown ups (and a lot healthier!).

Japanese Bento Boxes

 

Chawan Mushi

When you think of egg custard, you think of a sweet, creamy dessert, right? Think again. Chawan Mushi is an egg custard dish, but savoury. It has a similar consistency of custard, but mixed with soy sauce, dashi and mirin, it is served as a dish with mushrooms and a meat. We had it at Kani Douraku (see below) as one of the crab dishes, and whilst a bit strange at first (as you expect it to be sweet), it is really delicious and smooth.

Chawan Mushi at Kani Douraku

 

Amazake pudding

Whilst ‘fermented’ isn’t a word that brings deliciousness to mind, Amazake Pudding really is that (delicious). It’s essentially a fermented rice pudding, where the carbohydrates in the rice turn to simple sugars. It’s actually similar to the first stages of making sake. The result is a sweet, smooth and creamy pudding, often served with sweetened beans and jelly. This was one of my favourite dishes during my tour of Japan.

Japanese Desserts - Amazake Pudding
What to eat in Japan

Delicious Crab at Kani Douraku

If you happen to be visiting Osaka and love crab, treat yourself to a 5-course meal at Kani Douraku, the most famous crab restaurant in Japan. Kani Douraku is a very popular restaurant chain (with multiple restaurants found around Japan, with Osaka being the original and their main one). You can order individual crab dishes, or set menus. We had a 5-course set menu, and, let me tell you, each course was delicious.

Crab dishes at Kani Douraku
Crab at Kani Douraku
Crab Sushi at Kani Douraku
Crab Gratin at Kani Douraku

You can find store locations on their website. Reservations are recommended.

And, of course, Sushi

The sushi in Japan is fresh and delicious. If you are like me, and are a bit of a wuss when it comes to spice, they put wasabi INSIDE the sushi, so don’t overload on the sauce before you have a taste. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! If you are a fan of sushi, a sushi-making-course is a fun and delicious way to pass a couple of hours!

Home-made Sushi tastes better
Japanese food is Oishi!

We can’t wait to return to Japan in June and continue our food journey.

What Japanese dishes do you like and think we should try?

Tell us below!

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