Yoko Isassi, chef of the Japanese cooking class food history in Los Angeles, explained to HuffPost that noodles were historically made by women, and that the stiff dough of udon was extremely laborious to knead by hand in large batches. Kneading with the feet puts the whole body weight on the dough, which is both efficient and energy-saving. These cooks even lifted sacks of rice by stomping, Isassi says, to increase their overall mass.
Using the feet to knead can be a lot of fun, but it’s also a very strategic cooking technique. According to the head chef of Sanuki Mengyo in Kagawa, Japan, efficiency is the key to making good udon noodles. The faster you knead, he explained to Eater, the more the flour comes off your fingers (or your feet). This is how the gluten strands in the dough are separated, which is the opposite of how Italian pasta is kneaded, he says. That’s why udon makes such a chewy bite compared to linguine. The secret ingredient is speed, and the feet are a great tool for achieving that.
Like most things in life, however, it’s important not to overdo it. Although kneading softens hard dough, says Udon Restaurant Sichuan House, kneading too much gives noodles that are too soft. For that perfect noodle consistency, he recommends exactly 50 steps.