When it comes to noodle dishes, ramen, soba and udon are pretty common in Japan. Somen, which are thin, white noodles made of wheat flour, are rare, and what are called “nagashi somen” or “flowing noodles” are even rarer.
Takachiko Gorge in Miyazaki prefecture, Kyushu, is a very famous and popular tourist destination, due to the picturesque landscape. What is less advertised and therefore less well-known is that this is a place where they can savor unique and authentic “nagashi somen”.
At one end of Takachiko Gorge, against a backdrop of tall cliffs, there are two nagashi somen restaurants. Inside each restaurant, there's a long, rectangular table, and a long flume of bamboo is placed across the length of each table. Cold water is constantly flowing down this flume, similar to a waterfall.
Here’s how the nagashi somen system works:
After you make your order for nagashi somen for 500 yen (you can order other stuff instead, but where’s the fun in that?), the waiter will give you a pair of chopsticks and a bowl of “tsuyu” (a kind of sauce)… That’s it. No noodles. After a while, a waiter at the other end of the bamboo flume will announce “Incoming somen!”, and places some somen onto the flume, which flow down together with the water.
Here comes the tricky part: With the chopsticks, you have to catch as much of the noodles as possible as they flow near you, and place them in the bowl of tsuyu. After that, you can take your time to eat them. The somen will come in batches, in about one or two minute intervals, so you don’t have to rush to gobble up your catch. You’ll know when the last batch will come when the waiter announces it.
Needless to say, it takes a certain amount of dexterity and coordination to not end up with just one or two strands of the noodles. But what happens to the rest of the somen that you’re unable to catch? No need to worry – they don’t get wasted. The remaining somen flow all the way down to the end, where a basket is placed. After the waiter has sent you the last batch of somen via Bamboo Flume Express (for the lack of a better term), he or she will pass you the basket - allowing you to see exactly how much somen you’d missed - and then you can eat the remaining somen normally.
Are nagashi somen filling? Maybe not. You’ll have to order some side dishes in order to have a filling meal. But considering the unique experience you can get for the amount of money you pay, nagashi somen are definitely worth at least one try. Even Japanese people hardly get a chance to eat nagashi somen in an authentic setting, so it’d be a golden experience for the non-Japanese visitor.