A popular summer dish in Japan is hiya somen or cold thin noodles. The recipe is the same whether they are eaten hot or cold and usually weather or season determines which variety is eaten at any given time. It is called “nyumen” when eaten hot and the noodles are served in the broth while hiya somen is served next to the broth as a dipping sauce on the side in a small cup.
Japanese somen noodles are so thin and wispy, they don’t weigh down the stomach when hot weather suppresses appetites. They also cook rapidly and don’t heat up your kitchen. In fact, you must stand over the stove to keep a close watch during cooking as the noodles go from undercooked to mushy in a matter of a minute. Remove from heat and rinse with cold water immediately to stop the residual heat from overcooking the noodles. Then, chill them in the refrigerator or in iced water.
The Japanese serve summertime somen in bowls filled with ice cubes to keep them cold. The tsutyu or dipping sauce, also chilled, is served on the side. One picks up a mouthful of noodles and dips it into the cup of broth before slurping it up.
Nagashi somen (flowing somen) is a popular and novel way of serving cold somen where the noodles float past the diners in a bamboo flume filled with chilled, streaming water, similar to the contemporary “floating” sushi bar where plates of sushi drift by on a current of water. Diners catch a mouthful of passing somen noodles with chopsticks. In Japan, some dining establishments use actual streams so guests can dine al fresco in a garden or forest-like setting.
2 bundled dried somen noodles
3 cups dashi
1 2” strip of dashi no konbu
½ cup. soy sauce
½ cup mirin, Japanese cooking rice wine
optional: shouga, pickled ginger for garnish/topping
Bring the dashi and konbu to a simmer. Turn off heat and add soy sauce and mirin. Chill well.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add somen and stir to separate noodles. Allow this to boil for a few minutes. If it foams up, add a little bit of water or lower heat. When the noodles are tender soft (not al dente and not mushy), drain in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Chill the noodles by placing in a covered container in the refrigerator or in a bowl of ice cubes.
Place a serving of noodles in an individual dish. Pour about ¾ cup of tsuyu in a small cup and serve alongside the somen noodles. Pickled ginger makes a nice accompaniment for this. Enjoy.