when june rolls around in japan, the weather takes a turn for the worst. these few weeks between spring and full-fledged summer are characterized on this side of the world by rain almost every day, intense heat, and truly ridiculous humidity. the japanese call this weather tsuyu, which is of course their word meaning “to die of asphyxiation because the air is so laden with moisture you could drown whilst walking to the grocery store.”
that being said, atrocious weather isn’t the only herald of summer. because of the amazing raw food culture that japan has, all kinds of tasty and extremely fresh foods start appearing in the mom and pop small restaurants all over the country the moment june swings into full-force. while it may seem strange to most of us in the west (with the exclusion of pasta salad, which i was never really that big on anyway), cold noodle dishes like zarusoba and hiyashi chuka become very easy to consume in quantity when the mercury goes through the roof.
and in my mind, there is no cold noodle dish that can hold a candle to sōmen. these japane
se noodles are made from wheat flour and have a milky white color to them, much like udon. but sōmen stand alone in that their diameter is extremely thin (less than 1.3 mm by definition), which makes them super delicate and incredibly fast cooking. once cooked and flash chilled, the noodles are generally added to a deliciously salty broth and topped with all manner of awesome fresh produce.
yesterday, i got to hankering, and decided to give it a go.
somen (japanese cold noodles in broth)
- mini-tomatoes (grape tomatoes will do)
- myoga (a.k.a. japanese ginger, myoga ginger)
- cucumber ice cubes
- tsuyu (noodle broth)
- green onions
- sōmen noodles
- wash a cucumber, cut off the ends, and slice it once down the middle. cut the split cucumber into thin wedges, and place two of these wedges into each compartment of an ice cube tray. fill with water, and make some ice. yes, they taste as good as they look, but be patient. don’t thank me, thank jess (the author of a lot on your plate, a truly excellent blog i highly advise you check out sometime) for giving me the idea. i just used it in sōmen, that’s all.
- get everything ready. due to the nature of sōmen, the noodles will actually be the last thing in the meal that you prepare. take the stems off your mini-tomatoes, and make an x with a very sharp knife up the sides of each tomato almost until you reach the navel. if you cut deep enough, you should be able to gently open each tomato into a four petaled flower with the seed column resembling a stamen. set them aside.
- slice your myoga as thin as possible. because of the crunchy, slightly barky texture of myoga, big thick chunks can be hard to deal with for some people. also, it tends to have a pretty intense flavor, so you want to be able to get small bites of it as you work your way through your noodles. set it aside.
- finely slice four of five stalks of green onion. set them aside.
- boil some water (with no salt!) and add your sōmen. immediately bring the heat down and start stirring. sōmen is not pasta, so don’t cook it like it is. it will only take about three minutes for sōmen to reach its appropriate texture. be careful not to overcook these noodles or they will turn to mush in the blink of an eye. seriously, don’t even cover the pot or walk away. they cook that quickly.
- drain the noodles using a colander and immediately rinse with super cold water for a few minutes, tossing them gently with your hands.
- pour a few ladles of your tsuyu into a deep bowl, and add your sōmen. garnish as you choose, adding the cucumber ice cubes last to keep your broth cold.
- chill out. literally and figuratively.