table talk

Somen noodles perfect for a Japanese summer

By Gina Colburn Goto

Japanese summers can be brutal. The extreme heat makes you lose your appetite. But eating something chilled is a great way to cool yourself down and to take in nutrition to stay healthy in the scorching heat. My favorite go-to summer dish is Japanese cold noodle, somen.

Somen is a Japanese white wheat noodle, and is low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates for sustained energy. They are very thin, about 1 mm in diameter. The boiling time is only about three minutes which is another reason why it’s a great summer dish; you do not have to stand in front of the hot stove for a long time.

Somen is usually served cold with a dipping sauce called "tsuyu." It is the same "dashi"-based soy sauce broth used in hot soups, but this is more concentrated in flavor. I also like to serve sesame "tsuyu" which is basically the same dipping sauce you would use for shabu-shabu. Because it is such a simple dish, it is nice to have a variety for your pallet. Having condiments also makes this dish more tasteful & fun. They can be anything, but the basic might be scallions, "shiso," ginger and "nori."

Presentation of a dish is another key element in working up an appetite. I like to serve somen noodles in mini rose-like bundles. This makes it very easy to eat (each bundle is one bite-size) and it does not take much effort to do. You can do this when serving soba or udon noodles.

Here are the instructions on how to serve this elegant yet simple somen meal at home:

1) Boil water in a large pot. 2) Add somen noodles in the boiling water, stirring with chopsticks so they don’t stick to each other. Cook according to the package instructions.
In the photo, I cooked some "ume" somen which is pink. When cooking colored somen, boil them first before putting in the regular white noodles in the pot. 3) Drain somen in a colander and wash the noodles under running water. 4) Once the noodles are cooled, chill them some more in a bowl of iced water. 5) Drain well. Make small bundles, wrapping some around your fingers, and arrange on a large plate. Serve with ice to keep cool. 6) Prepare condiments: Chop up vegetables of your choice, i.e. cucumber, "shiso," scallions. In the photo, I have lightly boiled okra, sesame seeds and "nori" as condiments. 7) Prepare dipping sauce: mix 1/4 cup "mentsuyu" concentrate with 1/2 to 1 cup of iced water. Serve sesame "tsuyu" as well to add variety.

Enjoy! Stay cool and healthy. Autumn is around the corner.

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I love chilled somen, and chilled pasta as well in summer.

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Oishii ! Just so good !

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