If you watch a lot of TV dramas or anime, or even if you’ve just played a lot of "Animal Crossing: New Horizons," you’ll be familiar with nagashi somen or flowing noodles. It’s a summer tradition where bamboo chutes are set up in a winding pathway so that water can run down them, whereupon some cooked noodles are floated down from the top. Eager participants wait at the lower end of the slide with chopsticks and a bowl of broth in hand, hoping to swish the floating noodles out into their bowl and eat them. The cold rushing water chills the noodles, making them a tasty summer treat.
With the restrictions on meeting in groups, it’s been a tough year for nagashi somen fans. Clustering in close-quarters around a bamboo slide to eat noodles isn’t the best idea during a pandemic involving an airborne virus. This might explain the increase in nagashi somen toys, which allow you to enjoy the thrill of catching your noodles from out of flowing water at home, and no one makes nagashi somen toys like toy company Takara Tomy. When we heard that they’d produced a new, “personal-sized” nagashi somen device, we were excited to try it out.
▼ Finally, a nagashi somen gadget that fits in your palm.
The gadget is apparently as small as technology will permit, and Takara Tomy has even filed a patent regarding its construction. It costs 2,970 yen and comes in black and white versions. And yes, it really does fit in your hand. It’s also light enough to easily tote around in your purse or backpack.
Opening up the device reveals its constituent parts—the motor that whirls the noodles around, a cup to hold the broth, and a container/dish for condiments you use to flavor the noodles.
Deciding we ought to do this properly, we took our new toy out to a public cooking space. These are found in some Japanese parks and are great places to hold barbecues, cookouts, or campfires.
We set up our cooking equipment and got out our noodles. Ibonoito brand somen noodles are some of the best-selling in Japan, so we felt pretty confident in them.
▼ Into the pot they go!
We boiled our noodles up nicely. After they were cooked, we carefully removed the water we used to boil them. Dripping noodle water on the soil in a public park can affect plants in the area, so we made sure to dispose of it responsibly.
Now we were getting to the fun part. We set out a large bowl and placed the motor in the center of it. Any bowl with a diameter of 16 centimeters or more should work.
We began to pour chilled water into the bowl. Thank goodness we had a sturdy, temperature-controlled bottle to store it inside.
The condiments we’d prepared at home went into their special compartment. We used mentsuyu, a mix of dashi, mirin, sake, soy sauce and sugar, and topped it with chopped green onion.
Around this time, we were starting to notice the sad truth: this personal nagashi-somen maker wasn’t anywhere near as convenient or easy as we’d expected. You actually need a lot of extra tools and steps to get to the point where using it is feasible. Oh well. We had made our noodle bed, so it was time to lay some noodles in it.
We added noodles to the cold water, readied the device, and switched it on.
▼ Look at ’em go!
The device even lets you select if you want it to swirl your noodles clockwise or counterclockwise, making it easy for right-handed and left-handed people to choose a direction that’s easy for them to grab! How thoughtful. Our noodles whisked around the bowl in an endless loop, and so it was easy enough to jab our chopsticks in and secure a tasty clump of somen noodles.
▼ If we held our chopsticks in one place they piled up easily.
Fantastic! But we couldn’t settle for just sitting around eating the noodles straight from the running water. After dunking them liberally in the broth, they tasted wonderful.
With the warm spring sun shining and the noodles crisp and chilled, we’d clearly made the right choice in taking the activity outside. Even newbies to nagashi somen can savor the experience safely like this. True, it did feel a little melancholic not to have the cheerful cries of “I got some noodles!” or “There’s more over there, get it!”, but…at least we could do it alone, and safely.
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