Summer is finally here, and along with sunny days, vacations and relaxation, this season also brings with it really high temperatures! Cooking and eating might be the last things on your mind in the hot weather, but fear not, because in Japan there is a fun and refreshing dish to beat the summer heat, nagashi somen!
But before diving in, let’s talk about somen. Somen are wheat noodles and are the thinnest of the menrui family (rice or wheat noodles that can be eaten with or without a broth) – their thickness does not exceed one millimeter! Somen are typically used during the summer season, and they are often associated with matsuri (traditional festivals). These noodles, usually eaten cold, are a refreshing anti-heat remedy and are used in various delicious dishes, the most peculiar one being nagashi somen.
So now that we know more about somen noodles, what exactly is nagashi somen?
Nagashi somen (from the verb “nagasu” which literally means “to flow”) refers to a summer
activity in Japan that consists of trying to catch bundles of cooked somen noodles with chopsticks from a slide made of bamboo cut in half! The somen slides down, carried by cold water and is then placed in a cold bowl of broth called mentsuyu (a soy sauce-based dipping sauce). Sounds like fun, right?
In addition to somen, small vegetables such as cherry tomatoes and slices of cucumber are also sent along the pipeline. When it’s time to eat, the person at the top of the bamboo slide will shout “ikuyo!” (“here it comes!”), then everyone will gather around the slide and get their chopsticks ready to catch the sliding somen! Along with being a very fun and unusual experience, it is also a great way to eat something refreshing on hot days.
Nagashi somen is very popular in the summertime and is usually a family activity prepared at home. However, there are a few famous restaurants in Japan where you can try this specialty!
One of the most famous and scenic places to enjoy this experience is in the village of Kibune, located north of Kyoto. Surrounded by a beautiful natural setting, the Hirobun restaurant has a spectacular platform with tatami floors built on the riverbed, where it is possible to sit down and catch somen noodles with the relaxing sound of the stream below.
In some restaurants, instead of the bamboo slide, you will find sort of washtubs, where the somen spins around, instead of sliding down.
Do you want to try to make nagashi somen at home? It is actually pretty easy! You just need to boil the noodles, prepare the sauce, and you’re done! Somen noodles and mentsuyu sauce can be bought at most Asian grocery stores, or you can also make your own homemade mentsuyu sauce! (Here is a great recipe).
As for the slide, don’t worry if you don’t have any bamboo lying around, you can use plastic bottles cut in half instead! Here is a tutorial that you can follow to build your own personal nagashi somen slide.
Nagashi somen is such a fun way to enjoy a summer day with your friends and family, eating something refreshing and delicious as well as sharpening your chopstick-using skills!
Featuring photo credit: Japanrailtimes.japanrailcafe.com.sg