Hi there! The rainy season has just finished in Tokyo and it was very unusual and a long rainy season this year. However, soon after finishing the rainy season, suddenly very hot and super-humid summer has come and days over 35℃ has continued for a few weeks all over Japan this year, too…I am very sick of this climate!!
What is “Somen” and how different among some other white Japanese noodles?
By the way, have you ever heard “Somen”? It is Japanese white noodle which is very thin like thread made from white wheat and it said the one of oldest noodle in this country. We usually make it cool and eat it frequently in summer. Somen is produced all over Japan and some are produced by machine and the others are by hand. Generally speaking, it is said that hand-made one is better quality, texture and taste than that by machine. In case of hand-made, we need skillful workers and have to go through several elaborate steps to produce it. For example, “Miwa Somen” in Nara Prefecture and “Ibo-no-Ito” in Hyogo prefecture are representative of hand-made and categorized the best quality products in Japan.
For your reference, we have other “white wheat noodle” other than Somen, which is called “Hiyamugi” and “Udon”. As you know, Udon is thick white noodle and we eat it regardless of the seasons as both cold one and hot one. “Hiyamugi” seems like “Somen” and their differences are just “thickness”. We say “Somen” in case that the diameter is less than 1.3mm and “Hiyamugi if the diameter is between 1.3 and 1.7mm. Is the diameter is more than 1.7mm, it is categorized as Udon. Especially, it is hard for even Japanese to tell which is which in case of Somen and Hiyamugi ! When you visit some supermarket in Japan, please check both of them. Additionally, these white noodles other than Udon are usually preserved as dry food. However, it seems that “Raw Somen” exists in the producing areas although I have never came across such rare cases.
Why we eat Somen mainly in summer?
The reason why we eat Somen in summer came from the origin of a legend in China and the annual event called “Tanabata” which is held on July 7th which emerged in China and imported in Japan in Nara era, almost 1200 years ago. According to some information, a child from an aristocratic family in ancient China died on July 7th and the child became a demon after his death and spread serious illness in the town. People who worried about it offered snacks called “Sakubei” which is his favorite, then the illness disappeared and the calm life in the town came back again. Since then, people provide “Sakubei” as offerings on every July 7th at the event with a hope not for spreading the illness and it changed to Somen in Japan later.
What is the benefit of Somen?
In addition to the legend, Somen has some good points for us. First of all, it is very easy to cook for everyone, just put bunch of Somen into boiled water for a few minutes and scoop up them and put them in water and make them cooler. That’s it for all! Additionally, we tend to lose appetite in summer due to hot weather, but Somen has very smooth texture and goes down well, so that we can eat them as much. We can say Somen is the best cuisine in mid-summer. Besides, I brought a bunch of Somen to my British friend who live in Germany as Japanese souvenir last year when I visited to her house. She greatly admired the noodles because it makes her possible to cook very quickly while taking care of her infant.
Various Somen recipes and local Somen menu
Generally, we eat Somen in a very simple style, just noodles and a dipping source based on soy source and fish broth with some spices like chopped green onions, beefsteak plant and Japanese gingers. In my case, we often eat Somen with a series of vegetable and thin omelet which seems like a “Hiyashi-Chuka” style (It is a Chinese noodle plate with various vegetable, egg and ham and a typical summer food in Japan). In addition, we sometimes arrange its recipe and my recent favorite one is “Gazpacho Somen”. Gazpacho, as you know, is a famous Spanish cold soup with tomato based and we eat Somen by dipping into Gazpacho soup. It seems a bit strange for especially Westerners, but it is tastier than we expected and increase our appetite very much. If you are interested in the recipe, please try it!
Besides, there are various interesting Somen cuisine in local area of Japan and I am going to introduce you some of them.
Yakisaba (grilled mackerel) Somen
This Somen dish is eaten mainly in Nagahama city in Shiga prefecture where located in the next to Kyoto, in the west Japan. People eat Somen with grilled mackerel which is boiled well with soy source and sugar together. Moreover, the dish is not main but a side dish, so local people eat them with a bowl of white rice. I have never eaten it and it is really fascinating for me to have it.
Hiyajiru (fish and miso based cold soup) Somen
“Hiyajiru” is a famous local food in Miyazaki prefecture in Kyushu island of Japan. It is a cold soup based miso and fish broth with grinded fish and some vegetable like cucumber, sesame, beefsteak plant and Japanese gingers. We usually pour the soup on the rice and eat it like porridge style, but in case of Somen, we dip the noodles into the soup and sip it.
This is a typical dish in Okinawa, the southern west island in Japan and “Champuru” means “Mixed together” in Okinawan dialect. The dish is a stir fry with Somen, pork and vegetable such as carrot, onion, bitter gourd and it seems like a fried rice noodles in China and Taiwan. It is one of my favorite dishes by using Somen.
For your information, Somen can be amusement in summer for both kids and adults. Have you ever heard “Nagshi Somen”? We split bamboo in half and make a slider path by connecting these half bamboos, then let the noodles flow on the bamboos and we try to scoop them up by chopsticks for eating. It looks like a kind of game and really fun if you have it with family and friends. For people who would like to enjoy the atmosphere more easily, some toy companies are selling a machine of “Nagashi Somen” for home!!
Anyway, Somen has a high possibility to expand the way of arrange and enjoy to eat! Please experience to have them when you come to Japan in summer time!