Translated by Jasmine Nishino
Somen Noodles - Japanese Encyclopedia
Written by ニコ
Somen are thin noodles made of flour, used in various dishes in Asian countries. Learn more about Japanese somen dish, a summer staple, and about the game called "nagashi somen" that is also enjoyed during the summer.
Somen are a type of thin noodles made of flour that are widely popular in East-Asian countries including Japan. Somen are commonly sold as dried noodles at supermarkets and specialty stores and can be enjoyed year-round.
In Japan, somen noodles are typically eaten cold with a variety of toppings. That is why they are considered a summer dish.
Somen - A Must-Try in the Summer
After being boiled, the noodles are washed in running water to remove the grime, then chilled in cold water with ice cubes.
Sometimes they are served with a warm broth or miso soup, but most people eat the somen with a topping and a cold sauce called mentsuyu. Not only is the dish easy to make, but the thin noodles are also very light. This makes it a perfect meal for when people tend to lose their appetite during hot summer days.
The appeal of somen noodles is also enhanced by the ice scattered around the noodles. By placing these ice cubes, the noodles are kept cold and disentangled. Due to this custom of putting ice on the noodles, somen is considered a dish that represents the summer season.
The classic mentsuyu sauce is made with a soy sauce base. Lately, one can find other variations such as mentsuyu with a sesame base, salt base, and even a spicy Asian soup base sauce to enjoy the noodles with.
A Fun Summer Event! Nagashi Somen
The popular summer game nagashi somen is a special summer custom in Japan. A bamboo stalk that is cut in half is propped up at an angle with a stream of cold water running down it; in this water slide-like apparatus, freshly cooked somen noodles are sent sliding down.
The participants stand on either side of the bamboo with chopsticks in hand, and as the somen noodles come sliding down they must reach out and try to catch them before the noodles reach the bottom.
Catching the noodles with your chopsticks can be a challenge, so you will frequently hear people shouting "Got it!" or "Missed it!" while playing and eating the somen. Nagashi somen is a really fun game to do as an outdoor camping activity.
Usually, a long and thin bamboo slide is commonly used for nagashi somen. However, in parts of Kagoshima and Miyazaki, they often let the somen spin in a flat washtub. Unlike standard nagashi somen, the spinning type doesn't take up space.
That is why the household versions of nagashi somen machines are usually of the spinning type. Wouldn't it be nice to spend a summer day casually at home while enjoying nagashi somen?
Where to Eat Somen
There are various types of somen throughout Japan, with various degrees of firmness and thicknesses. For instance, the Handa somen, a specialty from Tokushima, is slightly thicker than the average somen.
You also can't forget the firm texture of Shimabara somen from Nagasaki. Another is the somin champuru, a local favorite from Okinawa, where the noodles are cooked al dente, then fried. As you can see, you can try different kinds of somen in the various regions of Japan.
There are facilities and shops where you can try nagashi somen as well. At Chichibu Furusato Mura in Saitama, you can enjoy nagashi somen in the heart of nature.
Many facilities offer nagashi somen as a "natural experience", "farm experience" or a "home-town experience". This activity is possible only with a minimum of ten people, so why not bring your friends and family along to try it?
Funayado, a kaiseki (highly refined Japanese cuisine) restaurant in Chofu, Tokyo, is also famous for their nagashi somen. Within a retro-looking, country-style restaurant, you will be able to savor the nagashi somen at leisure.
This seasonal event begins in mid-June and reservations must be made prior to going. It is recommended to call in advance to confirm availability. Wouldn't it be nice to try nagashi somen during your next tour around Tokyo?