Translated by Jasmine Nishino
A freelance nomad (lost) translator and nerd at heart.
Sōmen are thin noddles made of flour, commonly eaten in Asian countries. Learn more about sōmen and the game called "nagashi sōmen" that is enjoyed during the summer.
Sōmen are a type of thin noodles made with flour that is favored among east Asian countries including Japan. It is commonly sold as dried noodles in stores, so it can be eaten all year round.
However, in Japan sōmen noodles are typically eaten cold, that is why they are enjoyed as a summer noodle dish.
After being cooked, the noodles are washed in running water to remove the grime, then chilled in cold or ice water before eating. There are times when they are served with warm broth soup or miso soup, but most people eat sōmen with cold men-tsuyu (dipping sauce). Not only is the dish easy to make, but the thin noodles are very light, which makes it a perfect meal for the times when people lose their appetite during the hot summer days.
The appeal of sōmen noodles is also enhanced by the ice that is scattered around the noodles. By placing these ice cubes, the noodles are kept cold and not tangled. Due to this custom of putting ice in the noodles, sōmen has been classified as a dish that represents the summer season.
The classic men-tsuyu dipping sauce is made with a soy sauce base. But lately one can find other variations such as sesame base, salt base, and even a spicy Asian soup base sauce to enjoy the noodles with.
The popular summer game nagashi sōmen is frequently introduced as a summer specialty 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 sōmen noodles are sent sliding down. People stand on either side of the bamboo with chopsticks in hand, and as the sōmen noodles come sliding down you must reach out and try to catch them before they 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. Therefore, nagashi sōmen is considered to be a great outdoor camping activity.
Usually, a long and thin bamboo slide is commonly used for nagashi sōmen. However, in parts of Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures, they mainly let the sōmen spin in a flat wash tub and call it "sōmen nagashi". Unlike standard nagashi sōmen, the spinning type doesn't take up space. That is why the house hold versions of nagashi sōmen machines are commonly the spinning type. Wouldn't it be nice to spend a summer day casually at home while enjoying nagashi sōmen?
Throughout Japan, there are many types of sōmen with various degrees of firmness and thicknesses. For instance, the Handa sōmen, a specialty from Tokushima prefecture is slightly thicker than the average sōmen. You also can't forget the firm texture of Shimabara sōmen from Nagasaki prefecture. Another is the somin champuru, a local favorite from the Okinawa prefecture, where the noodles are cooked firm to the bite, then fried. As you can see, you can try a variety of sōmen in various regions of Japan.
There are facilities and shops where you can try nagashi sōmen as well. At Chichibu Furusato Mura in Saitama prefecture, you can enjoy nagashi sōmen while being surrounded by nature. You will also be able to experience nagashi sōmen as a "natural experience", "farm experience" or a "home-town experience". This activity operates with a minimum of ten people, so why not bring your friends and family along to try this great experience?
Funayado, a kaiseki (highly refined Japanese cuisine) restaurant in Chōfu, Tōkyō, is also famous for their nagashi sōmen. Within a retro-looking, country-style restaurant, you will be able to savor the nagashi sōmen. This seasonal event begins in mid-June and reservations must be made prior to going. It is recommended that you call to confirm availability. Wouldn't it be nice to try nagashi sōmen during your next tour around Tōkyō?