Translated by Allie
Japanese Encyclopedia: Hiyashi Chūka (Japanese Cold Noodles)
Written by ニコ
A summer staple on par with shaved ice in its popularity is Hiyashi chūka, a cold noodle and sauce dish. What exactly is in this colorful cuisine and where did it come from?
What is Hiyashi Chūka?
Hiyashi chūka is a noodle dish which you eat cold by first cooling the chūka-men noodles(*1) off with cold water after cooking them, then putting colorful ingredients on these noodles and finishing the dish off by pouring cold sauce over it.
There are various views about the origins of this dish but it seems that Hiyashi chūka was invented in Chinese restaurants in Japan in the 1930's. When the Second World War ended, Japan suffered from severe food shortages, but after this period Hiyashi chūka was passed to various areas of Japan. Actually, it is called different ways: Hiyashi chūka in the Kantō region and reimen in the Kansai region and other parts of western Japan.
*1 Chūka-men: noodles made from wheat flour that originated in China; used for making rāmen and yakisoba (fried noodles) in Japan.
Ingredients and Sauce for Hiyashi Chūka
One of the most appealing parts of Hiyashi chūka are its characteristic julienned ingredients. The basic ingredients used in this dish are cucumbers, ham, kinshi tamago (thin sliced omelettes) although each restaurant and each family have their own recipe for it. For example, boiled bean sprouts, tomatoes, wakame seaweed, kaiware-daikon (daikon radish sprouts), beni shōga (ginger pickled in plum vinegar), shrimps, chashū (rolled roast pork), and chicken breast could be placed over the noodles. In addition you can make a wide variety of original styles using lettuces, avocados, ground meat and even shredded crab.
As for its sauce, there are two basic types available. The most common one is a sour sauce made with soy sauce and vinegar. Another one is sesame sauce made with ground sesame seeds. When you make sauce at home, you can also try Hiyashi chūka with ponzu (a citrus-based sauce) or mentsuyu (noodle soup base).
The most characteristic region of Japan which offers unique Hiyashi chūka is the Tōkai region, which serve it with mayonnaise.
Hiyashi Chūka Brings a Feeling of Summer
Hiyashi chūka is a dish you can only find during the summer in most restaurants. Once June, which is when the rainy season ends and the humid weather really starts in Japan, Chinese restaurants will stick a sign in their windows saying "Hiyashi chūka is available now" on it.
And once Japanese people see this sign, they start thinking that "summer is coming". As you can tell, Hiyashi chūka is one of the necessary things in summer for the Japanese. With its cold noodles and summer vegetables, this is the perfect example of a savory Japanese summer food.
Where Can You Find It?
Since it is a season-specific dish, if you visit Japan in the summer you really should try Hiyashi chūka.
You can mainly find it at Chinese restaurants and rāmen shops which use chūka-men noodles in their dishes, or you can buy ready-made versions at most supermarkets and convenience stores. Reasonable Hiyashi chūka packages which come with noodles and sauce are offered at the supermarkets in order to let you make it at home easily. These days, there are also instant Hiyashi chūka products found in supermarkets. Hiyashi chūka with instant dried noodles is still pretty new to Japanese people though, but it is interesting that the style of Hiyashi chūka continues to change.
We would love you to try this Japanese summer noodle dish.