Somen (そうめん)



When I think of the summer in Japan, I immediately think of the thick hot air, the song of loud cicadas, and the narration of the high school national baseball championship with some music played by brass bands to cheer each team up. We are all hot and sticky. All we want to eat is something cold and refreshing. That’s when my mom makes Somen for lunch or dinner. 

What is Somen? 

Somen is a Japanese noodle that is made of wheat flour. It is white, very thin, and sold in a dried form like spaghetti. Because of how light it is, the cooking time is only about a minute and a half to two minutes. 

How to eat Somen? 

You can enjoy Somen hot or cold. The most popular way of eating Somen in the summer is to dip it in a cold sauce called Mentsuyu (めんつゆ). Mentsuyu is a mixture of dashi, soy sauce, and mirin. You can make your own at home or purchase a bottle of pre-made Mentsuyu from a store. Many people enjoy mixing Yakumi, Japanese condiments, in Mentsuyu to add some flavors. The most common Yakumi is green onions, ginger, and Myoga (Japanese ginger).  

How to cook Somen? 

Somen can be boiled just like pasta. Make sure to use a big pot with a lot of water. It will help prevent the Somen from being sticky after cooking. Once you place the Somen in a pot, the water will bubble and rise, so be careful not to let it overflow. If you are using a gas top, adjust the heat to low. If it is an electric stove, it is hard to control the heat, so you can add a bit of cold water to reduce the water temperature. 
When Somen is done cooking, you can drain water using a colander. Then place it under the cold running water to rinse. Make sure to use your hand to separate noodles, so every single noodle gets rinsed. Once it is not hot, put the colander into a bowl of ice water to give the Somen a freezing bath. 

Somen for entertaining 

There is a style called Nagashi Somen. It is a unique and fun way of eating Somen. Traditionally, a person who invented this style used an elevated bamboo tube to run cold water, then let Somen flow in the water for others to catch the noodles to eat. Since Somen is very thin and slippery, it can be hard to capture with chopsticks. If you happen to be in Japan, some restaurants offer Nagashi Somen to experience this fun activity. 
I hope you will enjoy this cold refreshing food during the hot summer!