Eating your way through summer...

Good morning everyone,

So, rainy season started last week...and it rained for...one day. Did someone forget to tell the rain that rainy season started? The forecast for this whole week is warm and sunny with cloudy periods. Daytime highs will be in the mid to high 20s and overnight lows in the mid to high teens-I can definitely put up with this kind of rainy season. Although, I'm sure that for every day of nicer weather than usual in June, we'll get a wetter than usual day in July.

The trademarks of the Japanese summer are the endless concerts of crickets and the unbearable heat and humidity aggravated by frequent heavy rain and typhoons. The Japanese have a special term (mushi-atsui) to describe the steaming hot summer weather, another one (natsubate) for summer fatigue, as well as some fifty words for different types of rain. Summer dishes are therefore meant to cool you down and give you stamina to survive this hottest time of the year.

While other Asian countries deal with high temperatures (and bacteria) by adding spices, the Japanese seek relief in cold dishes. Thus, not only tea and coffee but also any of your favourite noodles — be it ramen, udon, soba or somen — will be served chilled or even with ice cubes. Unusual or even bizarre as that may sound, it’s actually an excellent idea on a hot, sweaty day. Serving the noodles cold also better reveals their texture and unique taste, making them a real treat.

The most popular summer noodles are thin somen, which can be boiled instantly and equally quickly chilled in ice cold water. The favoured way of eating them is as nagashi somen, literally meaning “flowing somen.” You cut the bamboo, let the somen noodles flow with water and catch them with your chopsticks. It’s great fun! Some countryside restaurants offer a more adventurous version in which the noodles are flown down a mountain stream from which the guests fish them directly with chopsticks, to the great joy of children.

For a chilling dessert, nothing beats a local non-dairy version of ice-cream — that is, kakigōri (crushed ice). This treat resembles a mountain of snow topped with fruit syrup or — in a more traditional version — with sweet azuki beans, matcha syrup and small mochi. It’s a must at any summer festival, along with some heavier take-away specialties such as takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes with cabbage) and yakisoba (fried ramen-style noodles with pork and vegetables).

Summer is also the ideal time to enjoy fresh summer fruits (melons, watermelons, peaches) and vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers). One popular summer game played at beaches and picnics is suika wari (watermelon splitting). Like with the Mexican piñata, the players are blindfolded and try to break a watermelon with a wooden stick. The person who cracks the watermelon open wins and afterwards all participants enjoy eating it.

Another, somewhat surprising, summer specialty is fatty eel. It’s eaten particularly on doyo-no-ushi-no-hi, which is considered the hottest time of the year. Doyo means 18 days before changing of the seasons, and ushi stands for an ox — one of the summer zodiac symbols. The presence of this rather heavy fish on summer menus is linked to a somewhat complicated story tracing back to the Edo period. Legend has it that Hiraga Gennai, a famous 18-century inventor, advised the restaurateurs to market unagi (eel) as an ideal fish to be eaten on a day starting with a letter “u” – ushi-no-hi – in order to help survive the challenging Japanese summer in good health. This was most likely one of the first marketing campaigns in Japan. However, it also has some reason to it, as eating eel indeed does give you stamina to deal with summer fatigue.

As for me...I'm a bit more modern. I get through summer on ice cream and beer. Hmmm...that might explain why I've gained 2kgs in the last month or so...ha ha!

How about you? How do you usually get through the heat of the summer?

Have a great day!


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