We might still need these this summer...

Good morning everyone,

I'm not sure about the weather up there...it's gonna be cloudy, windy and rainy depending on the path that the typhoon takes. Make sure you keep an eye on it. After that, it won't cool down much. Highs all week are expected to remain in the low 30s.

Ramen, that beloved Japanese noodle dish, has skyrocketed in popularity around the world. Bowls of it are generally served in a very hot soup. Now, this is perfectly fine in the chill of winter but what about in the unbearably hot Japanese summers, a time when most are preoccupied with not sweating in the sweltering and humid heat?

If you still crave a noodle fix in the dog days of summer — look no further. Here are four cold, delicious ramen dishes for you to slurp during this season’s sultry afternoons or nights.

1. Hiyashi chuuka

Caption: Hiyashi chuuka with a twist: soy milk, at Tsukumo..

Hiyashi chuuka literally means “chilled Chinese cuisine.” It’s thought that two shops — Yosukou-saikan in Jimbocho, Tokyo and Ryutei in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture — first served this lovely noodle dish around the 1930s.

There really isn’t a more famous summer ramen staple in Japan. When Japanese people think “cold ramen noodles” they immediately think of hiyashi chuukaWith less soup than ramen, hiyashi chuuka is a lighter, sweeter tasting meal and a better match for the summer months. Hiyashi chuuka can be found at countless Chinese restaurants that serve noodles across Japan.

The cold broth of this dish is usually comprised of sesame oil, soy sauce and varying levels of sugar, vinegar or even raiyu (spicy oil). Toppings include sliced cucumbers, bean sprouts, ham, egg omelette and benishouga (red ginger). But some shops may make certain adjustments, going away from the standard broth and toppings.

There are subtle regional differences, too. While it’s called hiyashi chuuka by Tokyoites, those in Osaka call it reimen, literally “cold noodles.” In the Tokai region (Aichi, Gifu, Mie & Shizuoka prefectures), mayonnaise is used as a condiment instead of the more commonly used spicy mustard. And in Hiroshima’s Kure City they use flat, instead of round, noodles.

When Japanese people think ‘cold ramen noodles’ they immediately think of hiyashi chuuka.

2. Yamagata-style “ice cube ramen”

Yamagata-style ramen in Ginza at Pour Cafe.

Yamagata Prefecture has more ramen shops per capita than anywhere else in the country and  Yamagata locals are well known to be ramen fanatics. It’s understandable — there’s a relatively strong correlation between colder areas and the number of ramen shops. In fact, according to Todo Ran (a Stats Japan website in Japanese) Yamagata ranks No. 1 in its list of top 10 ramen shops by area (followed by Tochigi, Niigata, Akita, Fukushima, Aomori, Kagoshima, Toyama, Hokkaido and Nagano) higher ramen consumption. Yamagata Prefecture has sub-zero temperatures in the winter and receives its share of snow, so it’s no surprise they slurp bowls of it there.

What is surprising is that one of Yamagata’s five ramen styles is a chilled, fish-based soy sauce ramen. Areas of Yamagata actually comprise some of the hottest in the country in the summer, and temperatures there can frequently rise over 30 C in the July and August.

So in 1952, the owner at ramen shop Sakaeya in Yamagata City came up with the idea of creating a summer dish. After much experimentation, he perfected the now famous Yamagata chilled ramen. At many shops today, Yamagata ramen has become synonymous with broth in ice cube form. This one-of-a-kind noodle dish is perhaps the perfect way to beat the summer heat while getting your slurp on.

3. Hiyashi tantanmen

A crunchier hiyashi tantanmen at Nakajima in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Tantanmen, or Szechuan noodles, seem to be extremely popular this year. Just like with ramen, this savory dish of Chinese origin is normally served with hot soup. It comes in two variations: either spicy with copious amounts of chili oil or creamy with the use of sesame paste. Some shops might aim for something in between spicy and creamy.

Just like the chilled hiyashi chuuka, hiyashi tantanmen is quite literally a cold version of the regular hot temperature tantanmen. Also, as with hiyashi chuuka, there’s less soup than the hot version.

Hiyashi tantanmen has grown in popularity in recent years. It’s not as sweet as hiyashi chuuka,  so it helps guarantee a savory, cool boost before you’re back under the summer sun. Hiyashi tantanmen is quite literally a cold version of the regular hot temperature tantanmen.

4. Reimen

Bibinmen at Chongiwa in Akasaka, Tokyo.

In Hiroshima, we’re blessed with some amazing Korean food — after all, Koreans form the second largest foreign community living in Japan (after the Chinese). So it’s par for the course that the diaspora from these noodle-loving regions have added wonderful items to the national ramen menu.

Thus, as we have the Chinese to thank for hiyashi chuuka and tantanmen, we have the Koreans to thank for reimen. I really feel like reimen (naengmyeon in Korean) was created for the sole purpose of being consumed in the summer. Ultra thin, starchy noodles swim in a cold broth made from chicken, beef and Korean radish. There’s usually not much broth that accompanies the noodles and sometimes vinegar (to add to broth) is served alongside.

The noodles are unusually long, to the point that scissors are used to divide them.

The spicy version of reimen’s is known as bibinmen, and is my personal favorite. It’s lava red in color and pleasantly contradictory — you’ll feel cool from the cold noodles but will sweat from the spice. Toppings for reimen and bibinmen can include vegetable variations like kimchi.

There’s even a Japan-born reimen: a Korean gentleman by the name of Young Chul Yang in created Morioka reimen in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture. Its noodles are thicker and chewier and fruits like apples, pears or watermelon are used as toppings! If you have a chance, I really recommend the reimen in Morioka. It's fantastic!

Don’t let Japan’s summer heat discourage you from slurping your ramen fix! Go out and try a serving of these cold noodle dishes this summer — you won’t be disappointed.  Now you can enjoy delicious noodles all while staying cool in what may be one of the hottest months on record!

Have a great day!

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