From foods to make your body happy when you’re suffering from summer heat to dishes that use ingredients packed with nourishment to help you recover from fatigue, here are 5 dishes that you must eat in Japan’s summer.
One of the things that Japanese people eat a lot of when summer comes around is soumen. The dried noodles made with flour, salt, water and oil are known for their tiny size which is less than 1.3mm. The noodles with your preferred condiments, like green onion or sesame seeds, are dipped in a broth and eaten. The standard broth is soy sauce based with a somewhat sweet taste. One of the reasons for its popularity is that it can be eaten quite quickly. For most Japanese people, it’s something that’s not too heavy on the stomach and can be eaten when you are suffering from summer heat and don’t have much of an appetite. In Japan there are many soumen speciality shops as well as soba shops where you can eat it from their limited summer menu. There are also many convenience stores that sell it. Also one food that brings memories of summer is nagashi soumen, where you pick soumen that flows down a stream of water on a bamboo pipe. It’s fun to use chopsticks to catch the soumen that flows down. You can experience it for yourself at some shops as well as at campgrounds and barbecue areas so it’s perfect to make memories of summer in Japan.
2. Hiyashi Chuuka
Hiyashi chuuka is cold Chinese noodles topped with things like vegetables, eggs, and meat. It is dipped in a soup made from a mix of soy sauce and vinegar or a sesame soup and eaten. The name differs a little in every area of Japan but it’s a staple summer food and once summer gets closer, little stickers advertising hiyashi chuuka increase on the fronts of shops and restaurants. Although the noodles are the main part, it’s a dish with a good balance of the vegetable and meat as well. The usual ingredients are cucumbers, tomatoes, ham and shredded egg but they can vary based on the restaurant. In place of the ham, pork fillet or seafood can be used as toppings or minced meat with miso paste can also be used and arranged in a Dandan noodle style. There are an infinite number of ways to savor hiyashi chuuka. You can buy it at Chinese food restaurants, family restaurants, convenience stores etc. so go ahead and find your favorite kind of hiyashi chuuka.
Since olden times in Japan there has been the custom of eating unagi (eel), a highly nutritious food, in order to tide over hot weather seasons. Although other countries have customs of eating eel, in Japan the standard is unagi broiled in a soy-based sauce and placed in a multi-tiered box on top of rice for a dish known as “unaju”. This unaju (sometimes called unadon if it is placed in a bowl) is the main kind of unagi cuisine offered in speciality shops across the country. The broiled unagi that is placed on top of rice is grilled in a sauce made of ingredients like soy sauce, mirin, sugar and alcohol to create a flavor called teriyaki. Although there are many teriyaki flavored foods, the sauce on broiled unagi is incredibly rich. The thick sauce soaks into the plump, grilled unagi and when the rice with the sauce and unagi enter your mouth, the sweet flavor is the best! For those of you who haven’t tried Japan’s unagi, please give it a try.
Hamo (conger eel) is similar to unagi in that they are both a kind of large carnivorous fish and it is known as a priceless ingredient in Kyoto cuisine. It is usually quite pricey so it’s not something that is ordinarily eaten in households but in Kyoto you can buy it at the supermarket and like unagi, it is one of the flavors of summer. It has many small bones so if you’re going to eat it, it is necessary to have a process called “honegiri" (bone cutting) done. The hamo with the bones cut out is then passed under boiling water so it opens up like a flower. This boiled hamo is eaten with dried plum or mustard vinegared miso and put in Japanese-style soup. The texture is thick when you chew into it and the concentrated flavor of the white meat is so delicious you will be entranced. The flavor even in tempura or karaage is quite condensed and the experience of the fragrant hamo filling your mouth is something you will want to have at least once. It’s a seasonal food so there are many Japanese-style restaurants and Kyoto cuisine places that offer it from June to July.
5. Hiyashi Udon
You could say without any exaggeration that udon is one of Japan’s national foods. There are many different ways to eat it based on the region and restaurant but for summer, the standard is definitely hiyashi (chilled) udon. If you eat this udon that is dampened in cold water, you will be fully satisfied with how it goes smoothly down your throat and the way that you can taste the good flavor of the flour. That being said, although it’s nice to eat udon by itself, you would like to enjoy eating the summery toppings. The cold udon in broth is recommended. The ingredients vary based on the restaurant but the standard arrangement of toppings are green onions, small pieces of dried bonito, grated daikon, bits of deep-fried dough and eggs. When you eat it, it is surrounded by broth and you mix all the ingredients into the broth and enjoy them with the udon. You can eat it and feel refreshed while enjoying the various food textures in this modest Japanese summertime feast. Try it for yourself.
The summer foods that you can only find in Japan are great for curing your tired body and invigorating you. Be sure to relish in the flavors of the season.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.