There are many summer dishes that have been well-loved in Japan since the olden days, from fresh foods to revitalizing beverages. Here are some dishes unique to the humid summer time in Japan!
1. Somen Noodles/Hiyamugi
Somen noodles and hiyamugi are eaten along with a broth-based soy sauce tsuyu. Somen and hiyamugi are both made with wheat flour that has been stretched until thin. However, somen noodles are thinner and are defined by their thinness. These noodles do not take much time to cook (they are boiled and then rinsed with cold water) and are easy to prepare. They are easy to swallow and are therefore an easy option when it is too hot for you to have an appetite. You can directly taste the flavor of the wheat with condiments like green onion, myoga ginger, and spices such as wasabi. In the summer, one common activity is to let the somen noodles flow in a half-cut bamboo stick along with cold water, and then pick the noodles out and eat them. This is called "nagashi somen" (flowing noodles).
You know you are suffering from summer heat fatigue when your physical health starts to deteriorate due to the temperature. However, you can combat this by eating eel, which is rich in vitamins A and B1. Eel, which has been fragrantly grilled on a charcoal fire with sweet and spicy sauce, will definitely satisfy your appetite. There are people who say that over 300 years ago, Japan had established an eel-eating day in July, and this practice has continued up to this day. There are shops where people line up starting noon, as they are taken in by the delicious smell of the eel being cooked upon the coal. High-quality eel is not easily accessible at convenience stores or supermarkets, but eel at affordable prices is lined up in such stores during this specific time.
3. Hiyashi Chuka
Chinese noodles are boiled, chilled, and later on topped with ingredients such as ham, egg, cucumber and char siu. This is a summer noodle dish eaten with cold sauce. A lot of vegetables and meat are used to combat the summer heat, while vinegar, soy sauce, or sesame oil mixed together to increase the appetite. Another option would be sesame sauce. They serve this dish very often at Chinese-style restaurants in the summer. You may also buy these noodles nowadays at convenience stores.
These noodles are a summer dish, along with somen and hiyamugi. Udon noodles, which are thicker than hiyamugi, are made using wheat flour, while soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour. After boiling, the noodles are washed with cold water. They are then placed in a bamboo draining basket called a "zaru" to remove the excess liquid, which is why they are called "zaru-udon" or "zaru-soba.". You may enjoy either one of these noodle dishes with a broth-based soy sauce flavored sauce. You can make this dish even more nutritious by adding in some tempura, which is made of flour-battered vegetables or shrimp and then fried!
5. Mizu Yokan
This is a Japanese confectionery made of azuki beans that have been hardened using agar-agar. This is a perfect treat for summer, especially when chilled, as there is a lot of moisture within it and is easy to swallow. This would also be perfect to give to someone as a gift for the summer season. There are also shops, especially in Kyoto, that sell Mizu Yokan within a bamboo pipe as a summertime limited product. The appearance of the confectionery itself also provides a cool feeling and is hence popular. You may easily find mizu yokan at convenience stores or supermarkets where they are placed in cups like jelly or in cans.
Tokoroten is made from agar weed and Chinese moss, which are types of seaweed. These seaweed are simmered to create a juice, which is then hardened. This is placed in a container called "tentsuki." The end product becomes something like the consistency of noodles and is eaten along with a sauce. Each region has its own special sauce. In the Kanto region, people usually eat this as a light meal and therefore use vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, and nori seaweed. In the Kansai region, people tend to use sweet sauces as it is considered as a treat. Although tokoroten is rich in dietary fiber and is good for intestinal function, it does not contain much nutrition and does not have any calories, which makes it the to-go food for dieters. Try this during the warmer seasons, because of its nice, chilly feel in your mouth, which makes it easier to eat even if you have no appetite.
7. Kakigori ("Shaved Ice")
Shaved ice topped with syrup is popular even in Japan. Kakigori has made its way into popularity during the past few years in Japan. There are popular shops that serve this treat with long lines of people waiting to order. Each shop has its own preference to placing their own homemade syrup on top of the ice or even rice-flour dumplings with soybean flour or even tiramisu, which makes their kakigori more like a sweet. Try the shaved ice made with natural ice. This type of ice is made from nature during the winter season and has a high level of transparency. It also melts very easily, so you will not experience brain freeze.
These dishes have been well-loved in Japan during the summer even before the invention of air-conditioning. People still continue to eat these treats to overcome the summer heat. Please give them a try!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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