Somen - Japanese Cold Noodles are a Summer Staple

Somen are a such a summer treat we used to beg Mom to make them. They're so cool and comforting on a hot summer day. A little umami in the light broth and a touch of grated fresh ginger give them zing. The only drawback was patience. We had none and they require a little. You see, somen are eaten cold. Here's what the ultra-thin wheat noodles look like. There's something about the delicate noodles, their very thin diameter even required a special colander, lest they slide through the holes of a regular colander. Thinking about it now, I believe it was all the various things that were unique about these that made us as kids feel we were getting a special treat.

Even the boiling of them is special. You un-bind the noodles (each handful have a little ribbon holding them together) and drop them into boiling water. They will quickly slip into the water, as it begins to boil up again, you pour in a cup of tap water. This cools the boiling water down. By the time it comes back up to a boil the noodles are done.

 

Drain them in a very fine colander. Toss in some ice cubes, if you like to cool the noodles faster.

Mom would insist on refrigerating the noodles, as if to use ice was to cheat.

Now here's a great trick for peeling fresh ginger. The outer skin should be taught and blemish-free. In fact, it's so thin that using a regular vegetable peeler or even a paring knife, you take away too much of the juicy ginger flesh just under the papery skin.

Guess what the perfect tool for the job is?

Using the convex side of a teaspoon, simply scrape the ginger.

This is what the peeled skin looks like as it comes away from the flesh of the ginger.

How cool is that? You know who I learned this trick from? A kid in Southie. Not kidding, not my Mom, not my Grandma. A kid in an after-school cooking program I once volunteered for, showed me!

See the ginger is intact but for the thin skin. That grater is designed just for ginger, the brush is one thin piece of bamboo, sliced into a thin fringe that is perfect for getting the grated ginger off the teeth of the grater.

On the left you can see a pile of freshly grated ginger, on the right you can see the fibers of the ginger and the marks of the grater's teeth.

 

Now making your own homemade tsuyu is better, it's not even that hard to do. But once in while, you just want to eat (plus there's that ginger to grate and noodles to chill) Really, I just wanted to give you permission. I'll do a post on making dashi another time. But I just want you all to try the noodles. The sauce is sometimes concentrated so be sure you know which yours is. You want a small, deep bowl, you'll be grabbing a bunch of noodles, a little ginger, some shards of seasoned nori and dipping them lightly into the broth and slurping away.

Cold noodles, dipping sauce on the left, slivers of seasoned nori, and ginger. You can add shredded poached chicken, tofu or slivers of green onion.