It may be September, but we all know the real summer is just getting started here in California.
When you think of a Japanese summer meal, somen, or something similar may be the first thing to pop up in your mind. The no fuss cold slurpy noodles are a classic summer staple in any Japanese household. But somen isn't the only summer dish you could enjoy to beat the heat! Next time you think of grabbing a bundle of somen to make, consider these dishes instead.
Let's start off with something similar to somen. Hiyashi chuka is a cold ramen dish, topped with ingredients such as meat, vegetables (such as tomatoes, cucumber, bean sprouts), egg, (or really, anything of your liking). Cold sauce, such as a sesame or shoyu based sauce, is poured over at the very end and enjoyed. You get the similar slurpy goodness of somen, but more nutrients, and the heartiness of ramen, but you don't get overheated eating it.
Speaking of overheating...eating hot and spicy dishes may feel counterproductive. But in Japan, those dishes are sometimes preferred over cold dishes that can chill your body.
Curry is a popular dish year round, but people like to crank up the heat during the summer. Most Japanese curries usually have three levels of spiciness; amakuchi (mild), chukara (medium), and karakuchi (spicy). But many curry restaurants have levels of heat that patrons can add onto, with many including a prize if they can complete the hottest level. Patrons like to huff and puff, sweating it out while eating spicy curry. I guess kind of like a hot yoga kind of relief?
Another popular spicy dish that's popular is spicy ramen. Spicy ramen in Japan can be anything from tantanmen, a Sichuan derived ramen dish with minced meat, or something similar to a fan favorite cup ramen, shin ramyun with the signature red soup.
Although not spicy, there are some other dishes that are great for the summer.
I'm not sure what Ross was going on about, but unagi is freshwater eel, often served with a savory, sweet teriyaki sauce and served over rice. Unagi is said to increase stamina, and there's a day called doyo no ushi no hi, translated to midsummer ox day. Its date varies year by year, but is often towards the end of July, and is supposedly around the hottest time of the year. There's a whole story as to why unagi is eaten as a summer food, but scientifically, unagi is packed with nutrients that help with natsubate, or summer fatigue.
Have you ever walked through a natsumatsuri (summer festival) and caught the wafting smell of yakisoba? Yakisoba is a common festival food, cooked on a large grill. While not as nutritious as unagi maybe, yakisoba is a favorite from all ages and often reminds Japanese people of a good summer memory.
Remember when I said there's a story about why unagi is eaten on doyo no ushi no hi? One of the reasons is that from around the Edo period, people would like to eat things that start with う (u, with a short u sound) during the summer. So umeboshi, or pickled plum, became popular in the same way.
If you've ever had umeboshi, did this sentence just involuntarily make your mouth pucker up? Eating umeboshi releases both fluid in the mouth and stomach, activating your stomach and making you hungry when you may not have much of an appetite in the heat. While it may not be a whole meal, umeboshi can easily be added as a topping to your somen, or just with good ole plain rice, or as many people know it; a favorite onigiri stuffing.
Unlike here in the states, produce in Japan actually tastes good. Shocking, I know. And seasons are also pretty prominent so seasonal vegetables are very popular. Natsu yasai, or summer vegetables, are just as they sound. Cucumbers and tomatoes are probably the most popular. Juicy and filled with water, they often sell cucumbers on sticks on the streets and tomatoes are an easy side dish during meal times. Eggplants and corn are also popular and a staple during a summer riverside bbq. Another dish, probably not as well known here is the goya, or bitter melon. It's eaten mainly in Okinawa, and used for dishes such as goya chanpurū, an Okinawan stir fried dish with goya, egg, tofu, and other vegetables.
Did you find a new summer dish you can try? It's important to eat nutrients, even if you don't feel like eating but ice cream on those hot days.
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