There was still snow on the ground a month ago here in Sapporo and yet this week the temperature soared into the 90’s. In Japan, where ingredients, colors, and even the temperature of a dish change with the seasons, the hot sticky months of summer bring with them a whole host of seasonal dishes. Chilled dishes replace steamy hotpots and whether it’s tofu, soup, or noodles, there’s a good chance you’ll find a cold preparation to help ease the oppressive heat.
While ramen shops still sell their unctuous bowls of steaming noodles in summer, they nearly always have a chilled ramen called Hiyashi Chūka Soba (冷やし中華そば) on the menu during the summer months. The name, which means “chilled Chinese soba”, can be a little confusing because we all associate “soba” with buckwheat noodles, but until fairly recently, ramen was referred to as chūka soba (Chinese soba) in Japan. These days most people have shortened the name of the chilled ramen salad and refer to it as simply Hiyashi Chūka.
A bed of chilled noodles topped with a vibrant patchwork of color, Hiyashi Chūka is the kind of dish that gets your appetite going when all you can think about is jumping into an ice-cold pool. The curly toothsome noodles are dressed with a nutty sesame sauce that’s subtly creamy with a mild sweetness and acidity, which strikes a magical balance between rich and refreshing. The best part is that it’s easy to make, and involves only a few minutes of cooking time, good news if your kitchen isn’t air-conditioned.
For the toppings, imitation crab, thinly sliced egg, julienned cucumbers and sliced tomatoes are the most common toppings, but you can get creative here. For the protein, ham, shredded chicken, shrimp, or fried tofu are all great options and the vegetables can be almost anything that looks good and adds texture to the dish. Because the sauce is vegan, you can make the dish vegan by simply switching out the proteins for other veggies.
Equipment you'll need:
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