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.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- To make the sauce, put the toasted sesame seeds into a blender and blend until it looks like wet sand. Add the water, soy sauce, tahini, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, salt and chili sesame oil (optional). Blend until combined.
- Slice the cucumbers into thin slices diagonally and then lay the slices flat, cutting them into matchsticks. Core the tomato and slice it into wedges. Shred each crab stick into 3 strips.
- Whisk the egg, 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and 1/16 teaspoon of salt together until the white and yolk are evenly combined.
- Spread a light coating of oil onto a 10" non-stick pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add half the egg and swirl around to evenly coat the pan.
- When the edges of the egg have started to dry out, flip the crepe over and cook for a few seconds before turning it out onto a cutting board. Repeat with the rest of the egg.
- Stack the two sheets of egg on top of each other and then roll them up. Use a sharp knife to slice the roll into thin ribbons.
- Boil the ramen for 1 minute less than the directions say. Drain and then add the noodles to a bowl of cold water, using your fingers to break up the clumps and ensure the noodles are fully chilled. Drain the noodles well and then plate.
- Pour some of the sauce on the noodles and then top with the cucumbers, crab, egg, and tomatoes. Serve with extra sauce and chili sesame oil on the side.