Sōmen is a Japanese wheat noodle that’s pulled into ultra-thin strands about 1mm thick. Because they’re so thin they cook in less than 2 minutes, which makes them perfect during the hot summer months when every minute behind the stove is a minute too long. Because Sōmen is so thin, they’re not so good for noodle soups, but are perfect for serving chilled with a dipping sauce.
In restaurants that dot the Japanese mountainscape, Sōmen is sometimes served down bamboo flumes that carry nests of the noodles from the kitchen to the diners along a flow of ice-cold spring water. While this isn’t very practical at home, I like to serve my Sōmen in a glass bowl filled with ice-water. This makes for a stunning presentation while keeping the sōmen chilled.
For the sauce, you could really serve this with just about any chilled sauce you like, but it’s traditionally served with Mentsuyu, a concentrated broth made with dashi and soy sauce. The ratio of water to Mentsuyu I give in the recipe below is for my mentsuyu recipe, so if you use a bottled one, be sure to check the label for the correct dilution ratio.
As good as Sōmen dipped in ice-cold Mentsuyu is, my favorite part of this dish is the yakumi (薬味, lit. condiments) you add to the sauce, or eat with the noodles. Common additions include chopped scallions, wasabi, grated ginger, and ribbons of green shiso, but you can really have fun here and include things like vinegar, sesame seeds, umeboshi, sansho leaves, and myoga. Pretty much anything small, fragrant and flavorful will work. The bottom line is to have fun with the yakumi, remixing the sauce with new tastes, textures and flavors every couple of bites to keep things interesting.
If you’re feeling particularly hungry, you can serve the chilled Sōmen more like a salad by draining it and topping it with ham, crab, nori, cucumbers, tomatoes etc. before drizzling the mentsuyu over everything. Along these likes you could also use Sōmen noodles in place of ramen noodles to make Hiyashi Chuka.
Because the time required to cook Sōmen depends on how thick it is, you should check your package for boiling times. If the packaging is in Japanese, Google Translate has a cool camera feature you can use to get live translations of text by pointing your phone’s camera at the characters you want to translate. Also, because the noodles are so thin, they cook quickly, which means you need to work quickly whether you’re setting the timer, or draining and chilling the noodles. An error of a few seconds can mean the difference between slender toothsome Sōmen and bloated mushy noodles.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and set a timer for the time specified on the packaging (but don't hit start yet).
- To make the dipping sauce, divide the mentsuyu between two small serving bowls and then dilute each bowl with 3 tablespoons of cold water. If you use bottled mentsuyu, check the label for the correct dilution ratio.
- Unbundle all the Sōmen so you can add it all at once. Add the noodles to the boiling water and immediately start the timer.
- Have a strainer ready and when the timer goes off, drain the noodles and immediately wash with cold water. You can transfer the Sōmen back to the pot and fill it with cold water and ice to speed this process up.
- Serve the Sōmen in bowls filled with ice water along with the diluted mentsuyu and any condiments you want to add to the dipping sauce.