Jul 3
2012

Hiyashi Somen (Japanese Chilled Somen Noodles) for Tanabata

in Japan, Japanese, Main Course, Rice & Noodles, Tanabata, Travel

Hiyashi Somen (Japanese Chilled Somen Noodles with Dipping Sauce)

Hiyashi somen—thin, delicate wheat noodles served chilled with tsuyu, a dipping sauce—is one of the most popular meals during the hot and humid summers in Japan.  It’s also one of the foods enjoyed on Tanabata, one of my favorite Japanese holidays.  Tanabata literally  means “evening of the seventh,” and is celebrated every year on the seventh day of the seventh month.  This is either July 7th, or August 7th, depending on whether the region celebrates the holiday according to the Gregorian calendar, or the lunar calendar.  Tanabata is also known as the Star Festival, because it is a celebration of the reuniting of the lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi (or the stars Vega and Altair), separated by the vast expanse of the Milky Way, for one night a year when Orihime is allowed to cross to be with Hikoboshi.

If the day is rainy, it is said that the Milky Way will flood, making it impossible for Orihime to cross and be with Hikoboshi.  So people pray for good weather and also make wishes for themselves.  They write the wishes on small colorful pieces of paper, known as tanzaku (短冊), and hang them on bamboo, sometimes accompanied by other decorations.

Tanabata Tanzaku Wishes

During my trip to Tokyo two years ago, Mr. Fuji and I went out to Jindaiji, the second oldest temple in Japan.  I love Jindaiji, but the quaint little village surrounding the temple is even better, giving you the feeling that not much has changed since the Edo period of Japan.  The day we visited was July 6th, the day before Tanabata, and the little village was alive with preparations for the holiday.  After visiting the temple, Mr. Fuji and I happened to walk down one of the wider streets of the village and saw one of the shop owners balancing at the top of a precarious ladder, while several other men steadied its legs.

Hanging Tanabata Decorations

The man carefully hung large, brightly colored paper decorations onto tall bamboo branches, making adjustments here and there, and then stopping to examine his work.

The precarious job of hanging Tanabata deocrations.

As the decorating proceeded, two women emerged from their shops to weigh in on the process.  They critically examined the arrangement and clucked like little mother hens, calling out instructions to the man on the ladder to switch this decoration with that—a process he patiently bore, despite how exasperating it must have been to move decorations taller than he was as he balanced on the rungs of the ladder.

Tanabata Decor Decisions

By this point a small crowd of onlookers had gathered, and I think we all held our breath as each change was made, hoping that the man would retain his balance.  After getting nods of approval from the two women below, he carefully climbed down the ladder, which was quickly dismantled, and then the moment was over.

Tanabata Decorations

The experience, although seemingly insignificant, was so beautifully perfect that now when I think of Tanabata, it is always associated with this memory.

Thin somen noodles

It is said that somen noodles resemble the Milky Way or weaving threads (significant because Orihime was a weaver), making it a perfect dish to be consumed on Tanabata.  The delicate noodles, which are easily broken, also remind me of the precarious position of the man on the ladder, which makes me smile.  Dipping the cool slippery noodles, often served on a bed of ice cubes to keep them perfectly chilled, into the lightly flavored tsuyu (dipping sauce), and then carefully sucking them into my mouth, trying not to drip tsuyu on my chin, is a wonderful way to take a timeout during the hot summer and remember my favorite Tanabata moment.  I wonder what memories you’ll associate your summer somen with?

Hiyashi Somen for Tanabata

Print This Recipe

Hiyashi Somen (Japanese Chilled Somen Noodles with Dipping Sauce)

Makes 4 servings

For the somen tsuyu (dipping sauce):
1 1/4 cups dashi
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin

16 ounces dried somen noodles

Toppings:
1/2 Persian cucumber (or 1 Japanese cucumber), sliced into thin ribbons (I like to use a vegetable peeler!)
Freshly grated ginger
Scallions, thinly sliced
Toasted sesame seeds

1. Make the somen tsuyu: Mix the somen tsuyu ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Bring the tsuyu to a rolling boil over medium heat and then remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool. Chill in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

2. Prepare the somen: Cook the somen noodles according to the package directions. Drain the somen in a colander and rinse them under cold running water, to cool and remove the excess starch from the surface of the noodles.

3. Serve the somen with the cucumber ribbons on a bed of ice cubes in a shallow bowl, along with individual cups of chilled dipping sauce and toppings on the side. To eat, each person seasons their sauce to taste with the toppings, then dips the chilled somen into the sauce before eating.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

hoverbees July 3, 2012 at 6:06 am

What a beautiful post! That bamboo ladder is amazing. Love the sound of those chilled delicate noodles on a hot summer day.

Reply

S. J. Pajonas July 3, 2012 at 6:08 am

I love Tanabata soooooo much that I wrote it into my second book and made it a very significant holiday for my two protagonists :) Such a fun and colorful holiday! I’ll be sure to make some cold somen on the the 7th! Happy Tanabata!

Reply

Cookin' Canuck July 3, 2012 at 6:09 am

I loved learning about this holiday! It was such fun to follow your Instagram pictures while you were on your trip…it was obvious how much joy you and your family felt being in Japan.

These noodles are something that I could happily eat every single day.

Reply

Kenny July 3, 2012 at 7:44 am

There’s nothing better on a hot summer day than some nice cold somen.

Reply

LiztheChef July 3, 2012 at 8:30 am

Reading this lovely post is like a quick visit to Japan. Your love of Japanese culture, ritual and custom shines through here.

Reply

Missy J July 3, 2012 at 6:37 pm

I am actually attempting this for dinner tonight. Brent said it looked too good to not try so we bought the ingredients and are giving it a try! Thanks for the idea Fuji! -Your favorite foodie slave ;)

Reply

cocopuff1212 July 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Tanabata is a beautiful holiday — I remember writing my wishes on tanzaku at school and bringing it home. And I had completely forgotten about this special holiday as I have not celebrated it for, oh, about 40 years?

Thank you for your beautiful photos, and taking me back to my childhood. Your post made me smile.

Reply

RecipeNewZ July 4, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I just left a long long comment here but I don’t see it :-(. So I will say the shorter version again :-)
It’s been a long time for me since I’ve been to your blog, and now that I am back, I see that I’ve been missing a lot – lovely recipe and great shots! Pinned as a reminder to come back.
Also, I would like to invite you to share some of your photos on RecipeNewZ (with Z) – it’s a new recipe sharing website (building which kept me too busy to visit here). We launched less than 2 months ago and already have hundreds of bloggers on board. It would be a pleasure to have you join us!

Reply

bhavani July 12, 2012 at 5:25 am

A beautiful post and a delicious sounding dish. Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Yaronit July 16, 2012 at 10:45 am

What is a Persian cucumber? I got to know somen last summer when I spent a few weeks in the countryside in Japan, and eat it regularly. But will only a Persian or Japanese cucumber work, since I doubt being able to find that kind of thing where I live.

Reply

Food February 3, 2014 at 9:32 pm

its really amazing and nice pictures, specially decorations and fodds, its my favorite food and i like it so much, appreciated and i am going to share this link with my friends at facebook. thanks

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: