With the almost unbearable heat that is the Japanese summer, how do common folks survive when outside in the sun? Among many tricks, there are the tasty refreshing summer foods that help with the heat. Here are some common dishes people crave during the summer in Japan:
Kakigori, or shaved ice, is a summertime favorite, especially in the peak of summertime, which can get up to 40 degree Celsius on a bad day, depending on the region of Japan. What better way to cool down than with literally shaved ice? During the summer, shops and street stores start to sell kakigori, which is ice shaved into a snow-like texture and then flavored with sweet syrup. The syrup is usually very bright, almost neon in color, ranging from pink (“strawberry”) to blue (“blue Hawaii”) to green (“melon”). There is a rumor (or observation) that the syrup types are actually indistinguishable from each other except in their coloring. If you like the fancier stuff, there are also higher end restaurants that add fruits and more luxurious ingredients into their kakigori.
Unagi, the oily eel dish, is also deemed as summer food in Japan. Why would a warm and heavy and oily (albeit very delicious) dish be considered summer food? Its origins as a summertime dish seem to have been from urban legend that the nutrient-rich food helps replenish the energy that is sapped from our bodies in the heat. Its status as summer food is such that there are dedicated days for eating unagi (unagi no hi) throughout summer. If you don’t feel your body getting cooled down during the meal, perhaps the sweat that you break into when receiving the bill might do the trick… It’s quite a pricey meal, but worth it.
When noodles come to mind, people usually imagine them either in hot broth like ramen and soba, or stir fried and steaming like yakisoba for instance. However, cold noodles are a thing, and not an accidental forgot-my-pasta-in-the-fridge kind of cold. The hiyashi chuka dish is chilled in purpose and often served with refreshing veggies or lemon juice. It has most ingredients from hot noodle dishes, just chilled and no liquid. You usually receive a cold dipping sauce on the side.
A similar dish is the zarusoba, cold buckwheat noodles served on a bamboo mat. However, unlike col soba that is served throughout the year, hiyashi chuka is specifically a summer dish and most restaurants offer it as a limited edition.
These cold noodles are not just refreshing, but also super fun!
Traditionally, the nagashi soumen noodles flow in a long bamboo flume with clear and cold water running through it. As the somen pass by, diners are supposed to catch them with their chopsticks and dip them in tsuyu (soy sauce broth).
Nowadays there are restaurants that have nagashi soumen set-ups, but there are also ones you can set up at home and host nagashi soumen parties.
We hope that you all have a chance to try these foods, and enjoy summer!