Kids Web Japan

Hyogo: Somen

Somen and soup in a dish

No Summer without Somen

Somen fine noodles are one of the most popular dishes to eat during the hot, humid Japanese summers. Refreshingly chilled and simply flavored, no matter how much the summer sun saps your appetite, there’s always room for a bowl of somen.

Of the many noodle dishes available in Japan, Somen are the thinnest, with an average diameter of 1 mm before cooking. Somen only take around two minutes of boiling, and then are quickly blanched in icy cold water before being served. They are made from a different type of flour from spaghetti, and this gives them their white coloring.

The simple flavor of somen is balanced with the strongly flavored tsuyu dipping sauce. Green onion, dried seaweed, fresh ginger, and wasabi are added to the tsuyu for more flavor and color.

Hand-Pulled Somen in Hyogo

The Harima region in the south-west of Hyogo Prefecture has spring water, salt, and flour - the ingredients for somen - in plentiful supply, and has been making hand-pulled somen for over 600 years. This type of somen are made by repeatedly stretching long strands of dough until they reach around two meters in length. The noodles start out thick, but get gradually thinner as the process is repeated. This way of making somen helps to create a smooth yet firm noodle that can keep its texture after boiling. The finest quality somen is 0.6 mm in diameter. Artisans with the skill to make somen this thin are rare, and only a small amount can be produced at a time.

Somen is dried slowly to produce a smooth texture.

Each bundle of hand-pulled somen is carefully tied together.

In the Harima region, there is a somen museum where you can learn about the history of somen and the production process. You can also try hand-pulling the somen, or eat some in the authentic museum restaurant. The restaurant also serves some unusual dishes, including a somen sushi roll.

So Many Ways to Enjoy Somen

Somen is a very easy and quick meal to prepare. Somen is usually eaten with tsuyu, but the simple taste means it goes well with most ingredients. Pour on a spicy sauce, or add fresh tomato and basil for an Italian feel. It can also be eaten in hot soup, in a dish called nyumen.

In summer, people in Japan enjoy nagashi somen, where somen are slid down a bamboo water slide, and you try and grab a mouthful before it passes by. Catching the slippery noodles with your chopsticks is no easy task, but it’s very satisfying when you do. This way of eating is so popular, that there are also table-top versions where the noodles go round and round a water route. In Hyogo, there are restaurants where you can enjoy both styles of nagashi somen. You’ll be so caught up trying to fish out the somen, you won’t even realize how much you’ve eaten.

Children waiting for flowing somen

Nagashi somen is often a community event. People of all ages come together to build the slide, and then have fun trying to catch and eat the noodles as they slip by.