2023 NO.35


Tasty Japan: Time to Eat!Tasty Japan: Time to Eat!


Refreshingly Cool Noodles for the Summertime Table

Photos: Arai Akiko
Cooperation: Ikeri (Senjutei)

Cold and easy to slurp, somen is a popular summer noodle dish. The noodles are served with a dipping sauce (pictured in the wooden cup behind the noodles). It is made from dashi broth, soy sauce and mirin rice wine

Dried somen noodles sold in bundles. Somen dyed green or yellow with vegetable pigment are also available. Photo: PIXTA

Somen are fine, thread-like noodles made of wheat flour, water, and salt. To be considered somen, the noodles must be 1.3mm in diameter or less. Somen are sold dried. They are boiled immediately before serving, rinsed well under cool running water, and served with a cold dipping sauce made from dashi broth. Somen look refreshing and are easy to slurp, and they are also filling, making them a great dish for when the summer heat dulls the appetite.

To make these fine, tender, yet firm noodles, the dough cannot simply be pulled haphazardly into strands. A more delicate and complex process is required, something like spinning silk thread. First, the flour, water, and salt are kneaded together to form a dough. It is then rolled out into a long, narrow strip, which is oiled and elongated into a single twisted strand. After the stretching and pulling, the dough is left to rest and rise. The process is repeated over and over until eventually the strand is wrapped around two sticks and stretched even longer and thinner. When the strand reaches some two meters in length, it is hung to dry and then cut into 19cm lengths.

Nagashi somen is a summer tradition, often held outdoors, that makes the most of the thin shape and cool, refreshing look of somen. The tradition is popular with children, who compete with each other to scoop up the noodles as they stream past in a water-filled trough made of a split bamboo log.

During the cold months, warm somen noodle soup, called nyumen, is a delicious alternative. Pre-boiled somen noodles are simmered in a dashi broth and topped with shiitake mushrooms, greens, eggs, and other ingredients.

People scoop up nagashi somen noodles with chopsticks as they stream by. Photos: PIXTA

Nyumen, or somen noodles served in warm dashi broth, is the way to enjoy these noodles during the colder months.

While there are many explanations of where somen came from, the story of Miwa Somen, from the Miwa district of Sakurai City in Nara Prefecture known for its specialty Miwa Somen, is particularly interesting. Legend has it that, some 1,200 years ago, the second son of the chief priest at Omiwa Shrine, located in the Miwa district, let the famine-stricken people there make wheat, and it was from that flour that the production of somen began.

Every February to this day, a ritual is held at Omiwa Shrine to divine the wholesale price of the year’s somen noodles. The ritual is followed by a dance performed by local women to the song Miwa Somen Kake Uta (“Miwa Somen Hanging Song”). Though the lyrics and gestures describe the difficulties of making somen noodles, the dance itself is heartwarming and cheerful, a favorite that leaves the audience uplifted. Somen and dance have long been closely connected with history, and all indications suggest they will continue to be celebrated for many years to come.

Omiwa Shrine in Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture, considered the birthplace of somen Photo: Omiwa Shrine

A moment from the Miwa Somen Kake Uta (“Miwa Somen Hanging Song”) dance performance. Strands of wool yarn represent somen noodles being stretched long and thin. The dedication is danced on the Omiwa Shrine grounds by local women.