Keeping cool during the hot, humid days of summer in Japan can be a challenge. Happily though, this country has plenty of seasonal tips to prevent you from wilting in the summer heat. We have some delicious ideas, both sweet and savory, that will cool you down from the inside out and will keep you energized.
Here are tasty treats to pep you up to face Japan's summer without fear!
Enjoyed by generations, this is a dish of fluffy shaved ice, quite different than the western snow cone. It's topped with colorful syrups in flavors such as cherry, lemon, blueberry, melon or green tea, and sometimes condensed milk is used as well. Fruits, sweetened beans and tapioca pearls are also popular accompaniments. Traditionally the ice was shaved using a hand-driven machine which gave it a "fallen snow" consistency, but nowadays electric machines do the work. Kakigori is an inexpensive treat sold at convenience stores (combini), coffee shops, restaurants. No summer festival would be complete without at least one kakigori! Machines can also be purchased so you can enjoy kakigori at home.
Chilled noodles are also at the top of everyone's list, and there are many different kinds:
These are chilled ramen noodles, served with slices of chicken or ham, cucumber, tomato, and thin omelet slices. Sometimes pickled ginger slices are added for a bit of zing. A refreshing, slightly tangy sauce made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil is poured over the noodles which is then mixed vigorously with the toppings. Hiyashi chuka can be found in restaurants, purchased at any supermarket or combini, or easily made at home.
These thin, white wheat noodles, often called "Japanese style" angel hair pasta, are dipped in a sauce traditionally accompanied by minced ginger and green onion. The cooling effect of the ginger, despite its spiciness, adds to the restorative effect of these noodles. Nagashi somen is a summertime favorite - noodles in water flow down a bamboo shoot and diners sitting near the flowing water use their chopsticks to catch some. The sound of the water is cooling and, of course, it's always fun to play with your food!
Served chilled with a dipping sauce (different than the one used for somen), these buckwheat noodles are either served plain, topped with shredded toasted seaweed, or sometimes with vegetable tempura. They are a bit heartier than somen, but just as refreshing!
These thick wheat noodles are served similarly to soba, but the flavor is lighter and the texture a bit chewier. The dipping sauce tends to have a strong flavor to stand up to the denser noodle, but the dish is still light and refreshing!
It's not only chilled dishes that help you beat the heat. Some warm dishes also have an invigorating effect. Unagi (eel) is an extremely popular summer dish as it's said to increase vitality. It's served grilled with a savory sauce, sometimes atop a bed of rice.
It is generally understood that eating oysters in the months that lack the letter "r" should be avoided. However, giant oysters called Iwagaki from regions such as Ishikawa, Kyoto, Mie and Yamagata are a summer delicacy in Japan. They inhabit the deep cold water of the Japan Sea and are in season in late spring and summer.
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