Somen Noodles: The Delicate Delight of Japan – Bokksu Market

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Somen Noodles: The Delicate Delight of Japan

by Bokksu Staff

So, it’s a hot day and you want to eat something chilled. How about some Japanese noodles? And no, we don’t mean udon or ramen noodles; those are typically too spicy and hot for the weather. We’re talking about somen, a delightfully popular cold noodle dish in Japan.

What is Somen?

Cold somen noodles

Somen is a white and thin Japanese noodle dish made of wheat flour and commonly served cold along with dipping sauce. Each noodle has a thickness diameter of about 1.3 mm, making somen the thinnest noodle in Japan. For comparison, standard ramen is about 1.5 mm, udon is above 3 mm, and soba is 1.5 mm.

Somen is also not as intense as many of the other Asian noodles. It has a delicate, mild flavor with a springy texture and a white color. The noodle dish is common in East Asian countries, where it’s eaten as a versatile meal that goes with almost any soup or broth and can be ready in a few minutes. Since it’s often served chilled, somen noodle is also a favorite meal during hot summer days.

The first appearance of somen in history was in China, during the Tang dynasty of 618–907. The Japanese Imperial Court in the region that’s now known as Nara City brought some foreign pastry from China, which they called sakubei (twisted doughnuts). This pastry was most likely the Chinese dough twist called mahua. Sakubei would later evolve into somen in Nara’s district of Sakurai. As the popularity and production of somen grew in Japan, the nobles and emperors adopted it as a high-class cuisine in the Edo period (1603–1868).

Components of Somen Noodles: Understanding the Basic Ingredients 

A typical modern somen dish is made up of three components: noodles, dipping sauce, and toppings or garnishes. The thin noodles used to cook somen are made from bleached wheat flour mixed in water, which produces the pale white color. Somen dipping sauce is called tsuyu and is made with light or dark soy sauce and concentrated dashi soup broth. You’re allowed more flexibility when it comes to toppings. Common toppings and garnishes used with somen are scallion, ginger, chicken, tofu, nori seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, sesame seeds, tempura scraps, etc.

Somen Noodle Types and Varieties

Uncooked somen noodles

Although somen noodle is a simple food with basic components, there are several existing variations in Japan. The categorization of somen greatly depends on the region in which it was produced, although other factors also come into play. Each region has a slightly different method of creating the noodles, which affects the final thickness and flavor.

Below is a list of different somen noodle types.

  • Banshu somen: This somen originates from the Banshu area (now part of Hyōgo Prefecture) during the Muromachi period (1336–1392). Production follows a 600-year-old traditional procedure for creating chewy and crispy noodles.

  • Shodoshima somen: This is somen from Shodo Island, a region famous for its unique traditional style of making somen noodles. The noodle includes sesame oil, which gives it an oily texture.

  • Miwa somen: It includes somen from Miwa area in Sakurai City, Nara, which many consider the birthplace of Japanese somen. The somen here is very chewy.

  • Shimabara somen: On the southern side of Shimabara City lies Minamishimabara, the original makers of this somen variant. The production process here is more meticulous than in any other region, resulting in fine, hand-stretched noodles.

  • Handa somen: This somen is thicker than most of the others. It originates from Tsurugi-cho, a town in the Mima District of Tokushima Prefecture

  • Tenobe somen: This is yet another variation from Shodo Island. It tends to contain special ingredients like plum and sesame oil mixed in the flour.

There are more modern somen that use contemporary processes to make noodles that taste just as good. We highly recommend that you try the Hakubaku Organic Somen Noodles. They’re made with 100% organic wheat flour and taste great with soup or salad, giving you all the health benefits that come with eating somen noodles.

Hakubaku Organic Somen Noodles

On the hottest summer days, when no one wants to cook and few want to eat, these are the ultra-thin noodles you break out. Just a millimeter in diameter, this somen is made from organic wheat that gives it a slightly harder texture. When it’s ready to serve, don’t be shy about dropping some ice cubes in—this is how somen is meant to be eaten (along with some dipping sauce)!

Common Allergens: Eggs, Wheat, Soy.

9.5 oz

Health Benefits of Somen Noodles

Somen might not be the most nutritious meal in the world, but it contains a reasonable amount of the required daily nutrients. Besides being a good source of energy and carbohydrates, somen is also rich in manganese, which helps to prevent cell damage and build healthy tissue and bones. The moderate fiber content in somen is necessary for a healthy bowel and diabetes management.

Somen contains almost no cholesterol or fatty acids but is a good source of amino acids that help to slow the effects of aging (cystine) and manage obesity (phenylalanine). 

Iron, copper, and selenium are also present in somen noodles. Together, they boost the immune system, aid thyroid function, facilitate the formation of red blood cells, and reduce fatigue.

Those are simply the health benefits you get from the noodles alone. The toppings and garnishes have so much more to offer. If you want a healthy supply of protein, include meat, seafood, or eggs in your somen noodle dish. You can also add more fiber by using more vegetables as a garnish. Carrots, broccoli, and avocado are all ingredients you can top your somen with to improve your fiber intake.

The Traditional Preparation of Somen Noodles

Making somen noodles

You might be wondering about the different ways in which somen noodles are different from other types of noodles, particularly buckwheat noodles like ramen and soba. The answer lies in its preparation method. The somen-making process involves a traditional hand-stretching technique that dates back to the Banshu area, about 600 years ago. Major somen manufacturers, like Ibonoito, still use this method to make their tenobe somen.

The traditional preparation of somen noodles starts with the addition of salt water to wheat flour. The mixture is kneaded into a dough, which is then hand-stretched into a long somen strip using an ancient method from the Bashu area. The process requires vegetable oil to make the noodles super thin. Great care is taken not to separate the dough by stretching too quickly. Rather, it’s stretched and twisted to its limits slowly. After that, the dough is left to ripen for about two hours before stretching resumes. The entire process of stretching and ripening is repeated about five times. The stretched-out dough is then left to air-dry. At this point, a thin strand has been formed, which is different from other thin noodles, which are knife-cut. The dry somen doodle is then cut into the required size for cooking.

Cold Noodle Recipe: How to Cook Somen Noodles

Whether you make somen noodles from scratch or buy some from the store, you still need to cook them into a delicious dish. The first step is to gather the following ingredients:

  • Somen noodles (traditional homemade or store-bought)

  • Dipping sauce ingredients (dashi stock, soy sauce, mirin, and sake) or store-bought tsuyu soup base

  • Ginger

  • Scallions

  • Protein: chicken chashu, tofu, or ham

  • Veggies: nori seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, or toasted sesame seeds

Cook the noodles in boiling water for about a minute and a half or according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Next, drain the somen of the noodle cooking water and rinse the drained noodles under cold running water.

You can make the tsuyu dipping sauce by diluting the dashi soup stock in water before adding light soy sauce, sake, and mirin. Alternatively, you could buy a tsuyu soup base from the store and skip the sauce preparation process entirely. Add the toppings and garnishes to the cooked noodles and serve with the dipping sauce. You can serve somen noodles cold in a bowl of chilled water or place some ice cubes in it.

Cold Noodles for Hot Days: Serving Somen Chilled

Somen with ice

In Asia, the summer days can be unforgivingly hot. The intense heat sometimes makes it harder for people to enjoy meals, which could lead to a loss of appetite. Serving chilled somen in cold water or with ice cubes provides a way for people to enjoy delicious noodles despite the heat.

By serving somen noodles cold, you’re also providing an alternative way to cool off. This is similar to how eating ice cream can serve as a way to cool off in hot weather. Cold somen noodles are ultimately better on hot days, as the relief from the heat that comes with them only serves to enhance the flavors of the cold tsuyu sauce. This also allows people to enjoy somen outdoor activities without having to worry about the heat.

Nagashi Somen: The Fun and Flowing Noodle Experience

Nagashi somen

Summer fatigue is a big deal in Japan. People tend to lose appetite when faced with heat. Thankfully, the nagashi somen is one of the few remedies to situations like that. The term nagashi somen translates to “flowing noodles” in English. It’s both a summer dish and a unique dining experience in Japan.

Nagashi somen is basically a cold somen noodle dish served through a bamboo tube filled with chilled water. At the special restaurant, the tube is inclined at an angle so that its contents flow from a higher to a lower position, allowing the water to carry the noodles along the designated path. The customer is given a pair of chopsticks and some cold broth or dipping sauce.

Nagashi somen offers you the opportunity to showcase your chopstick skills because you have to catch the flowing noodles yourself. Once you've grabbed some, you may soak it in the dipping sauce and enjoy.

Remember to stay alert and listen for the chef to shout “ikuyo!” That’s your cue to get your chopsticks ready to catch as many noodle strings as you can eat. The noodles pass by really quickly, so prepare yourself for that and don’t get caught out.

Somen Serving Suggestions: Complementary Dishes and Condiments

Dipping somen in tsuyu

Somen is hardly ever eaten on its own. You need to have your dipping sauce on hand to enjoy it. This umami-rich sauce is fondly called mentsuyu or tsuyu by somen noodle lovers in Japan. You can make it from scratch or buy a bottle from the store. We highly recommend the Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu Soup Base. It’s a premium, ready-made version of the sauce that can be served with hot or cold somen noodle dishes.

Somen also pairs well with a number of side dishes. Sunomono or Japanese cucumber salad, is perfect alongside cold somen noodles. It contains sliced cucumber and has a high water content that helps keep you hydrated on hot days.

Hiyayakko (tofu salad) is another fantastic pairing. Its silken tofu and seafood garnish offer a different, more delicious perspective on somen noodle dishes. Lastly, you should also consider enjoying your dish with misozuke nasu. It’s basically a miso-pickled eggplant and adds a salty kick to the noodles.

Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu Soup Base

Hon Tsuyu makes cooking Japanese noodles a breeze! What makes this premium Kikkoman soup so savory is its umami-rich combination of soy sauce, niboshi oil (derived from dried bite-sized sardines), and extracted bonito, the pillar of all Japanese broths. Simply heat or add ice and pour over your cooked udon, soba, or somen! Now all you need are your favorite toppings.

Common Allergens: Fish, Wheat, Soy.

17 oz

Innovative Twists on Traditional Somen Dishes

You may have noticed that the value of somen stems from its use of traditional preparation and cooking methods. However, things are fast changing in the 21st century. There are several new modern and innovative recipes incorporating somen and appealing to a contemporary audience.

One of such innovations is the instant noodle version of somen. Even though somen already has a short cooking time, the Shirakiku Sanukiya Somen Noodle Bowl allows you to enjoy the meal almost instantly. It comes with seaweed and a light broth, so you don’t have to bother preparing tsuyu sauce.

Another noteworthy twist is the addition of peanut butter to the sauce, thereby making the sauce’s consistency much creamier. Other sauce variations include the use of chili oil, sesame paste, and rice vinegar to produce a tangy and nutty broth.

Shirakiku Sanukiya Somen Noodle Bowl

A popular meal in Japan for hot and busy days, somen are long, thin, and chewy wheat noodles that boil quickly and make a refreshing bite. Enjoy this instant Japanese-style somen bowl with the included seaweed and light broth for some speedy satisfaction on even your busiest of days.

Common Allergens: Wheat, Soy.

5.78 oz

Where to Find and Buy Quality Somen Noodles

Looking to buy high-quality somen noodles? You can find a wide variety at the local Asian grocery store. Remember to check the ingredients carefully so you know exactly what you’re buying. Online sources offer a more convenient way to find somen noodles. However, you can’t just buy from any online store. Only use a reliable and trustworthy platform like Bokksu Market. Our products are authentically Japanese, and we deliver anywhere in the United States.

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Somen Noodles: The Delicate Delight of Japan


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