I have a dilemma: summer is officially in full swing, complete with sunny skies and soggy humidity, and as luck would have it, I suddenly really want to eat a big bowl of steaming hot ramen…. But, with the weather being so warm, how can I satisfy my cravings without getting heatstroke?
My solution? Hiyashi chuuka, which is basically a plate of chilled ramen topped with a colourful assortment of meats and vegetables and drizzled with a light sesame sauce!
I was first introduced to this dish while watching the movie, The Garden of Words by Makoto Shinkai. It had some of the most beautiful visuals I have ever seen in anime, and among the gorgeous scenic shots of gardens, rain, and dappled sky was some equally lovely images of food. In particular, I was very curious about this strange noodle dish that looked more like a salad than anything else!
About the recipe:
Hiyashi chuuka is the shortened form of hiyashi chuuka soba, which means “chilled Chinese soba”. While soba is usually associated with buckwheat noodles, in this case it actually refers to ramen. This is because ramen was originally called chuuka soba (Chinese soba) in Japan!
This dish is pretty simple to make, requiring very little actual cooking – which is perfect when it’s summer and you’re trying to minimize the amount of time your stove is on. The main thing in making this recipe a success is do not overcook the noodles. Doing so will result in soggy noodles, especially since the noodles tend to soak up liquid when rinsed in cold water and then drizzled with sauce.
The recipe is also very customizable depending on the toppings you choose… more meat and vegetables can make this a filling main meal (or even a salad-like side), while no meat at all makes this a wonderful vegetarian (actually vegan!) dish!
One last note: don’t be afraid to try out other toppings! In a pinch I have used leftover sesame beef (from a bento), teriyaki chicken (from a previous dinner), even flaked shiojake (Japanese salted salmon), char siu (Chinese-style barbecue pork), or even kimchee.
About the ingredients:
Ramen noodles should be easy to find in your local grocery store, usually dried and in individual packages complete with a package of powdered soup base. For this recipe, I used two packages of ramen (no soup bases, just the noodles; the brand was Ichiban Sapporo, but anything should work). If you can, I would suggest using fresh ramen noodles, which tend to have a nicer texture and taste than packaged, dry ramen. You can usually find fresh ramen at an Asian grocery store.
Makes 2 mains or 4 sides
For the sauce:
- 1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds, ground
- 1 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp Japanese soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp grated ginger (optional)
- 1/4 tsp chilli oil (optional)
For the toppings, your choice of the following:
- 1 Japanese cucumber (or about half a hothouse cucumber), cut into match sticks
- 2 eggs, hard boiled, peeled, and cut in half, or made into egg crepe
- 1 medium tomato (cut into small wedges), or a handful of cherry tomatoes (cut in half)
- 3 – 4 slices of ham, cut into strips
- 8 shrimp, deveined, tails removed, boiled until just cooked
- 6 sticks imitation crab, shredded into smaller pieces
- 1 chicken breast, boiled or steamed, cooled, and then shredded
- 1/2 block tofu, cut into small pieces and fried
- 1 cup bean sprouts, blanched
- 1 – 2 leaves of iceberg lettuce, shredded
- Kaiware sprouts
For garnishing (optional):
- Roasted sesame seeds
- Beni shoga (pickled ginger)
- Nori, cut into matchsticks
1. In a small bowl or cup, mix together all the sauce ingredients until well incorporated. Set aside.
2. Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the ramen for one minute less than suggested in the directions on the package. Be careful not to over cook the noodles.
Drain the noodles into a colander and run under cold water, using your fingers to mix the noodles around and ensure they are thoroughly chilled. Drain well.
3. Divide the chilled and drained noodles among plates or bowls. Pour some of the sauce over the noodles and then top with your choice of meat and vegetable toppings, and garnishes. Pour the remaining sauce on top.
Serve immediately as a side or main dish.