Walk down any main street in Japan at the start of the summer and you’ll see these little signboards hanging from restaurant shingles saying “We’ve Started Making Hiyashi Chuka” (Hiyashi Chuka Hajimemashita) . It’s when you start seeing those Hiyashi Chuka signs that you feel summer’s really started.
What is Hiyashi Chuka? Literally, it’s “chilled chinese” – meaning “chilled chinese noodles“, of course. It’s another of those refreshing cold-noodle dishes we Japanese instinctively turn to when the weather gets sticky and hot.
The key to this dish is the Kinshi tamago ( “Silk thread egg”) garnish: basically, a stack of omelettes sliced very very thin. It takes some practice to get kinshi tamago just right, but once you learn how to make it, it will be very useful to garnish a lot of Japanese dishes.
For this recipe, I use Japanese Somen noodles instead of chinese noodles. That may seem contradictory, considering the name and all but, somehow, the real chinese noodles we find in Canada are different from “Made-in-Japan Chinese-style noodles” we get back home. Trust me, though: somen noodles work great with this recipe. Added plus: Somen noodles are easy to find in almost any Asian store.
Since so many of my readers seem to live in Japan, I should add a clarification: in Western Japan, where I’m from, this dish is often called “reimen“. This can lead to confusion on two fronts. First, because it sounds a bit like “ramen” – that ubiquitous hot noodle soup. The two are not at all the same. And, second, because in Eastern and Northern Japan, “reimen” refers to a spicy cold noodle dish from Korea that’s become Morioka’s signature dish: that kind of “reimen” is totally different from Hiyashi Chuka.
It’s probably not the first thing you think of, but if you ask me Japan’s true national dish is curry. Japanese people are crazy for the stuff: it’s served constantly, both at home and in restaurants. I think it has a good claim to be Japan’s best-loved dish.
Of course, curry isn’t from Japan. As everybody knows, curry is originally Indian, but the dish came to Japan in the late 19th century through the colonial route, via Britain. This may explain why compared to Indian curry, Japanese curry is usually quite mild, sweet even, and certainly never very spicy.
I’ve met some Canadians who are really into Japanese culture, and they all complained that whenever Japanese people invited them for dinner, they made curry! It’s easy to understand why they run into it so often at parties: this dish scales up very well, so it’s ideal for big gatherings, parties, and the like. And since everyone in Japan loves the stuff, it’s very often served to guests. (In honor of this, the recipe below is for 20 people!)
I’ll admit it: Westerners sometimes fail to see the point of Japanese curry. I can see why. If you’re used to Indian food, our way of making it could strike you as a little unexciting. I’ve come to the conclusion this is one of those dishes that divides cultures more than it brings them together: almost everyone in Japan loves Japanese style curry but reactions abroad are more mixed.