June 11, 2012

Favourite Japan Foods: Tsukemen (Dipping Noodles)

As the weather becomes hotter, stickier and wetter in Japan during this season, there are some Japanese foods you lose your appetite for. In the stuffy heat, you don't really feel like eating hearty hot pots or spicy curry rice. Instead, you want something light, fresh and cool. The answer to your prayers is - believe it or not - is cold noodles. Oodles of cold noodles. More specifically, tsukemen つけ麺, or dipping noodles.
Noodles on one side, soup on the other.
Unlike ramen ラーメン, with tsukemen the noodles are served separate to the soup. The noodles are usually cold, and the soup is usually hot (although you can get hiyashi tsukemen 冷やしつけ麺, where the soup is cold too). At first, the thought of eating cold, limp noodles sounds kind of gross. But actually, it's the most delicious thing ever. They are springy and chewy and the coldness gives the flavour an extra zing! Eating them is super fun, you pick up some noodles in your chopsticks, dip them into the soup, the slurp them up. Finally, you have an excuse to play with your food! You do have to be careful not to burn your mouth, because even though the noodles are cool, they get surprisingly hot when dipped into the soup.
This cute little sign at a tsukemen shop warns you to blow on the noodles and eat them slowly!
There are all sorts of tsukemen soup types and flavours, I usually stick with a shoyu (soy sauce) broth, but you can get tangy vinegary ones, fishy ones, and sometimes even chicken, which is delicious - ultimate comfort food. If you're in Hiroshima, be sure to try Hiroshima style tsukemen, which is famous in Japan for its spiciness. The broth is full of red pepper and chili, and trust me, it will knock your socks off. You can order using a spice scale from 1-20!
Bright red, spicy Hiroshima tsukemen soup...
You can practically see the steam coming out of my ears.
We usually go to a ramen shop in Kandaimae (where we live) for tsukemen. This particular shop is run by two of the most badass looking Japanese men I've ever seen - I'm talking tattoos, piercings, muscles, facial hair. The first time we went I was terrified, thinking we had walked into some sort of ex-convict or yakuza joint. But it ended up being some of the best tsukemen I've ever had. Those guys are like noodle artists.

If you're a noodle fan, you should check out one of my favourite Japanese movies, Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985), a comedy about ramen (not so much tsukemen, sorry). It's hilarious, and will almost definitely make you hungry for noodles. Here's a YouTube clip from Tampopo, in which the 'ramen master' demonstrates the 'correct way' to eat noodles. I'm gonna try this next time...

6 comments:

  1. I love tsukemen so much, yum! nothing can top my favourite "oh my god it's so hot out today, I can't possibly eat anything" go-to food, though - hiyashi chuuka. It's not dippable, but the combination of flavours is SO fantastic.

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  2. the left side actor in The movie "TANPOPO" is Ken Watanabe, who is in the Holywood movie "The Last Samurai."

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  3. Ramen Tsukemen Boku Ikemen

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Where can I find this in Osaka? I want try that out with my family during our trip to Osaka!

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