The last thing many people can imagine wanting to do on a hot, humid day in late Summer is to huddle over a deep bowl of ramen, with clouds of meaty steam billowing up and enveloping your face while you slurp on mouthful after mouthful of scalding hot noodles slick with unctuous pork fat. This of course would be a huge problem for the tens of thousands of ramen-ya owners all across the country, if not for the wonderfully refreshing and reviving noodle dish Hiyashi Chūka which dominates their menus in the more oppressive months. Sitting comfortably on the halfway-line between a crisp salad and the familiar bowl of soup noodles, hiyashi chūka keeps many of the most popular ramen toppings but adds plenty of crunchy fresh vegetables and replaces the savoury broth with a chilled vinegary dressing, making this the perfect dish for a lunchtime spent hiding from the midday heat. Like most dishes in Japanese cuisine, the colour and temperature of the food is just as important as the flavour and texture, and in this most summery of noodle dishes they all come together harmoniously to cleanse, stimulate and revitalise the senses.
In our version of hiyashi chūka, we’ve incorporated two of the most popular toppings- crab sticks and cucumber- directly into the chūkamen themselves to create an even lighter noodle base. We’ve crowned this tangle of enhanced noodles with a crunchy slaw made from spicy radishes and turnips, earthy carrots and crisp nashi pear to add even more freshness, and a springy, knobbly chikuwa fishcake for an extra hit of sweet ocean flavour. All of that is doused liberally with the bracing vinegar, soy sauce and sesame dressing at the table with extra on the side for those who want a more intense, soupy mouthful.
- 450g fresh chūkamen/ramen noodles
- 250g imitation crab sticks
- 1 cucumber
- 4 chikuwa fishcakes
- 125g carrots
- 75g baby turnips
- 75g radishes
- 1 nashi (Asian pear)
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 6 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 2 spring onions
- To make the chūka-fū dressing, simply mix together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, vegetable oil and sugar in a bowl, then chill until required. This dressing will store well in the fridge for two or three days; if you plan to make it in advance, mix it in a jam jar rather than a bowl so you just have to shake the jar before using it to ensure the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Bring a pan of water to the boil over a high heat, then carefully tease apart the bundles of chūkamen with your fingers before adding them to the pan. Cook the noodles as per the instructions on their packaging, then drain them and rinse well in plenty of cold running water. Transfer the cooked noodles to a large mixing bowl then coat them with around a quarter of the chūka-fū dressing to prevent them sticking together.
- Peel the cucumber, then slice it in half lengthways and remove the watery seeds from along the centre. Use a mandoline to julienne the cucumber, giving you long thin strands approximately the same thickness as the noodles. Shred the crab sticks along their length and peel apart any large pieces, then combine with the noodles and cucumber and mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate while you prepare the toppings.
- Poach the chikuwa for two minutes in a pan of boiling water to plump and slightly soften them, then drain and set to one side. Peel your carrots, then slice as thinly as possible on a mandoline along their length to give you long crunchy ribbons. Slice the turnips and radishes on the same setting without peeling them so you get wafer thin white discs with a bright ring of colour around the edges. Finally cut the nashi into matchsticks and mix with the other sliced vegetables.
- Divide the dressed noodles between your serving bowls, lie a chikuwa across each pile (sliced in half if necessary) and then crown this with a jumbled nest of the sliced vegetables. Finely chop the spring onions then scatter these and the sesame seeds over the top. Serve the noodles with the chilled dressing in a jug, so people can add as much as they like to their bowl.
Serves 4 people.