Thursday, May 1, 2008

More Noodles

Summer is cold noodle season in Japan, and while it's not quite summer yet, 7/11's and Family Marts across the region have rolled out their cold somen and soba offerings. There's a recipe in Washoku that I've been wanting to try, for a wheat noodle salad called Hiyashi Chuka, and while I was in the supermarket this week, I noticed the kits to make it were on sale. With all my time off this week, it seemed like a good opportunity to experiment.

The recipe offers two dressing alternatives; creamy and brothy. I love both styles of dressing, but the creamy called to me.

The dressing is made with white miso, dashi, soy sauce, and ground sesame seeds. Fresh ramen noodles are boiled briefly, and then run under cold water to cool down. A quick toss in some sesame oil, and they're ready to be dressed.

The toppings called for reminded me of a Chef's Salad - sliced ham, egg, tomato, and cucumber. Soy-simmered mushrooms were also listed as a topping - these were a bit of work, but I made a largeish batch and put some aside for a bento later on. Once everything was prepped, I tossed the noodles in the chilled dressing and arranged the toppings bibimbap-style. I have to say, I thought the ingredients called for were a strange mix - a bit jarring, really. The ham, egg, and tomato seemed so Western to me, and the mushrooms so Japanese - would they go together? But I'm a big believer in following a recipe straight up the first time, so I persevered.

After taking a pretty picture, I tossed everything together . On tasting it, I found the whole thing a bit, well, meh. I was actually glad for tomatoes, as they added an acid counterpoint to the otherwise bland flavours of the dish. The creamy dressing and ham had strong salty flavours, but there was no spice or other sharpness to balance it. I guess I was hoping for something more flavourful like Korean bibim naengmyeon, a noodle salad which gets its spice from slicks of hot chili sauce.

I think I'll try this recipe again, but with the brothy dressing, which calls for Japanese mustard and thus should have a sharper bite. I'll also downgrade the toppings to cucumber and ham, or perhaps smoked chicken, since the additional toppings added extra work to the dish without adding a lot of flavour. This dish would make a great bento, though - topppings, broth and noodles, packed separately, and tossed together at the last minute. I'll just have to remember to wear a patterned top in case of noodle drippage.

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