Kitchen Culture


Tasty Tidbits from the Old-Fashioned Japanese Kitchen

 

  Sōmen Noodles


 そうめん・素麺


Sōmen noodles have been refreshing heat-weary Japanese since the 8th century.

The well-kneaded noodle dough is made from a wheat flour and salt-water mixture to which sesame seed or cottonseed oil is lightly applied. The noodles are gently stretched thinner and thinner.


Finally, they are hung over a rack and allowed to dry before being cut into shorter lengths. The resulting dried noodles are pure white, rather brittle, thin sticks.


The process of making sōmen is shown in this video made by Hirano Takuji of the Hirano Noodle Factory on Awajishima.
Sōmen noodles are typically packaged in bundles of about 50 grams. Depending upon how hungry you are (and how many other dishes might be served with the noodles) a single serving is one, two, or even 3 bundles. Sōmen noodle production has traditionally been a cold-weather activity, beginning in November and going through March. Finished noodles are allowed to "age" in the warehouse for a year or more. Indeed, some believe that aged noodles are better than freshly made ones.


Historically, commercial production has been centered in the wheat-growing areas of the Inland Sea, primarily the Sanuki region (modern-day Kagawa and bits of Eihime and Tokushima prefectures on the island of Shikoku).

Although white sōmen noodles are sold year-round, many summertime packages will include brightly colored noodles.


Vivid pink are usually umé or plum-flavored, bright yellow are often egg-enriched and color-enhanced by kuchi nashi no mi dried gardenia pods. Green noodles are matcha tea-flavored.


Sōmen noodles have a special connection to TANABATA MATSURI, the Star Festival. When set to dry on racks, sōmen noodles look like threads on a loom: the warp and woof of Orihime's woven cloth.


Celebrated on July 7, the star festival marks the time when celestial movements bring Altair and Vega together across the Milky Way. The Japanese legend associated with Tanabata has Kengyu, a cowherd (as the star Altair), and Orihime, the Weaving Princess (as Vega) so enamored with each other that their work suffered.

As a result, the two were banished to opposite ends of the firmament. After frequently beseeching the gods to reunite them, their wish was granted: a brief meeting would be permitted, albeit, once a year.

This tale, which probably originated in China, has been known in Japan for at least 1200 years. 
DOWNLOAD information on buying, cooking, and storing sōmen noodles