Be a good sport: catch your noodles before you eat them by taking part in nagashi somen during these sweltering hot months.

Summer is the season for nagashi somen (流し 素麺), when kids and grownups alike get to play with their food by partaking in the unique experience of eating “flowing noodles,” a meal that requires both a big appetite and some physical dexterity. The main course in question is somen, a white wisp of a noodle made out of wheat and cut so thin you can’t even measure it with a ruler. Like its more famous, fat-bodied cousin, the udon noodle, somen can be eaten both hot and cold, but it’s best known as a dish served cold— just what your belly needs for those hot-weather days. Somen noodles cook almost instantly once they hit boiling water, and are often served chilled on a bed of ice in a communal bowl. The slender noodles are dipped into a smaller bowl of tsuyu, a delicately flavoured dipping sauce, and garnished with delicious accents like chopped leeks, ginger, cucumbers, wasabi and kinshi tamago, a pan-fried egg omelette that’s neatly rolled and sliced into thin strips.

Somen is tasty enough when it’s piled high and standing still, but it’s even more delicious when it’s on the move. With nagashi somen, the noodles are cooked and cooled as usual, then sent flying in handfuls down a long bamboo flume on a stream of ice-cold, crystal-clear water. The person at the top of the flume tells everyone to get ready by calling, “Iku yo!” and people gather on either side of the flume with chopsticks ready to snatch as many noodles as they can, immersing each successful catch into their own personal bowl of dipping sauce. The flow is fast and the noodles are slippery, so getting the hang of things takes practice, but don’t be intimidated if you’re not an expert at using chopsticks. Stay near the top of the flume: even if you can’t grab the rocketing noodles the first few times, someone down the line will snag them. And once you find your rhythm, nagashi somen is fun and filling. It’s also a rare chance for adults and children to play with their food in public, and with gusto.

With its mix of feasting and fun, nagashi somen is a festive food to share with your family. This playful, group-oriented dish pairs perfectly with traditional Japanese celebrations like Obon, which honours the souls of ancestors who come back to visit during mid-August. For a more formal style, some specialty restaurants also offer nagashi somen as a seasonal delicacy, but better be quick if you try this method—restaurants urge guests to catch and eat as much as possible, since whatever falls into the bowl at the end of the flume will be thrown away.


Know your somen-catching etiquette

HOW TO GO WITH THE FLOW

Follow these three simple tips and you’ll be playing with your food like a pro.

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DO be considerate

Nagashi somen is a communal food, so be sure to leave enough noodles for everyone else.

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DON’T double dip

Once you’ve nabbed your sticks full of somen, don’t chew a little and put the rest back. What goes in your bowl goes in your mouth.

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DON’T use your fingers

The water and noodles are shared by everyone, so stay sanitary and use your chopsticks, not your digits.


Illustrations by Chieko Watanabe