Hiyashi Chuka, a dish of cold ramen noodles with a chilled tare sauce and vibrant toppings, is one of the best parts of summer in Japan. Characterized by pale yellow ramen noodles and colorful toppings of sliced ham, cucumbers, and fried eggs, this seasonal dish has become a culinary icon for the Japanese summer.
The name Hiyashi Chuka literally means “chilled Chinese food.” The dish first appeared in Sendai about 80 years ago as a combination of Western, Chinese, and Japanese influences. However, neither Japan nor China claim the dish as their own and, despite its commercial success, the origins of Hiyashi Chuka are virtually unknown. This dish of chilled ramen noodles and refreshing toppings has spread throughout Japan, becoming one of the most popular dishes to eat during the hot summer months. Some consider Hiyashi Chuka an iconic treat, especially in the southern areas of Okinawa, Osaka, and Kyoto.
Hiyashi Chuka itself is an aesthetically gorgeous dish. It is composed of springy, pale yellow ramen noodles, dipped in a light brown, sweetish tare sauce, and topped with sliced fried eggs, cucumbers, and ham. Other varieties of Hiyashi Chuka also contain sliced carrots, ginger, chicken, tomatoes, bean sprouts, sesame seeds, and barbecued pork. All of these colorful toppings are arranged methodically on top of the bed of chilled ramen noodles in a circular fashion, producing both a beautiful and delicious meal. The careful arrangement of the dish highlights the importance of presentation, as well as taste, in Japanese cuisine and culture.
Although convenience stores and ramen shops both serve this summer staple, the quality of the Hiyashi Chuka varies greatly depending on the shop where it is purchased. Most 7-Eleven or Lawson convenience stores sell pre-made Hiyashi Chuka in typical, plastic containers in the Bento lunchbox section. Since they are sold pre-packaged, the ramen noodles from a convenience store Hiyashi Chuka are typically chewier and less flavorful than if they were freshly made. At a ramen restaurant, on the other hand, the noodles are softer and almost melt in your mouth.
Since Hiyashi Chuka is such a simple dish, you can taste the price difference from a convenience store, a cheap ramen restaurant, and a more expensive traditional restaurant. For cheap Hiyashi Chuka, made freshly at a ramen restaurant Ban-Nai (also known as Bannai) is a popular choice. They have over thirty branches in Tokyo, as well as a few outlets in Osaka, Iwate, and Nagano prefectures. High quality Hiyashi Chuka depends on the location; there are many well-known traditional restaurants with popular Hiyashi Chuka offerings, it’s best to ask the locals where their favorite place is!
If you have a chance, try eating Hiyashi Chuka at many different places and prices to find your favorite. While the ingredients vary depending on the prefecture, these delicious yellow, springy noodles that have become synonymous with summer in Japan are guaranteed to make you smile.