Somen enjoys a boom in sauce, noodle variety

Courtesy of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten Co.
Somen served with cucumbers and Hoajao Nikumiso sauce

In recent years, people have come to find that there are many ways to enjoy somen noodles, which are usually eaten by dipping them in mentsuyu dipping broths, and even the noodles themselves have shown up in new forms on store shelves.

Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten Co., a Nara-based company that manufactures and sells everyday items, offers a variety of sauces that are simply poured over boiled somen noodles. The company began offering these summer-only products in 2020. Six types of noodle sauces are available this year with prices starting at ¥432.

They include such sauces as Hoajao Nikumiso (Miso paste mixed with meat and hua jiao Szechuan peppers) and Butaniku Goma Tonyu (Pork with sesame and soy milk), both of which are as popular as they are filling. There is also a refreshing sauce called Jure Sosu Yuzu Kosho (Jelly sauce with citrus-infused chili yuzu kosho), as well as Tori Shio Lemon (Chicken and lemon in salt broth).

“You may get tired of eating somen if you always eat it with mentsuyu. We developed these products so that people can enjoy somen every day,” an official of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten said.

Other food manufacturers are also jumping into the market to offer summer-only Western, Chinese and Japanese-style somen sauces.

At the same time, more kinds of noodles are becoming available. Stores are now selling fresh and semi-dried somen, in addition to conventional dried noodles.

Kobayashijin Seimen Co. of Nagasaki Prefecture offers Reito Tenobe Nama Somen, or frozen hand-stretched fresh somen noodles, at ¥378 during the summer season.

The noodles are flash-frozen after being stretched. To cook, defrost the noodles and boil them for one minute. Thanks to their water content, the noodles have a chewy texture. The company started full-fledged sales of the noodles last year in the hope that people will enjoy the superb flavor that only fresh noodles can offer.

Doshisha Corp., a company in Osaka that manufactures and sells household goods, launched a device in spring that allows people to enjoy nagashi somen, somen noodles served in flowing cold water, at home.

The Take no Ryotei Nagashi Somen is a ¥6,578 set composed of bamboo-like parts and supports that can be assembled into an up to 1.7-meter-long trough or two separate troughs. Water is recirculated through tubes connected to the troughs.

“More and more parents and children are using the device to enjoy nagashi somen at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and extremely hot weather,” a Doshisha official said.

Restaurants specializing in somen have also been popping up, mainly in Tokyo, and last year even saw the establishment of an association of shops specializing in somen, called the Tenobe Somen Senmonten Taba no Kai.

Somen Jiro, a somen specialist, said the appeal of the noodles is that they can be boiled in a short time and easily adapted for different menus using a variety of seasonings and ingredients.

“They’re also great in that you can enjoy somen parties with friends or family,” he said. “As summer has gotten hotter and longer, easy-to-cook somen noodles began attracting attention, and there was a boom in recipes introduced on video-sharing websites and in books.”

He added, “Hand-stretched somen production is facing a shortage of successors, and I hope that the recent popularity of somen will lead to more people eating the noodles not only during summer but throughout the year.”