Cold Sesame Noodle Salad (Hiyashi Chuka)
By Sarah Marx Feldner, A Cook’s Journey to Japan: Fish Tales and Rice Paddies, 100 Homestyle Recipes from Japanese Kitchens
Reprinted with the express permission of Tuttle Publishing, a member of the Periplus Publishing Group.
The first time I ate this dish was as an ekiben (station meal) I bought before boarding the old-fashioned, one-car train traveling through the countryside along the Shimanto Gawa (erroneously considered the last free flowing river in Japan), headed towards the town of Uwajima on the southern island of Shikoku. The train “stations” we stopped at were nothing more than makeshift wind shields—no buildings, no employees—and no more than a small platform where waiting passengers could board. Just like a bus, you took a ticket when you boarded and paid the conductor as you got off.
I was almost too distracted by the beautiful scenery to taste the incredibly simple homemade meal that I bought for its familiarity—cold spaghetti-like noodles topped with sliced ham, cucumber and egg, then dressed with spicy yellow mustard and a sesame-sweetened soy sauce. Surprised by how much flavor came from such an everyday combination, I thought I had stumbled upon something truly unique. It was only later, as I walked through the streets of various towns, that I saw plastic replicas of the garnished noodles advertised in every restaurant window. While it may not be obscure, it is definitely delicious. Hiyashi Chuka is a Chinese-influenced cold noodle dish (chuka means “Chinese”) commonly eaten throughout Japan during the hot summer months. As with most dishes in Japan, the actual ingredients vary depending on the area in which the meal is served. When my friend moved from a city just outside of Tokyo to the northern city of Iwaki, she was served Hiyashi Chuka as part of her school lunch, but garnished with a large dollop of mayonnaise—a first for her to see!
Serves 4 for lunch or as a light supper
One 8-oz (250-g) package dried chuka soba or spaghetti noodles
4 teaspoons red pickled ginger slivers (beni shoga), divided
4 teaspoons mayonnaise, divided
2 teaspoons prepared hot mustard (Japanese, Chinese or Colman’s) (optional)
1 cup (130 g) sugar snap peas, blanched, plunged into ice water and drained
½ cup (70 g) thinly sliced marinated mushrooms
½ cup (55 g) Golden Thread Eggs
1 tomato, sliced into 12 thin wedges
One 1¼-in (3-cm)-thick slice deli ham, thinly sliced
To make the dressing, in a small bowl stir together the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the ground sesame seeds and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chuka soba, return the water to a boil, and cook according to package instructions, about 2 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water. Drain again.
To assemble, divide the noodles among four shallow bowls. Arrange each of the prepared toppings in five colorful strips, from the center to the edge of the bowl. Place a small mound of the pickled ginger and a small dollop of the mayonnaise in the center where the toppings meet. For added heat, place a small dollop of the mustard on the rim of the serving dish, if using.
Serve with the Dressing on the side, allowing each diner to dress the noodles to taste.
Cooking Tip - The great thing about this dish is that most of the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time so that all you have to do is boil the noodles and then assemble the dish just before serving. Though the station meal version I enjoyed in Uwajima had the spicy mustard mixed into the dressing, I like to place the hot mustard (karashi) on the rim of the serving dish to allow diners to better control the level of heat in each bite.