Have You Tried Nagashi Somen? A Taste of Summer in Japan

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For the Japanese, Nagashi Somen is an authentic taste of summer in Japan.

This traditional Japanese dish is served in a most unusual way and gathers friends and family for a refreshing and light meal that is perfect for hot weather.

Nagashi Somen guide
Nagashi Somen or “flowing noodles”

In this short guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about this fun and exciting meal, as well as a few hazards to look out for. 

What is Nagashi Somen?

Nagashi somen is a special Japanese cold noodle dish that is served with a variety of savory dipping sauces.

The name nagashi somen (流しそうめん) literally means flowing noodles, giving a big hint as to how these cold somen noodles are served.

The noodles are placed in a long bamboo flume filled with cold running water, with diners using their chopsticks to grab the noodles as they flow by.

This unique presentation adds an element of fun and excitement to the meal, making it a popular choice for parties and gatherings!

The History of Nagashi Somen

The somen (素麺) wheat noodles in this refreshing dish have been enjoyed hot or cold in Japan for centuries.

Somen are noted for their thinness and the delicious tsuyu dipping sauces they are eaten with. 

The crazy idea of sending somen down a flume for diners to enjoy is far more recent.

Nagashi somen was the brainchild of the staff of a restaurant called House of Chiho in Takachiho in 1959.

They invented the serving method of using bamboo and the town’s fresh spring water to float noodles to the customers.

Their zany idea became a national trend that has continued to increase in popularity in Japan and around the world. Nagashi somen is enjoyed in restaurants, homes, and entire communities. 

Nagashi Somen is Summer Tradition and Social Event

Nagashi somen is now firmly embedded in Japanese culture as a summer treat and a fun way to cool down from the heat.

Nagashi Somen in Japan
Nagashi Somen summer tradition in Japan

It is also an excellent cure for the natsubate, summer fatigue that can leave many laying low.

As you can see above, friends and family do not hesitate to build their own flumes, cook and cool somen, and send it floating down a hollowed piece of bamboo.

The combination of fresh cool water and tasty noodles is a delicious one and guests love the challenge of fishing out a mouthful of noodles as the somen flow by.

It is so popular that you can even buy home appliances for serving nagashi somen in flowing water.

Take a look at this cool nagashi somen machine for serving flowing water noodles at home:

Editor’s Choice
Doshisha Nagashi Somen Device
$31.89

This Authentic Nagashi Somen Machine from Japan is a total game-changer for any noodle lover out there!

It’s got this cool battery-operated pump that makes the water flow just like a real stream.

No need for outlets; you can even take this thing to a picnic!

  • Authentic nagashi somen machine from Japan 
  • Battery-operated pump for water flow
  • Includes ice container, condiment trays, and drainer colander
  • Can move the slider for straight or curved course
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Thanks!
03/22/2024 02:08 pm GMT

Regional Variations

Each region has its own unique way of serving and enjoying this delicious dish.

Here are some of the most delicious of regional variations of nagashi somen:

  • Kyoto: Nagashi Somen is served with shiso (perilla) leaves and grated ginger. A dipping sauce made with soy sauce, mirin, and dashi is also popular. 
  • Hokkaido: Nagashi Somen is served with salmon roe, ikura, and sea urchin. A popular dipping sauce is made with soy sauce, mirin, and sake.
  • Tokyo: In Tokyo, Nagashi Somen is served with toppings such as tempura, grilled chicken, and thinly sliced beef. A typical Tokyo dipping sauce is made with soy sauce, mirin, and grated ginger.
  • Kagawa: A delicious dipping sauce made with soy sauce, mirin, and bonito flake is a great addition to the somen. Noodles can be topped with grated daikon, green onions, and shiso leaves.
  • Okinawa: Here, nagashi somen is served with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, mirin, and awamori (a type of Okinawan liquor). Noodles are also served with sliced pork and bitter melon.

These are just a few examples of the regional variations of Nagashi Somen. 

World Record Nagashi Somen

Nagashi somen has even been documented in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Several Japanese towns have rallied around to set up the world’s longest nagashi somen slide.

The current world record holder for the longest distance to flow noodles down a line of bamboo gutters is the town of Takamori in Shimoina, Nagano prefecture.

Locals managed to send somen noodles on an hour-long journey down an 11,533 ft (3,515.42 m) flume in November 2022.

A Closer Look at the Nagashi Somen Process

Nagashi Somen Process explained
Nagashi Somen process

Making nagashi somen is just as much fun as eating it.

As long as you’re creative and don’t mind getting wet, you’ll have a great time.

Preparing Nagashi Somen

Nagashi somen needs a little prep. You’ll need to boil the somen noodles in hot water for a few minutes until they are cooked.

An important step is to rinse the cooked noodles in cold water to remove any excess starch which will make them clump and cool them down quickly in a bowl of ice water to keep them cold until they are ready to be served.

The next challenge is to set up the bamboo flume and pour cold water through it to create a flowing stream. 

Add ice cubes to the water to keep it cold. You can place a strainer at the bottom of the flume to collect any noodles missed by diners.

Eating Method

Nagashi Somen is eaten by a group of diners who use chopsticks to grab flowing noodles as they pass down the bamboo flume.

flowing noodles Japanese dish
Japanese cold noodle dish

Dip the noodles you catch into a small dish of soy sauce or a dipping sauce of your choice.

The noodles should be eaten quickly to prevent them from getting too soggy.

Miss a noodle, don’t worry! Just wait for the next batch to come by.

Is Nagashi Somen Hygienic?

Yes. Nagashi somen is usually served hygienically with no greater risk of foodborne illness than any other food.

Care must be taken not to contaminate the flowing water, with guests often using different chopsticks to pick up the noodles from the chopsticks used to eat.

It is important to ensure that the dipping sauce is properly stored and prepared to avoid the risk of food poisoning. 

Other Concerns

Nagashi somen also carries a risk of choking.

Because Nagashi Somen is served with flowing water, the noodles are often slippery and difficult to catch. Be careful when trying to catch the noodles and chew them thoroughly to avoid choking.

Another concern is the use of bamboo to make the flumes that the noodles flow through, and there is a risk of splinters if the bamboo is not properly sanded.

It is important to inspect the flumes before eating to ensure that there are no sharp edges or splinters.

Conclusion

Overall, Nagashi Somen is a must-try experience for anyone visiting Japan during the summer.

The combination of delicious food, a refreshing atmosphere, and a fun challenge make it a unique and memorable dining experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who tries it.

Whether you are a seasoned foodie or simply looking for a unique and delicious dining experience, Nagashi Somen is a dish that is definitely worth trying.

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