Cold and Chewy

Chilled noodles at Itani Ramen say Japanese summer.


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Miguel Muñoz shows off a bowl of Cold Cali Noodles, a perfect summer dish, at Itani Ramen.

Photos by Lori Eanes

Say the word ramen, and most folks will imagine piping-hot noodles in broth. But a summertime favorite throughout Japan finds those same fresh wheat noodles served cold—typically topped with sliced ham, julienned omelet, tomato wedges, and cucumber strips, dressed with sweetened soy sauce.

It’s called hiyashi chuka, meaning “chilled Chinese,” because the type of noodles commonly known as ramen were introduced to Japan in the last century by Chinese chefs; thus, they are also called chukamen.

At Itani Ramen in Uptown Oakland, chef Kyle Itani celebrates hiyashi chukka—while winking slyly at California rolls—with Cold Cali Noodles: chilled ramen topped with snow crab, avocado, cucumber, tobiko, sesame, and ginger and wasabi on the side.

Itani remembers buying hiyashi chuka on bullet-train journeys during sweltering Japanese summers.

 

“Each stop along the rail lines has local delicacies from that region in bento-box form. I usually go for battera zushi [pressed mackerel sushi] and whatever noodle dish I see,” he explained.

“But hiyashi chuka is perfect” for summer travel “because it’s served cold, so grab-and-go is an ideal way” to enjoy it.

“I love how refreshing it is—also, how easy it is to make at home. It’s just noodles, sauce, and any leftovers in the fridge. We ate this once a week growing up as kids. My dad isn’t the best cook, but he can definitely make hiyashi chuka.”

Adding to the dish’s intrigue are its “infinite” local versions, Itani said. “Japan is often overlooked for its region-specific cuisine. As one goes from coast to coast and through the mountains, one finds lots of variations in terrain and bounty. From sakura shrimp in Shizuoka to mountain vegetables in Nagano, it all makes great hiyashi chuka toppings.”

The main complication in making this dish is that “ramen noodles slowly get softer and softer as they sit in hot broth. Ice-shocking the noodles makes them immediately tighten up and become really chewy. We cook our hot ramen noodles for 90 seconds but have to cook the same noodles for twice as long if we are going to ice-shock and serve them cold.”

Itani Ramen, 1736 Telegraph Ave., Oakland,  510-788-7489, ItaniRamen.com.

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