Beat the Heat: Five Must Try Summer Dishes in Japan
Summer in Japan is known for its oppressive heat and high humidity that literally sucks the energy straight out of your body. Summer here is hot and unrelenting and even has its own illness associated with it called “natsubate” (summer fatigue), which leaves people feeling tired and lethargic. If you are suffering from the summer heat, I recommend trying these five popular summer dishes to help cool down and boost energy levels allowing you to beat the summer heat.
1. Unagi (Japanese Freshwater Eel)
Unagi is one of Japan’s most popular summer delicacies that has been enjoyed since the early Edo period (1603-1868). A popular way to eat unagi during summer is in a dish called “Kabayaki”. The eel is put on metal skewers and grilled over charcoal while being dipped and basted in a thick sweet soy sauce. Sounds good, right? It is usually served over a bed of soft fluffy rice, don-buri (rice bowl) style. Unagi is perfect for the summer as it is believed to provide you with energy and stamina to help withstand the stifling hot and humid days of the Japanese summer. This has been scientifically proven as unagi is highly nutritious and packed with both Vitamin E and A as well as protein. Unagi is a wonderful summer dish to boost energy levels thus allowing you to beat the summer heat.
2. Somen (Japanese Noodles)
Somen are thin white Japanese noodles made of wheat flour that are usually served cold, chilled with ice in the summer to help stay cool. The noodles are served with a light tasting soy based dipping sauce that you can enhance the flavour of by adding green onions, ginger or sesame seeds. One of the reasons for its popularity is that it is light on the stomach, which is perfect for when you are suffering from the summer heat and don’t have much of an appetite. A fun way to eat somen in the summer is “nagashi-somen” (flowing noodles), where the noodles shoot down a long bamboo slide of ice-cold water. As the somen passes by, you pluck them out with your chopsticks and dip them in the dipping sauce. Somen is a fun and tasty Japanese summer dish to beat the summer heat.
3. Hiyashi Chuka (Chilled Chinese Noodles)
Hiyashi Chuka is a popular summer dish that consists of chilled ramen noodles topped with cold ingredients such as boiled chicken, ham, shredded egg, cucumber and tomatoes in a special sauce. The sauce is made from a combination of water, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil and is very tasty. Restaurants in Japan typically only serve it during the summer months, but it is really quick and easy to make at home yourself. You can also readily find it available at Supermarkets and Convenience Stores across Japan. Hiyashi Chuka is a delicious summer staple that really does actually help you to cool down and beat the heat.
4. Kakigori (Shaved Ice)
The quintessential Japanese summer treat is “Kakigori” or shaved ice, which can be enjoyed anytime of the day or night to cool down from the heat. It consists of finely shaved ice that is covered with a flavoured syrup and is sometimes sweetened with condensed milk or other toppings such as sweet azuki beans. Some of my favourite Kakigori flavours include Ichigo Milk (Strawberry Milk), Blue Hawaii (Soda) and Matcha Green Tea (topped with sweet azuki beans). You can find Kakigori everywhere in Japan from small corner street shops to cafes and restaurants. Kakigori might not be as healthy or nutritious as the other summer dishes on my list, but on a hot summer’s day in Japan, nothing beats it.
5. Goya Champuru (Bitter Melon Stir Fry)
Goya or bitter melon as it is called in English is a popular summer food in Japan. It is the key ingredient in a famous Okinawa summer dish called “Goya Champuru”, which is a healthy stir fry dish. It usually contains pork or spam, tofu, thinly sliced goya and scrambled eggs. Apart from being really tasty, it is a summer stamina dish that provides you with healthy doses of Vitamin A and C as well as antioxidants. Goya Champuru is a tasty Okinawan summer dish perfect for raising energy levels to fight off the summer heat.