Although Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873, the old Japanese 24-season lunisolar calendar is still used to celebrate birthdays and cultural events. July 7 is Shsho or "small heat day" when the "warm winds blow, and young hawks learn to fly." In modern times, July 7 is also known as Hiyashi Chuka Day. Hiyashi Chuka is a popular Japanese summertime dish consisting of chilled ramen or somen noodles topped with fresh vegetables, a protein, and thin strips of omelet, all drizzled with a spicy sauce known as a tare. "Hiyashi" means chilled and "chuka" means Chinese food. This is because noodles are believed to have originated in China before being brought to Japan. The dish first appeared about 80 years ago and is a combination of Japanese, Chinese and American influences.
Starting in May, after a winter of serving hot soupy noodles, ramen shops in Japan post signs announcing: "Hiyashi Chuka Hajimemashita," which means they're now serving cold ramen. During summer, Hiyashi Chuka is so popular that you can even buy it in to-go containers at convenience stores. Hiyashi Chuka is a perfect summer picnic dish because it's easy to make, doesn't require much time in a hot kitchen, and can be eaten cold or at room temperature.
A classic Hiyashi Chuka consists of a pile of chilled (and sometimes iced) noodles served on a rimmed plate with four to eight toppings arranged aesthetically in a circular pattern. Protein options can include ham, grilled or poached chicken, pan-fried Spam, Chinese roast pork, shrimp or crab. Blanched bean sprouts and thin strips of omelet are common. Seasonal vegetables can include asparagus, snap peas, green beans, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes and shredded cabbage.
Fresh Hiyashi Chuka noodles can be found in the refrigerated case of Japanese markets and many well-stocked Asian grocers, but if they're not available at your market, dried ramen or somen noodles can be used.
There are 2 types of tare dressings commonly served with Hiyashi Chuka: a soy sauce-based dressing and a sesame miso-based dressing. The dressing can be made ahead and should be added just before eating and thoroughly mixed in to ensure all the ingredients are coated.
This recipe calls for thin strips of sweet egg omelet known as kinshi tamago. You'll want to make this ahead as well. Traditionally, this omelet is made in a square pan and rolled, but for this dish, a round nonstick pan works fine.
Hiyashi Chuka with Poached Chicken and Sesame Miso Sauce
This recipe has several steps, but the components can be prepared ahead and kept cold. It assembles quickly, and the dressing is added right before serving.
1-inch knob of fresh ginger
8 cups water
1 cup bean sprouts
3 bundles of dry ramen noodles
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 English cucumber
2 ears of corn
Beni Shoga (pickled red ginger) – for garnish – optional
For the Kinshi Tamago (shredded egg omelet)
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon mirin
Pinch of Kosher salt
Neutral oil such as rice bran, grapeseed or canola
For the Sesame Miso Sauce
4 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds (plus more for garnish)
4 tablespoons miso (I prefer Miso Master Organic Traditional Red Miso)
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Chicken broth (use the poaching liquid from the chicken)
Slice the ginger into thin coins. Don't bother peeling. Trim and cut the scallions into 1-inch segments. Set aside.
Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Bring the water to a boil in a heavy pot. Add the bean sprouts and blanch for 1 minute. Remove the sprouts, plunge them into the ice bath to stop the cooking, then drain. In the same pot, blanch the ears of corn for about 3 minutes and cool in the ice bath.
Drop the noodles into the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions. If using fresh noodles, loosen and separate the noodles with your fingers, and drop them into the boiling water. If using dried noodles, place in boiling water and pull them apart with a fork or chopsticks. These noodles will cook very quickly. Remove the noodles from the pot and rinse with cold water.
Add the salt to the remaining boiling water in the pot and add the ginger, scallions and chicken. Cover and poach for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. When cool enough to handle, shred using two forks. Strain and reserve the chicken poaching liquid for the sesame miso sauce.
While the chicken poaching liquid cools down, make the shredded egg omelet. Crack two eggs into a bowl. Add the mirin, a pinch of salt, and whisk well. Pour the whisked egg into a sieve set over another bowl and use a spoon to help pass it through. Heat a small non-stick frying pan on a medium-low setting and lightly coat with oil. Pour the egg into the pan and swirl it around, coating the bottom of the pan with an even layer. Cook until the egg is just barely set and flip over. Remove the pan from the heat, loosen the perimeter of the omelet with a rubber spatula, and slide it onto a cutting board. Fold the omelet in half and cut it into thin strips, about inch wide.
To make the sesame miso sauce, grind the sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. In a bowl, combine the miso, soy sauce, rice vinegar and maple syrup. Add the ground sesame seeds and sesame oil to the bowl. Mix together and stir in some of the poaching liquid from the chicken, a spoonful at a time, until you have a smooth, flowable sauce. Set aside in a cool place.
Peel the cucumber, Cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds with a small spoon, and slice into 2-inch matchsticks. Cut tomato in half and thinly slice. Cut the kernels off the corn cobs.
To assemble, place a couple of ice cubes in the center of rimmed plates and top with a portion of the cold noodles. Arrange the toppings in neat piles around the perimeter of the plate with the pickled ginger in the center. Pour over the dressing right before serving and garnish with some sesame seeds.