Japanese Noodles In The Summer
We could be eating chow mein, Top Ramen, pancit, linguine, elbow macaroni, rice sticks or udon. But what my 7-year-old daughter says is, 'More spaghetti, please.'
I may have succeeded at the stove, but I've failed on the vocabulary lesson.
In summer, much of the 'spaghetti' at our table is cold Japanese-style noodles - udon, soba or ramen. Quick to prepare, assemble and serve, they're the perfect hot-day meal.
In Japan, noodles are inhaled rather than chewed - although I've never been able to manage that without choking. But go to a soba shop in the midday heat, and just listening to the sound of diners noisily slurping up noodles will somehow make you feel cooler - if a bit odd, as though you were interrupting a private dining experience.
It helps if you can handle chopsticks, for it's awkward to fit a forkful of dangling soba into a cup of sauce, then fit it into your mouth without splattering the table and your shirt as well.
The secret to a good dish of noodles, besides not overcooking them, is in the sauce. And good broth is a very personal thing. My grandparents came from western Japan, as did most of the early Japanese immigrants to the United States, so for me the perfect broth is light and sweet. The sauces from Tokyo and eastern Japan tend to be darker and saltier from a more liberal addition of soy sauce.
Alas, many Japanese cookbooks are written by people from Tokyo. So, if you don't know the cookbook author's palate, always taste the sauce as you are adding ingredients. Otherwise, your children - who are accustomed to their grandmother's cooking - will dig into your bowl of noodles and, instead of 'More spaghetti, please,' will say: 'This tastes funny.' It's been known to happen.