Cups of cold tea sit in front of cold noodles and a bowl of tsuyu dipping sauce

Hot Weather Noodles: Tsukemen, Zaru Soba, and Nagashi Sōmen

Now that the weather’s finally getting warmer and we're coming out of winter hibernation, you may be looking for cooler dishes to beat the heat. If you live anywhere like our hometown of Osaka, it gets quite humid, with summer temperatures reaching up to around 37°C (98.6°F). So what’s a noodle lover to do?


A bowl of cold tsukemen ramen noodles sits next to a bowl of hot soup

Tsukemen separates the noodles from the bowl. Image via Adobe.

One brilliant dish is tsukemen. Tsukemen (dipping noodles) is a popular Japanese dish that provides an alternative to hot soup during the warmer months. First invented by Tokyo restauranteurs Kazuo Yamagishi and Masayasu Sakaguchi, it consists of cold noodles that are dipped into a hot, more concentrated soup.

Ramen, udon or soba noodles are served cold or at room temperature, while the soup is served hot. The soup can look just like ramen without the noodles – with toppings like nori seaweed, char siu pork, menma (bamboo shoots), and eggs, but it may have a stronger dashi (Japanese soup stock) flavor than a traditional ramen bowl.

So how does one eat tsukemen when the noodles and soup are in separate dishes? Take a handful of noodles between a pair of chopsticks, dip it into the soup and enjoy! It can take a bit of practice not to drop your noodles or splash the soup while the noodles are making their way to your mouth, but we promise that this dish is worth the trouble!

Hiyashi chūka tsukemen (chilled Chinese-style dipping noodles) is a popular variety of tsukemen consisting of ramen noodles, dipping soup, and a side of toppings (sliced egg, cucumber, ham, wakame seaweed, and/or tomatoes). It is also known as reimen (chilled noodles) in Osaka or hiyashi ramen in Hokkaido.

A plate with cold noodles, meat, egg and veggies over bamboo next to a cup of broth

Chilled chūkamen is typically served with cucumber and ham, dipped into a savory dipping sauce.

Zaru Soba & Zaru Udon

Another beloved meal enjoyed cold is zaru soba (buckwheat noodles) and zaru udon (wheat noodles). Zaru soba and zaru udon are served on what is known as a zaru, a flat bamboo basket that is both functional and aesthetic, used to both strain and serve noodles.

Interestingly, 'zaru' has several uses in Japanese slang derived from its use as a strainer, including zaruhō (a legal loophole), zarugo (a humble term to describe yourself as an amateur go player), and simply zaru as either an insult for a lousy player in sports or someone who can hold their liquor well (the latter as a reference for the utensil’s absorption of water).

Zaru soba and zaru udon are both served with dipping sauce, green onions, ginger, wasabi and sometimes a side of shrimp and vegetable tempura.

A bamboo box of cold soba noodles next to tempura, tsuyu dipping sauce, and other add-ins

Zaru soba and tempura teishoku at a Japanese restaurant. The pitcher contains tsuyu for the soba noodles to pour into the red bowl, while the dipping sauce on the right-hand side is for the tempura. Image via Adobe.


One more popular chilled noodle dish is sōmen. Sōmen is a thin wheat noodle, usually 1.3-1.6 millimeters in diameter, with a delicate texture. Like naengmyeon in South Korea, Japanese sōmen is a popular noodle dish enjoyed in summer, but it is usually served with tsuyu, a simple but flavorful dipping sauce. Tsuyu is made of soy sauce, mirin, and dashi.

You can usually find tsuyu premade at the grocery store. When it comes to store-bought tsuyu, you can find diluted tsuyu or concentrated tsuyu. If it’s diluted, it should be consumed within a few weeks once opened, while the concentrated version lasts a few weeks in the refrigerator. When using the concentrated variety, it can have a very strong salty flavor, so we recommend pouring it into a small dish and diluting with water according to taste.

If you want to fancy it up, you can also enjoy sōmen with cucumber, nori seaweed, egg, green onions, and even tomato slices, along with a cold glass of mugicha (barley tea) – a beloved beverage during humid Japanese summers.

There’s nothing like blasting the AC and enjoying the contrasting temperatures of ramen and ice cream! Check out Nakama Noodles today!

Have you ever seen noodles making their way down a piece of cut bamboo filled with water? This is exactly the kind of culinary experience you can enjoy at Hirobun in Kyoto. 1.5 hours from Kyoto station, Hirobun is a restaurant surrounded by waterfalls near Mt. Kurama and Kifune Shrine. It offers what is known as nagashi-sōmen ("flowing sōmen noodles").

As thin wheat noodles make their way down a stream of water, you have to catch the sōmen before it floats away. At the end of the meal service, a special plum-flavored red sōmen comes down the stream. Tsuyu, green onions, and wasabi are provided for dipping. Hirobun does not take reservations and it can take up to 3-4 hours during peak periods to get a seat, so plan accordingly!

Chopsticks grab noodles from a stream of water flowing down a bamboo shoot

Catch noodles in motion with nagashi-sōmen. Image via Adobe.

Whether you're simply looking for a cooler version of ramen with an equally flavorful soup, like tsukemen, a traditional noodle dish like zaru soba, or a novel experience like nagashi-somen, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Japanese noodles in the warmer months!

How do you like to enjoy ramen in the spring and summer? Let us know in the comments!

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