I’m back in Japan, and the heat is INTENSE! Thankfully, I’ve got the breeze of Tokyo Bay to cool down in the evenings, but during the day it’s tough. However, one thing that keeps me going is the thought of unwinding with something refreshing and tasty. Being the foodie that I am, I’ve come up with 5 delicious ways to stay cool in Japan this summer. The best thing is that these are all family friendly and you can recreate these dishes, snacks and drinks at home.
1. Hiyashi Chuuka | 冷やし中華
For some reason, Japan, a country with a hot and humid climate, embraces cold foods during the summer months. Quite interesting because when you think about it, all the “spicy” cuisine of the world comes from countries in hot, tropical climates.
Regardless, there are several kinds of “cold noodle’ dishes that are worth trying in the summertime: hiyashi chuuka, soba, soumen, ramen (actually served with ice cubes in Yamagata), and even cold pasta. They’re not my favorite summery dish (that would be red thai curry). BUT it’s an incredibly easy meal to make when you need to make dinner but don’t want to use the stove.
One of the most popular cold noodle dishes is hiyashi chuuka, which translates directly to “chilled Chinese noodles.” hiyashi chuka are noodles served cold and topped with sliced tomatoes, julienne cucumbers and ham, and shredded eggs. Think of it as a cold ramen salad!
Though it has roots in Chinese cuisine, it’s a distinctly Japanese dish popular since the 1930s. You can easily find this on the shelves of convenience stores or menus at family restaurants.
I use fresh (生 | nama) noodles and frozen noodles as well when I make hiyashi chuuka. Whatever’s on sale at the supermarket. The packaging will say 冷やし中華麺 (hiyashi chuuka men) and will come with dressing (だれ), usually lemon (レモン) or sesame (ごま／胡麻).
Instead of shredded eggs I use quartered onsen eggs (flavored boiled eggs) and flaxseeds for crunch.
2. Boba | タピオカティー
Japan’s latest fad from Asia shows no sign of slowing down. Originating in Taiwan in the 1980s, boba/bubble tea is an edible concoction with tea, milk/creamer, sugar or syrup and chewy tapioca pearls.
At first, boba shops in Japan were concentrated in areas with a high population of Korean and Chinese residents, like Shin-Okubo (Koreatown). Later it spread to touristy areas like Harajuku and Shibuya.
Now even local shopping malls across Japan have boba stands. I wrote about long lines at Gong Cha, but don’t be surprised if you have to wait at an entirely different chain, especially if you go on the weekends.
You can always skip the lines and head straight for a convenience store. Or, if you want to cut down on plastic use, make your own bubble at home. The hardest part is getting the tapioca pearls to just the right consistency. Don’t forget your reusable straws!
(I mentioned in the intro that these foods/dishes are “family friendly.” I certainly don’t let my little Kaiju eat tapioca pearls but I give her milk tea that’s slightly sweet.)
3. Mint Chocolate Sweets | チョコミント味
One thing that I love about having a sweet tooth in Japan is that every season new desserts come out that incorporate seasonal flavors. In the fall it’s grapes and chestnuts; come winter, it’s strawberries and apples; in spring it’s sakura and plum; and, in the summer it’s watermelon and tropical fruits. Or so I thought.
In recent years, “chocominto” flavored this-and-that have come to dominate convenience store shelves across Japan.
Now, just being perfectly honest here, I don’t get the chocominto hype. But, I have to admit, some treats actually taste good, like those ice cream macaroons at 7-Eleven.
Just browse the snack aisles and dessert section at your local convenience store to see all the creative chocominto creations. Better yet, visit all three major ones to compare what’s in stock.
4. Chilled Pork Salad | 冷しゃぶサラダ
A dish that requires no more than 10-15 minutes to prepare, a chilled pork salad (rei shabu salad) is a summer must.
Using the technique to cook a shabu shabu hot pot, dip thinly sliced pork is into hot water and set atop a bed of crisp lettuce. Garnish with sliced tomatoes, sesame seeds and sesame dressing atop crisp lettuce.
If use mini tomatoes you wouldn’t even need to use a knife as you can tear apart the lettuce with your hands.
Since iceberg lettuce lacks the nutrient that dark leafy greens have, swap them out or add mizuna leaves, broccoli florets and saya beans (thin, flat peas in a pod).
I like to add kaiware (baby daikon sprouts) as well because of the peppery kick they add — and because they’re almost always in a supermarket for less than 50 yen.
I also use leftover rei shabu salad and noodles to make another cold noodle dish so I don’t have to cook much when it’s hot.
5. Kakigoori | かき氷
My personal favoriteon this list, kakigoori, or shaved ice, is Japan’s quintessential summer treat.
Popular shops, like Asami Reizou in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, command wait times of an hour or more! (I’ve been there and the key is to go early in the morning before the shop opens! You’ll still wait, but the temperatures will be comparatively cooler.)
Kakigoori is almost 1000 years old, and the technique has been perfected across centuries. This has resulted in a “fluffier,” airy mountain of shaved ice that is as light as freshly fallen snow.
The traditional, old-school method of making kakigoori involves cutting blocks of ice from a frozen body of freshwater, then storing in a freezer until summer rolls around. This block of ice is then shaved with a hand-spun machine.
Classic flavors include kinako (roasted soybean powder), ichigo (strawberry), matcha, and azuki (red bean paste). Kakigoori is served with a side of condensed milk (練乳 | ren nyuu). At summer festivals, you’ll get bright, colorful flavors like blue Hawaii, pineapple, and melon soda.
One variation of kakigoori worth trying is shirokuma (しろくま). It’s a colorful, fruity concoction topped with condensed milk, mikan, cherries, pineapple chunks, raisins, mochi, and adzuki beans.
In recent years, Taiwanese-style (baobing/tsuabing) and Korean-style (bingsu) shaved ice stores have been popping up across Japan.
If you can’t escape the heat, these 5 delicious ways to stay cool this summer in Japan make things more manageable. Which of these five dishes and treats will you recreate at home first?
5 Delicious Ways To Stay Cool In Japan This Summer