Somen noodles are a type of thin Japanese noodles made from wheat flour, with a mild flavor and delicate texture. They are usually served chilled with a soy-based dipping sauce, as well as in soups, salads, and stir-frys.
- Made from wheat flour
- Can be served hot or chilled
- Thin: Less than 1.3 mm in diameter
- Originate in Japan
What Are Somen Noodles?
Somen noodles are a thin, vermicelli-style Japanese noodle made from wheat flour. They have a mild flavor and delicate, consistency, and a pale white color. They can be eaten chilled, with a soy-based dipping sauce called tsuyu, or hot, usually in a soup or broth. Traditionally the cold version is favored during the warmer months and the hot versions in winter.
One of the most notable ways of serving somen noodles is nagashi somen, where servings of cold somen noodles are washed down a bamboo chute on a stream of cold water, and the diner must pluck the noodles out using chopsticks as the noodles flow past.
Traditional somen noodles are made by combining wheat flour and salted water to form a dough, then letting that dough rest for several hours, before rolling it out and cutting it into long ropes, which are brushed with vegetable oil and then stretched, first by hand, and then by looping the strands around long bamboo sticks that are moved further and further apart so that the strands of noodles reach 12 or more feet in length. This stretching is essential to the development of the glutens in the flour, and, along with the oil, is what gives somen noodles their distinctively chewy, almost bouncy consistency.
The stretched noodles are then dried in the sun before cutting them down to size, then divided into bundles and wrapped. Today, most somen noodles are made using machines that do the majority of this stretching using a system of pulleys and wheels. The final somen noodles are less than 1.3 millimeters thick, which is one of the characteristics that define somen. The next thickness is hiyamugi noodles, and then udon noodles, which are the thickest.
Somen vs. Soba Noodles
Somen noodles are sometimes compared with another Japanese noodle, called soba, that is made using primarily buckwheat flour along with a small amount of wheat flour. This comparison is mainly due to the fact that both somen and soba are often served chilled and eaten with a rich dipping sauce made from soy sauce and other ingredients, such as ponzu or mirin.
But on closer examination, the two noodles are quite different. Soba noodles are a light brown color and have a nutty flavor, as compared with somen which are a pale white and mild in flavor. Soba noodles are a bit thicker than somen. And, because soba noodles have little or no gluten, they can't be stretched, so they're made by cutting. Their texture is thus a bit more dense than somen.
How to Cook With Somen Noodles
Somen noodles are prepared by simmering them in plain water, then draining them before plunging them into an ice-water bath to chill them and stop the cooking process. These chilled noodles are then served on a tray or basket, sometimes atop ice cubes, and eaten with a flavorful dipping sauce made from soy sauce and other ingredients such as ponzu, a clear citrus-based sauce, or mirin, a sweet rice wine. Popular garnishes for the noodles include grated ginger, pureed yam, sesame seeds, shredded seaweed, chopped green onion, and wasabi paste.
The cooked noodles can also be added to hot broth, usually, an umami-rich concoction made by simmering a Japanese kelp called ponzu along with dried bonito flakes, sometimes topped with a poached egg. And, they can also be added to salads, stir-frys, and served as an accompaniment with grilled items such as beef, chicken, shrimp, or ham.
What Do They Taste Like?
Somen noodles have a fairly mild flavor, with a hint of saltiness, and a springy, chewy texture.
Somen Noodle Recipes
Here are a few recipes that feature somen noodles.
Where To Buy Somen Noodles
Dried somen noodles can be found at Japanese grocery stores, Asian grocery stores, as well as in the Asian foods sections of larger conventional supermarkets. They're also available online.
Dried somen noodles are best used within about a year of purchasing them, provided they're stored in a cool, dry place, the same way you'd keep dried pasta or rice.