It’s not quite summer in Japan yet, but it’s already starting to get hot and humid outside! Japanese people have a lot of summer traditions like watching fireworks, going to festivals, smashing watermelons, and nagashi somen. Wait, you’ve never heard of nagashi somen?! Well, keep reading because you’ve come to the right place! Or if you were just wondering what the mysterious “bamboo noodle slide” is in Animal Crossing New Horizons, we have got an answer for you. We are here to tell you a little bit about this fun, albeit a little crazy, Japanese summer pastime.
Maybe it’ll end up being your new favourite summer activity, too!
So What Is Nagashi Somen?
Before we can talk any more about nagashi somen, let’s make sure everyone knows what exactly somen is first. Somen is a type of noodle that is very soft and plain-flavoured, but are served with a salty broth that makes it very delicious! Somen is very affordable to buy and easy to cook, and especially delicious when served cold. That makes somen a popular summer food when other traditional noodle dishes like ramen and udon are just too hot, because somen can be prepared quickly and effortlessly, and makes a refreshing light meal.
“Nagashi somen” translates to “flowing somen” in English. It refers to an activity that is commonplace both in the countryside and the city in Japan especially for children, but adults can enjoy it too. Nagashi somen is a bit of a game. Traditionally, long chutes made from bamboo cut in half are laid out in a long, downward incline. Then, flowing water is added like a waterfall through the bamboo. Finally, clumps of cooked somen are placed in the cold water. As the somen rush down the bamboo chute, you have to try to catch it with your chopsticks and scoop it into your bowl of broth. The cold water makes the noodles chilled, and they’re usually dropped down the chute in bite-sized clumps that are just right for eating.
Of course, not everyone has the space or resources to build elaborate bamboo chutes. But that doesn’t stop people from enjoying nagashi somen! Small machines that fit on a table are widely available in Japan that you just add somen and water to, and the machine circulates them around in a circle or over a short track. Then you can still catch the somen as it’s flowing through the water and eat it without needing a lot of space or accessibility to bamboo. It’s certainly a way to make dinner time in the summer a lot more interesting!
Why Is It So Popular?!
So what makes nagashi somen so popular? You mean, aside from the fact that it’s both ridiculous and fun? Well, it’s not that hard or expensive to do, for a start. Bamboo actually grows incredibly fast, much faster than trees. So if you live somewhere you can grow it, it’s not a huge commitment to chop some down to make into a chute because it will grow back relatively quickly. Because of this, bamboo tends to be very cheap to buy for people who can’t grow it. And for those who don’t want to use real bamboo, you can even buy fake bamboo chutes made out of plastic that are produced specifically for nagashi somen.
The other reason nagashi somen is so popular in the summer is because it is a cool and refreshing treat. No one has to stand over a hot stove for hours to make it in the dead of summer because it cooks in about five minutes. The somen itself is also served cold, chilled by the water as we said above, and the broth is also cold. So it’s a nice, cool bite of savoury food; and the challenge of catching it is great for distracting you from thinking about how hot and humid it is outside in the meantime. Nagashi somen can also evolve into a water fight outside since there’s already plenty of cold water available, and there’s not much more refreshing than that in the summer heat!
While it might sound a little strange at first, nagashi somen is a fun and rewarding challenge and a great way to spend a summer afternoon. Not only do you get to enjoy delicious cold somen noodle soup, you also get the satisfaction of having caught it yourself. And it’s always a lot of fun to watch your friends and family struggle to do it, too. Whether it’s using traditional bamboo shoots or a more simple modern invention, nagashi somen is an important summer holiday for many people in Japan - and something interesting for you to try out, too.
In the meantime, you can craft a traditional nagashi somen set in Animal Crossing New Horizons and have a virtual somen party, too! It’s called “bamboo noodle slide,” so keep your eyes open for it if you play.
Have you ever had nagashi somen before? Would you like to try it? Do you think you would be up for the challenge? Are there any other Japanese traditions you would like to read a similar article about? Share your thoughts and questions below!