Summer in Japan is extremely muggy, hot, and uncomfortable, much more so than in New York. That weather easily leads to summer lethargy, but how did people survive such sweltering conditions in times when there was no A/C? One of the tricks was food. Here we introduce 10 dishes that Japanese have traditionally enjoyed to help fight the summer heat.
With high heat and humidity, people easily lose their appetites. The Japanese way to beat this is to eat something cold, refreshing, and energy boosting at the same time. Hiyashi Chuka meets all these requirements for heat resistance. These cold ramen noodles are dressed with a light, appetizing sweet & sour sauce that makes you want to eat more. The combination of the slick texture of the noodles, the sourness from the sauce and the kick from the karashi (very spicy Japanese mustard) are particularly important for stimulating your appetite. Also, the toppings which contain both vegetables and protein are nutritiously balanced. There are no strict rules for choice of toppings, but authentic Hiyashi Chuka is topped with shredded cucumber, sliced tomatoes, kinshi tamago (shredded egg crepe), shredded ham, and beni shoga (shredded pickled ginger).
Somen is also a summer staple. It’s a vermicelli-thin wheat noodle dish, usually served ice-cold with dipping sauce and condiments like grated ginger, wasabi and chopped scallions. Just like Hiyashi Chuka, Somen’s slick texture makes you want to eat more and the three condiments greatly help to boost energy. People often eat Zaru Soba (cold buckwheat noodles with dipping sauce) and Zaru Udon (cold thick wheat noodles with dipping sauce) for the same reasons, though these noodles are thicker than Somen.
Cold and slick appetizers are also favored during the summer. As Tokoroten has been enjoyed in Japan for centuries, it must be the number one traditional summer appetizer. Made of agar agar, it has a jelly-like texture with a transparent look. For ease of eating, it is made into a noodle shape and served with vinegary soy sauce, karashi and roasted sesame. More than 95% of tokoroten is made up of water, so it’s low calorie. Since agar agar contains an abundance of fiber, tokoroten is a great dish for those watching their weight. Hiyayakko, or cold tofu, is enjoyed all year round, but especially during the summer. Its texture is soft and slick, and it can be eaten without effort even when you don’t have much of an appetite. Kinugoshi (soft or silken) style tofu is usually used for hiyayakko in the summer. The simplest hiyayakko is served with soy sauce and grated ginger, but you can add toppings to the dish to make it more flavorful and nutritious. Katsuobushi (bonito flakes), umeboshi (pickled plum), nori seaweed, wakame seaweed, scallions and myoga ginger are other popular toppings.
A variety of vegetable and protein toppings on Hiyashi Chuka makes it more flavorful and healthful.
Zaru Soba (cold buckwheat noodles) with condiments served with dipping sauce. Such a simple dish yet nutritious.
Hearty, rich, high calorie and nutritious dishes are equally as popular as refresh- ing cold dishes among Japanese in the summer. The best example is Unagi no Kabayaki, grilled eel with thick sauce over rice. Containing protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron, eel is believed to provide power for recovery from fatigue. The dish can be enjoyed any time of the year, but it is particularly popular on the day of Ushi in the summer Doyo period of the lunar calendar (usually late July and early August, July 25 and August 6 this year.) The custom started as a kind of sales promotional campaign in the late 18th century.
Pork Katsu Curry is another dish that is favored in the summer although available throughout the year. First, pork is a good source of Vitamin B1 (thiamin), a nutrient that helps the body convert carbohydrates into glucose. The body then uses glucose to produce energy. In this sense, pork’s energy boosting effect is doubled when eaten with rice. So it makes sense to enjoy Pork Katsu Curry served over rice. Second of all, curry is made from a blend of spices and herbs that help boost appetite and metabolism. Thirdly, the word “katsu” means “to overcome,” “to conquer” and “to win,” and Japanese love to eat it when they need to beat something, although it’s based on superstition. In the same way, Katsu Don, pork cutlet and egg over rice, is also popular among people who want to get a burst of stamina from one dish.
The southernmost prefecture of Japan, Okinawa, is located in a tropical climate zone, and its diet is full of ideas for beating the heat. Residents habitually eat pork, seaweed, seafood, tofu and tropical vegetables. One of the notable Okinawan dishes, Goya Chanpuru, is a stir-fry of goya or nigauri (bitter melon), tofu, egg and pork. Goya contains five times more Vitamin C than cucumber and tomato, and this nutrient as well as its bitterness, momordicin, helps improve digestion and lower cholesterol. This vine vegetable has actually been used in herbal medicine treatments in Asia and Africa. Therefore, Goya Chanpuru is a dish particularly good for fighting summer lethargy.
You can enjoy most of the dishes introduced here at Japanese restaurants. All the noodle dishes, Tokoroten, Hiyayakko and Goya Chanpuru can easily be cooked at home with ingredients you can find at Japanese or Asian grocery stores. Why not try these natural ways to help your body fight the summer heat and humidity?
Goya or bitter melon contains nutrients ideal for fighting summer lethargy. Supported by pork, egg and tofu, Goya Chanpuru brings stamina to your body.
Unagi no Kabayaki (left) and Katsu Don (right) are both power dishes that have been enjoyed for Centuries.
apanese cuisine is made in accordance with the seasons, and there are some traditional desserts enjoyed mainly in the summer. Kakigori is Japanese-style shaved ice topped with your choice of syrup and flavors. Traditional syrup flavor options are usually strawberry, melon, lemon and matcha green tea, and topping options are azuki red beans and shiratama (a mochi-like small ball dessert made from glutinous rice flour).The version with matcha syrup and red beans has a special name, Uji Kintoki. Modern Kakigori have more varieties of syrups and toppings including fruit, mochi, ice cream and cookies.
Mitsumame is another traditional summer dessert. It consists of small cubed kanten (agar agar) and red peas in simple syrup. Kanten is made from the same ingredient as the Tokoroten mentioned above, and it’s low calorie and full of fiber. The version topped with red bean paste is called Anmitsu. Shiratama and fruits are popularly added to make the dessert more colorful and appetizing. With its transparent noodle shape Kuzukiri looks like Tokoroten, but it is a cold dessert made from kuzu starch* and dressed with syrup. The texture is slick and easy to eat, even when you don’t have much of an appetite. Mizu-yokan, known as red bean jelly in the U.S., is also an agar agar-based dessert common in the summer. Compared to regular yokan, which is also called red bean jelly, Mizu-yokan has more water content which gives it a refreshing texture.
These traditional Japanese summer desserts are relatively low calorie as well as oil and cream-free. If you are looking for healthy desserts, you might want to give them a try!
*Kuzu plant is scarce to supply enough, so it’s substituted with potato starch today.
Kanten looks like ice cubes but has a jelly-like texture with a lot of fiber.