Big in Japan: The best Japanese summer food & drink

After several long weeks on the road in East Africa, Big in Japan is back once more, bringing you weird, wacky and wonderful news from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Summer is in full effect here in Tokyo, which means that the temperature is soaring and the humidity is saturating.

Fortunately, the Japanese have a number of culinary treats that are perfect for beating the heat and staying nourished during their tropical summers. While tumblers of hot sake and steamy bowls of ramen are great for warming up during the winter months, it’s time to add a few more dishes to your culinary lexicon.

So, without further adieu, today’s post is all about the best Japanese summer food & drink…

Sōmen (素麺) You know it’s summer in Japan when the shops start serving these thin, white noodles made of wheat flour. While heavier noodle soups can slow you down in the summer heat, sōmen sit light in the belly, and are simply dressed up with a lightly flavored dipping sauce. Special variations of sōmen are made with powdered tea, and can easily be identified by their light green color.

Zaru-soba (ざるそば) Soba noodles are delicious when served in a hot fishy broth, but they’re just as divine when served ice cold on a bamboo plate known as a zaru. Made principally of buckwheat, soba noodles are high in fiber, and typically garnished with shredded bits of seaweed. Like sōmen, soba noodles are served with a light dipping sauce made of sweetened soy and mirin cooking wine.

Unagi (うなぎ) Nothing says summer more than charcoal-roasted freshwater eel, which is reported to give you the strength and virility you need to get through the long, hot days. While unagi can be a seriously gourmet fare, locals swear by the bento boxes from the convenience stores, which are perfectly-packaged for a picnic in the park. Best served with a dash of ground white pepper, good unagi has a soft texture and a complex taste.

Jasmine Tea (ジャスミン茶) The Japanese are devoted tea drinkers, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they have a specialty summer brew. Jasmine tea, which is served ice-cold and unsweetened, is a fragrant beverage that is light, fruity and low in acidity. You can buy pre-packaged bottles in any of Japan’s million or so vending machines.

Draft Beer (生ビール) Summer in Japan is punctuated by a number of outdoor festivals, ranging from huge open air rock concerts to fireworks along the riverside. At any of these events, sample a few frothy pints of nama-biiru, which is a wonderfully alcoholic way to stay cool. Of course, the tropical sun can seriously ruin your day, so don’t forget to stay hydrated as passing out in the public eye isn’t the most honorable way to go.

Bon appetit, or as they say in Japanese, ittadakimasu.

** All images courtesy of the WikiCommons Media Project **