Hot summer days call for water sports, and in Kyoto and Kagoshima, Japanese families cool off with a water fun calledNagashi Somen. It translates to "flowing noodles" and implies being very skilled at itsome, the thin wheat noodles traditionally eaten as ice cream.
Families split bamboo poles in half and set them up as slides in their backyards. A hose is attached to one end of the device and a handful of somen are thrown into the water. The landlord shouts "is in there!" as noodles shoot out and partygoers try to catch their dinner with chopsticks. Those agile enough to fill a bowl of noodles will be rewarded with summer bounty: fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, ginger, and shrimp, all topped with atsuyu, a rich spiceshoyujDashi. Who can think of a better way to cool off and take your mind off the heat?
For the Japanese, Nagashi Somen is as reminiscent of summer as walking through sprinklers and swimming in cool rivers. In fact, the practice was popularized by enterprising sons and daughters of Nippon to celebrate the crystal clear streams withinTosenkyo, a canyon in Kagoshima Prefecture. I envisioned those shimmering waters as the days grew shorter and chillier in Brooklyn, and I found myself craving sunshine, the camaraderie of a summer barbecue, and anything that wasn't grilled, candied, or braised
Although there are nice restaurants all over Japan where you can partake in Nagashi Somen, the closest experience I could find in New York was a home Nagashi Somen machine on Amazon for $60, which after the assembly included a motorized baby blue water jump. A small iceberg rested on the top to keep the water cold. The device, an invention inspired by Tosenkyo's Some festivals,kawaii-Fish the experience and make it portable.
But what the machine gains in convenience, it loses in fun. I froze penguin-shaped ice cubes to scale the alp and scooped noodles out of the pool while they sluggishly circulated, but I didn't feel any closer to Japan or summer. In fact, it felt even more like winter as the iceberg melted and eventually broke off and tumbled into the pool, splashing icy water on my lap. Where was the challenge she read about? where was the excitement
while searching moreVideos by Nagashi Somen, huddled in the cold and dark nights of the long winter, I began to think how wonderful it would be to have a real Nagashi Somen without having to leave my little studio.
NO, then I thoughtWhat a nightmare. My beautiful wooden floors would be flooded. I shuddered to think that all my furniture was glued with sesame seeds and shoyu. How far would a pipe go?
But as I stood at my window and looked out at the frozen sidewalks of dirty ice, I realized I couldn't sit still as winter dragged on. I began dreaming of a platform that would encircle my entire apartment where my loved ones would laugh and share bowls of pasta, warmed if not by the warmth of the sun then by the joy in our hearts. Before I went to bed, I sent out an invite to 20 friends so I couldn't back down. Even worse than failure would be having to cancel the party entirely.
A PVC problem
I'm a hardworking New Yorker and live just a short drive from Lowe's, which I visit often to warm up and dream of an apartment that I will one day live in that will fit both a dishwasher and a full sized toilet . I usually walk away with a handful of color samples, which I grab simply because they're free and have nice up-and-coming names like Going to the Chapel, Mouse's Back, and Chilled Chardonnay. But a few weeks ago, I skipped my usual paint show and wandered around the plumbing department like a flâneuse among PVC junk.
Originally I wanted to build a large construction out of PVC pipes joined together. The platform would start at my kitchen faucet, loop around the bookshelf in my den, and turn a corner into my bathroom, depositing noodles that guests wouldn't catch and pouring water into my tub like the world's largest hamster tunnel. On the advice of more handy friends, I decided to use reinforced PVC pipe that ran from the inside of my den to the outside of my window. I didn't think it would be too much trouble, but the whistle was essential to my plan. Without her, there could be no Nagashi Somen.
I called a clerk and told him I would buy PVC pipe and split it in half. That was the only part of my plan that I was sure of at the time. Since chopping down a bamboo pole in a nearby enchanted forest was out of the question, he had to find something nearby. I figured the rest of my worries (how to get water in the pipe, how to get water out of the pipe) would be solved as long as I could find a suitable length of pipe. The Lowes clerk frowned and put his pen back on the clipboard before answering.
"We can't split reeds here and there is nothing that looks like a split reed," he said. "This is the plumbing department. It's about keeping the water in the pipe. A split reed would not do that.”
I said nothing, hoping he would change his mind or offer a solution. Isn't that what Lowe's employees are there for? I didn't think I was asking much.
“You could buy a handsaw and split the PVC pipe yourself. But I really wouldn't even recommend that. The edges would be very sharp.”
Dejectedly, I began to wonder if I should abandon the plan altogether. A friend who was with me encouraged me to hold my head up and look around. I slipped down the hallway and saw a whole series of metal half-pipes that I believe were originally intended for ventilation. They were exactly what I had in mind. I put two 5ft pieces in my shopping cart.
My first advice when it comes to bringing Nagashi Somen into your home is to listen to the people who support and love you. Follow your heart. If you believe in yourself, anything is possible.
My second piece of advice is to get a hose at least as long as your apartment (30 feet was fine for me), a faucet-to-hose adapter, a giant tub to catch water, and a roll of duct tape.
Structure of the protocol channel
The day of the party came and I hadn't tried a dry run yet. So a few hours before the guests arrived, I taped the ends of my pipe together and walked around my apartment looking for a structure that was a little taller than my window frame. The water pressure alone could probably move the noodles through the tube, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to get some extra help from gravity.
I taped one end of the pipe to the top of a kitchen cart and stuck the other end in my fire escape outside my window. I placed a clean plastic container underneath to catch water since I like my downstairs neighbors and didn't want to lie to them about why their backyard had been turned into a hockey rink by the next morning. Nothing in my apartment was as high as the joint in the track, which was quickly crumbling from the combined weight of the pipes, but that problem was easily remedied with a couple of books stacked on a chair. I attached the hose to the kitchen cart just before the pipe. By this time some guests had arrived and I called someone to turn on the faucet. A jet of water ran down the pipe and pooled in the tub, a thick cloud of water vapor rising into the air. That day I took my first breath. We were ready for our first round.
Somen progresses drynarrow bundles tied with paper. I calculated about one 90 gram pack of pasta for every two party guests. While preparing the somen (cook according to packet instructions, strain, rinse in cold water to keep the noodles from overcooking, add some oil and keep in a colander or bowl), I asked my guests to prepare their bowls of spices.
The beauty of a nagashi somen party is that once you've bothered to set up a rig, the burden of flavor and variety falls on relatively cheap gear. So it doesn't take much to make your guests feel like Adam or Eve with virgin eyes in the Garden of Eden.
My assortment included bowls of spring onions, sesame seeds, sprouts, enoki mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, nori and furikake. These are all traditional but I can't imagine anyone would care if you decidego your own way. Next time I'll try pressed tofu and edamame; One day when I'm rich I'll make caviar and truffles. Shrimp or grilled meat are standard when it comes to protein, but I went with lobster because it felt more festive. Most importantly, I filled a pitcher (no spills!) with tsuyu, a sweet and savory dipping sauce that you can buy premade or make with equal parts soy sauce, mirin, and dashi. (I have the powdered version of MSG calledHondabut don't tell anyone!)
After my guests lined up at the whistle, I shouted "Ikuyo" and dropped a handful of somen into the running water and watched my friends jump in with their chopsticks. Some were quite agile, and most were at least able to fight for half a bowl of pasta. It seemed that the most confident of the gang were the least lucky, and I met a friend, a big, burly guy who winced when he admitted he couldn't catch anything at all. Luckily for him I have onigiri just in case.
Between sessions, I dragged myself to the fire escape and handed the partially filled trash can to someone inside to empty the sink. We pass the remaining somer through a sieve and reuse it. Not ideal, but it worked well enough, and my friends were kind enough to take turns serving the water.
In the late heat of the night, a friend with a wonderful British accent used my karaoke machine to comment. "And it looks like Sarah is in the lead and she'd better save it. Wait, she's using her hands, that's a DQ, you're out!"
Another friend took over my whistling duties, so I had a chance to inspect the room. It didn't exactly feel like July or August, but there was something about the party that evoked the intimacy and mischief of a summer night. As I was preparing a cocktail, I caught a guest pouring a bottle of champagne into the pipe.
"Ikuyo!" she vitrated.
"Ikuyo!" we all glad back.