Where should you pick up your food with chopsticks (2023)

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Where should you pick up your food with chopsticks (1)

of don georgeMarch 7, 2019

Nagashi Somen, one of Japan's most delicious summer food rituals, involves sending noodles down a bamboo "water slide" and catching the food with chopsticks.


(Video) Picking Up Food With Chopsticks

It is a sunny day in July on the terrace of a mountain restaurant on the island of Kyushu, Japan. A long-time friend of mine, a Japanese businessman in his 40s in a polo shirt, holds up a bunch of them.some–thin white wheat noodles– in his hand and smiles at me and his two fellow gourmets who have joined us for the feast.

Yo desu ka?" Are you ready?

Ichi, ni, san - iku yo!"One, two, three, here they come!

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Drop the noodles into a stream of water down a 1.5m bamboo slide. The three of us sit at the other end, and as the noodles slide rapidly toward us, we dip our chopsticks into the stream, trying to grab the slippery threads.

¡ Hayaku, Hayaku!"- Quick, quick! - the delicate and ornate Kimiko-san on my right scolds."Ahhh problems!"Ouch, I missed it!" groans Eishi-san in the black suit in front of me. As more and more pieces of noodles reach us, we begin to lose all reserves, we get stung and laugh as we chase the slippery strands. Finally, we all raise our chopsticks and triumphantly display our shiny catch.

Where should you pick up your food with chopsticks (2)

Nagashi somen, which involves catching frozen somen noodles while floating down a slide, is a popular Japanese summer pastime (Credit: acritely_photo/Alamy)

We soaked the noodles in ceramic bowls.tsuyusauce made ofBonitoSoup broth with kombu (edible dried seaweed), sugar, mirin rice wine and soy sauce, to which we have added chopped green onion and grated Japanese ginger. Then we put them in our mouths. The noodles are icy and smooth, the sauce adds a spicy and salty hint of onion and ginger, and the whole thing slides down my throat so easily.

All around us there are families, employees on company outings and groups of students, all enjoying exactly the same thing:Nagashi-somen, one of the most delicious summer culinary rituals in Japan.

Nagashi Somen is one of Japan's most delicious summer culinary rituals.

Accounts vary as to where and when Nagashi Somen began, but the most common story is that the ritual originated in the 1950s in the city of Takachiho on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands. Takachiho is home to a nature reserve known for its verdant forest trails and a canyon with spectacular volcanic basalt cliffs and waterfalls. It's particularly popular in summer, when the Japanese flock to escape the heat and rent rowboats to explore the shady reaches along the Gokase River and venture close to the falls.

The story goes that the owner of a restaurant calledChiho nein ie, or Chiho's House, located at the southern end of the gorge, came up with the idea of ​​sending noodles down bamboo slides to hungry tourists. According to legend, it was inspired by local farmers who cooled their freshly cooked pasta in summer by sending it down a rock-lined waterfall into the local river. Perhaps he was also inspired by the surrounding bamboo forests and the white waters of the famous Takachiho Falls.

Whatever the inspiration, the new nagashi somen, or "flowing noodles," caught on quickly and other restaurants in the area began offering the same. Nagashi Somen soon spread to neighboring Shikoku and the main island of Honshu, becoming a popular summer tradition throughout Japan.

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Where should you pick up your food with chopsticks (3)

The Nagashi Somen ritual is believed to have originated in the 1950s in the city of Takachiho in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands (Source: Don George)

I stumbled across Nagashi Somen two summers ago, luckily in Chiho no Ie, although I didn't realize the importance of the restaurant at the time. I first visited the Takachiho Gorge on a tour of Kyushu. My group had stopped to rest in a tourist area where there were souvenir shops and a few restaurants serving crushed ice, soft serve ice cream, grilled fish and vegetable skewers, rice balls and other delicacies.

I heard cheers at a facility and went over to see what was going on. Children and adults sat on two parallel wooden benches about 4 m long.

Where to try Nagashi Somen?

Perhaps the most famous nagashi somen restaurant in Japan isHirobún, located in a picturesque mountain village about 15 km from Kyoto. Here, in the summer, you sit directly on a rushing river, whose foamy white current complements the flowing noodles beautifully. At Hirobun, you eat what you catch (unplucked noodles are not salvaged) and a red-colored piece of somen signals the end of the party.

In the middle were two equally long slides made of cut bamboo trunks. At the other end of the slides, two energetic women in brightly colored aprons and shawls pulled white noodle tongs from woven bamboo containers and tossed them into the clear water that cascaded down the slides.

Chaos and laughter erupted as children and adults dipped their chopsticks into the stream in hopes of catching their food. The somen that survived the gauntlet slid into bamboo baskets placed at the bottom of the slides.

Our tour guide explained that this is Nagashi Somen and a special summer treat. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to test it at the time, but I promised to have Nagashi Somen on my next summer trip to Japan.

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Where should you pick up your food with chopsticks (4)

Diners must use their chopsticks to catch the slippery noodles as they swim by (Credit: AlexanderLaws/Getty Images)

Fast forward 12 months. I'm back on the island of Kyushu and this time exploring the Oita province with my friend Ryoji-san, a local from Kyushu, and his somen-loving co-workers. Months before, when we were planning the trip, I asked him if we could include Nagashi Somen in the itinerary, and he was delighted to agree. That is why we arrive at the town of Kokonoe, which lies halfway up a densely forested slope in the Kuju Mountains, where a rustic restaurant beckons.Katsura Chayaoffers Nagashi Somen on its terrace.

The environment is part of the enjoyment of the experience. We sit in the cool mountain air, surrounded by green trees and blue skies. Realizing this, Ryoji-san says, "Most Nagashi Somen restaurants are located in beautiful natural settings, on the banks of a river or in a green forest. Nagashi Somen is meant to be eaten in nature."

"The spices are also important," says Kimiko-san. “They always feature what is fresh locally. Here we have spring onions and ginger, but in other parts of Japan it might be shiso [a type of mint], shiitake mushrooms, crab, shrimp or seaweed.”

"How about the somen itself?" Asked.

"Some were brought to Japan from China in the eighth century," Eishi-san replies. “Rice flour was used at the time, but wheat flour replaced rice in the Kamakura period, from the 12th to the 14th century. For centuries, somen was consumed mainly by aristocrats and monks, but it became widespread in the 18th century.

“Some are the thinnest Japanese noodles,” Kimiko-san adds. “Unfired, they are just under 1.3mm thick. They are usually served cold in summer, but can also be eaten in a hot soup in winter. In this case they will be calledgod.“

Where should you pick up your food with chopsticks (5)

Caught somen noodles are then dipped in tsuyu sauce and eaten (Credit: Don George)

"Oh, they're coming!" he exclaims suddenly as Ryoji-san sends more noodles our way.

After 15 minutes of ripping off some mostly useless stuff, I find that the best technique is not to try to catch the noodles as they go by, but to plunge your chopsticks into the stream before they reach me. Then the chopsticks become a kind of mini-dam. Some noodles will get stuck in them and start to clump together and this will trap other noodles. It didn't take me long to catch a healthy helping of the slippery strands.

Then I pick up my chopsticks, dip the noodles into the dipping sauce, and get a taste of summer heaven.

After an afternoon drinking somen on the terrace of Katsura Chaya, I understood that Nagashi Somen is about the whole experience: the environment in nature; the cold running water and the white noodles; and the collective effort to catch them. It is a typically Japanese ritual that combines reverence for nature, food, and community.

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Where should you pick up your food with chopsticks (6)

Nagashi Somen is usually served outdoors in a group to combine reverence for nature, food and community (Credit: Image navi - QxQ images/Alamy)

As we prepare to leave, I ask the four college students at the next table why they enjoy Nagashi Somen so much. A smiling woman immediately replies: “Eating Nagashi Somen feels like swimming in a cool mountain stream on a hot and humid summer day. It's so refreshing!” All of his classmates nod enthusiastically. "And it's so delicious!" says another, laughing. They then return to the task at hand, chopsticks at the ready.

At the other end of the slide, a grinning classmate scoops up a glistening pile of slippery locks. "Ichi, ni, san - iku yo!

the rite of eatingis a BBC travel series exploring interesting culinary rituals and food etiquette around the world.

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