Nagashi Somen: A Unique Japanese Dining Experience

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Two women stand at a Nagashi somen trough holding the noodle broth and chopsticks, with one woman grabbing noodles from the flowing water

When the air temperature and humidity rises in summer, it’s easy to lose your appetite, a common part of summer fatigue. At this time, all you need is a mild, refreshing dish that will help calm your upset body from the unpleasant hot weather. In Japan, summer will never be complete without trying some cool Nagashi Somen – Japanese flowing noodles.

You may have heard of somen – Japanese thin noodles – but Nagashi Somen is not just a simple summer dish, but also a unique culinary experience that both adults and children love to enjoy!

What is Nagashi Somen?

A man's hand holds chopsticks, grabbing a roll of Nagashi somen from a trough of flowing water in a bamboo and metal trough.
This refreshing somen dish is perfect for summer and a true test of both reaction time and chopsticks skills. Image via Shutterstock

Somen is a soft white noodle made of wheat flour, thinner in diameter than ramen, being even less than 1.3mm in thickness. However, one of somen’s most interesting variations is Nagashi somen (nagashi meaning “flow” in Japanese), which is served by letting it flow down a bamboo tube filled with cold water.

This bamboo trough will be positioned at an angle from high to low to create a flow,  letting the thin somen  noodles flow easily along the pure cool water. You will have to use your agile chopstick control skills and ingenuity to “catch” these noodles. Then, soak the noodles in a cold tsuyu broth and slurp them down to enjoy the traditional Japanese summer flavor.  

Tsuyu broth is usually a mix of soy sauce, fish broth, and a bit of sake, so it has a delightful savory flavor that goes perfectly with the fresh, cold noodles. You can also add scallions, ginger, myoga (Japanese ginger), wasabi (Japanese horseradish), or even shikuwasa citrus to the tsuyu sauce to change the taste.

The last pinch of somen noodles will be signaled with a special color of noodles, usually red. Then visitors will put down their chopsticks to enjoy dessert with mochi (Japanese pounded rice cakes) and tea. 

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Nagashi somen is a dish that helps to cool down the body in the hot Japanese summers, and the reason for using Somen noodles is because it is thin and flows easily with the water. Diners who want to receive the noodles have to stand on either side of the bamboo trough and use both quick speed and good chopstick control to catch the noodles, which makes the meal more vibrant and fun than the usual Japanese custom of eating and drinking in a quiet atmosphere. 

For those who are not used to using chopsticks or just do not know how to use chopsticks, it may be difficult to pick up each roll of noodles, but this is one of the interesting and unique experiences that everyone should try once. You will truly get to feel the uniqueness of Japanese culinary culture. 

Although a nagashi somen party can be held in your backyard, it is quite difficult to prepare the bamboo tube, so many families make their own nagashi Somen dining table by hand using milk cartons or plastic bottles. In Japan, there is even a small machine called the Big Stream Somen Slider sold online.

A hand holding chopsticks sticks the chopsticks in a plastic water trough to grab noodles from the flowing water with a table of party cups and noodles in the background.
As long as you have clean water and something clean in a trough shape, you can actually make this noodle dish yourself. Image via Shutterstock

Hirobun – The Best Place to Enjoy Nagashi Somen 

If you don’t have enough motivation to prepare nagashi Somen yourself due to the process being too complicated, there are also many nagashi somen restaurants all over Japan. The most popular one is Hirobun – located in the town of Kibune in the northern mountains of Kyoto. Here, you can enjoy the view of the flowing waterfall while enjoying a meal upstream of the Kibune River.

At Hirobun, you will experience a form of dining called “Kawakodo,” which means that there will be a balcony built just above the river for the diners. However, weather conditions have a considerable influence on Kawakodo, so the restaurant will postpone or just not take nagashi somen reservations, if the weather is bad, when it rains, or if the Kibune River is flooded. If it rains at 10 a.m, Kawakodo will be canceled, so if you plan to go to Hirobun, please keep an eye on the weather forecast! 

A photo of one of the counters at Hirobun, a nagashi somen restaurant, with a waterfall in the background and bowls of tsuyu, cups of tea, and pieces of mochi in a bowl on the counter.
Hirobun provides amazing views of nature and water, while also offering tasty, cool noodles. Image via Shutterstock

Nagashi somen is also only limited to serving here from May to the middle of October. The price of enjoying nagashi on the Kibune River is pretty reasonable –  about 1,500 yen (tax included). Definitely come and try the unique nagashi somen noodle experience at Hirobun restaurant at least once when you come to Kyoto!

Nagashi somen is truly a dish that embodies the Japanese people’s love of both frugality and sophisticated enjoyment of food. So, take the chance to experience it for a taste of Japanese culture. 

Have you ever had the chance to experience this unique way of eating somen? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below!

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