Is this the makings of a great meal in the great outdoors, or another one of Mr. Sato’s too-crazy-for-his-own-good schemes?
While it’s not as well-known internationally as ramen, soba, or udon, Japan also has a soft spot in its heart for the ultra-thin wheat noodles called somen. Usually eaten cold during the summer months, somen also has the potential to be the most entertaining kind of Japanese noodle to eat if you have it nagashi somen-style, in which diners catch bunches of noodles with their chopsticks as they flow down a stream of water running in a sliced bamboo tube or other long container.
As with many culinary traditions, the exact origins of nagashi somen are unknown, though many scholars believe it first developed on Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu. But our Japanese-language correspondent Mr. Sato said that he knows the true genesis of nagashi somen.
According to Mr. Sato, nagashi somen owes its existence to Himiko, the mystical monarch who ruled Japan’s ancient Yamataikoku kingdom in the second and third centuries. As part of a ritual to ensure a good harvest for her people, Mr. Sato assures us, Himiko was the first person to eat nagashi somen, and she did so while standing in a river.
For those of you new to RocketNews24, we should probably mention that Mr. Sato isn’t always the most mentally sound individual, and so sometimes it’s best to take his claims with a grain of salt (though preferably not salt made from Mr. Sato’s sweat). Still, he insisted that the real way to eat nagashi somen was while standing in a river. So we boiled a batch of somen, grabbed some bowls and chopsticks, and piled into the RocketMobile for a drive out of Tokyo and into the countryside.
After parking, we made our way to the water’s edge, and Mr. Sato waded into the stream. However, he’d also need someone to flow the noodles down the river to him, so the rest of our reporters who’d accompanied him followed him into the water.
Then it was time for nagashi somen!
▼ You’d be surprised how many of our group meals involve Mr. Sato taking his shirt off.
Mr. Sato proved to be remarkably adept at snatching noodles out of the river, and under his tutelage, the rest of our taste-testers were also able to grab their somen before it floated past them.
▼ Although some of them used a net, just to be on the safe side.
Before taking the first bite, though, Mr. Sato had one more cultural reminder for us. “Don’t think of this as eating somen,” he explained. “What you’re doing is drawing the earth into your body, so that the energy provided by Her Highness Himiko will reach every corner of your cells.”
And with that, it was finally time to try Mr. Sato’s “real nagashi somen”…
…and all those who did dubbed it incredibly delicious!
▼ The face of a satisfied, vindicated palate.
But why did floating the somen down the river boost its flavor? Mr. Sato’s logic is that the river water contains natural minerals which the noodles soak up, an effect you can’t achieve with big-city tap water. After eating a few more mouthfuls, Mr. Sato tilted his eyes to the heavens and shouted his thanks to Himiko, while fellow reporter P.K. Sanjun declared it perhaps the best somen he’d ever had, plus worthy of seven Michelin stars (if the famed French dining guide rated rivers, that is).
Now, before you rush out to the nearest river with a pack of noodles, we should warn you that, in addition to tasty minerals, there are all sorts of other things that could be present in an open body of water, some of which are extremely unpleasant or even dangerous. We’d also like to point out that some of the things Mr. Sato and P.K. have taste-tested for us before may have skewed their scale such that anything that doesn’t have a high probability of killing them gets their thumbs-up, so bear that in mind, and remember that regular, non-river nagashi somen is always an option too.