I slurp steaming bowls of Japanese noodles at the best ramen joints in LA during the spring, fall and winter.
But when the weather turns hot and humid (or "mushiatsui" as the Japanese say), sucking down a bowl of ramen is about as appealing as chugging hot sake on a blazing beach. That's when my favorite Japanese chill-out lunch becomes a basket of cold soba (buckwheat) noodles with a cool dipping sauce.
I first ate cold soba noodles two decades ago on an August visit to Sado Island, the home of the venerable Japanese taiko group, Kodo. I trudged 2.5 miles from my tiny minshuku into town and ordered the same hand-made soba for lunch five days in a row.
When I joined two friends from A3m (Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches) in Little Tokyo for lunch last week, I felt like I was back on Sado Island. We wilted as we walked three blocks in triple-digit temperatures to the restaurant at the Kyoto Grand Hotel (formerly the New Otani). Once we arrived, the choice was easy. I ordered the cold soba noodles with a side of gooey, grated mountain potato (yama imo).
Besides being a cool, tasty treat, soba is a nutritional gold mine. Unlike nutrient-poor ramen and udon noodles, soba is packed with protein, iron and fiber.
I found these great instructions for preparing soba with dippping sauce from "just hungry," a Japanese ex-pat living in Perth. The most important thing I learned was to bathe the noodles in cold water to reduce the temperature and to get rid of pesky starch.
"Just hungry" is far more ambitious than I am on a hot summer day. (Heck, she's more ambitious than I am on ANY day.) She makes her own dipping sauce from homemade dashi, a rich seaweed stock. I settle for the stuff in a bottle, available from Mitsuwa or Whole Foods Markets.
I served my noodles on the bamboo basket trays my friend Carol brought back from Japan last summer. With a side of dipping sauce, a touch of wasabi, finely chopped green onions and slivers of dried seaweed, I'm one cool customer.