This is how to beat the summer heat in Japan. With record temperatures in Japan, check out these foods that will help you keep cool and carry on!
Summer 2018 here in Japan is all set to be the hottest ever. In late July temperatures in Saitama Prefecture reached a scorching 42 degrees Celsius or 107.6 Fahrenheit. That's two degrees hotter than Dubai, and the same as Death Valley, California. How do the Japanese survive? We look at five cool foodstuffs that help you through the heat wave.
1. Salted Watermelon
A trip to the beach in summer in Japan just doesn't cut it unless there is ample chilled watermelon - suika in Japanese - to cool down the partying crowds. All along Japan's seacoasts, farmers open pop-up watermelon stands to serve the beach going hordes. The Japanese love to serve watermelon topped with salt, to draw out the natural sweetness, and the added sodium doesn't hurt to replace the vital mineral after too many rounds of beach volleyball, and that other favorite Japanese beach sport, suikawari: blindfold smash-the-watermelon.
BTW, Japanese kids learn in junior high school that watermelons are actually vegetables, not fruits, a factoid they carry well into middle age, and love to announce to anyone who'll listen. You can buy square and heart-shaped watermelons if you like. Kumamoto, Chiba, Yamagata, Tottori & Nagano are renowned producers. Densuke watermelons from Hokkaido are suika superstars. The most expensive 'Black Diamond' ever retailed at US$6000. Yup. If you need one, head to the Michi-no-Eki in Touma, Hokkaido. If that seems a little far - it is, we've been there; lovely place - you kind find great Hokkaido foodstuffs across the street from Tokyo Station at Dosanko Plaza in Yurakucho.
2. Deep-frozen Cucumbers
Don't laugh. At this year's Gion Festival, where the temperatures approached 40 degrees Celsius daily, these were a big seller at the street vendors' stalls throughout the center of town. As with watermelons, it's the high water content in the vegetable that literally makes you feel as cool as a cucumber. That said, your temperature may have risen at Gion Festival when you saw the prices hawkers were charging: 300 yen/3 dollars a cucumber ain't cool! We suggest you freeze your own. Miyazaki, Gunma and Saitama prefectures are the Big Cucumber villes.
3.Cold Somen, Soba or Ramen Noodles
Chillin' with chilled noodles is a centuries-old summer pastime in Japan. The thin white wheat noodles, somen (pictured above in dry form), are favorites, most often served on ice, or into a chilled soy-based dipping sauce with ginger and Welsh onions. Buckwheat soba noodles work equally well, especially if you chill out over lunch or dinner in an old traditional soba shop, with shaded nooks and hopefully a cool breeze off the moss garden. FGL did exactly that this week in Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture at the lovely Himurean, where we ate tenzaru soba (pictured at top), cold noodles and tempura.
Cold ramen, known as either reimen (literally, 'cold noodles') or hiyashi chuka soba (cold Chinese noodles), is a standard at ramen shops through the summer. Watch out for the spicy mustard though. If you happen to be in Kyoto, check out the great reimen downtown at Kyohei Ramen, or up north at Sakai Misonobashi-ten. Famous Michelin 3-star chef Murata Yoshihiro is a massive fan of the latter.
4. Cold Tofu
Silky, smooth, homemade cold tofu is a godsend every summer. Forget the prepackaged cardboard-like dross that passes for tofu in most places outside Japan. The homegrown stuff a joy, rich, creamy and delicate. Just drain off the water, and drizzle the cold tofu with good quality soy sauce, and grated ginger or Welsh Onions. Tofu is classified as a Yin 'cooling food' in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and Western medicine also vouches for its cooling, anti-inflammatory qualities.
Firm cold tofu is called hiyayakko. he very soft version, pictured here, is known as oborodofu. Tofu is at its best in Kyoto. Check out the Tofu to go at Konnamonja in Nishiki arcade, or go to Shoraian in Arashiyama. In Tokyo head to the 100 year-old Sugitora in Tsukiji for their 'seasonal' tofus infused with Japanese herbs. Blissful.
5. Umeboshi Sour Plums
How we love these salt-sour-bomb beauties. Whether you just pop one in your mouth, or remove the flesh to top cold tofu, or drop one whole into your late afternoon gin & tonic, umeboshi are kings of summer cool. They are massively healthy too, alkaline, anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, and more. The 'Japanese sherpas', old men who repeatedly carry pilgrims' luggage up the 1368 steps to Konpira-san temple in Kagawa, Shikoku in summer, do so fueled on umeboshi and water alone. How cool is that? Oh, and umeboshi hold that other most coveted summer foodstuff award: Best Hangover Cure. Wakayama's Nanko sour plums are the finest. They come pickled with red shiso or soaked in honey.
In case you were wondering why no kakigori shaved ice, or Asahi Super Dry Ice Beer, it's because spoilsport scientists tell us that taking in those ice cold summer favorites just fool you into temporarily feeling chilled. In fact, your body tries to reset to 'normal temperature', pushing your body temperature higher. Tell that to around 95% of Japan's summer beachgoers!
A leftfield option Asari Venus clams pictured here, are unique amongst shellfish in that they are said to have strong cooling capacities. Try preparing your favorite miso soup with added Venus clams, perhaps topped with a little grated yuzu citron peel. Let it cool and store in the fridge for a great summer chill out dish.
Honorable 'Ying' cooling mentions go to: Apple, banana, nashi pear, asparagus, moyashi bamboo shoots, daikon radish, nasu eggplant, green leafy vegetables, konbu kelp, shoyu soy sauce, Ocha green tea and goma abura sesame oil.
And finally, some Internet madness for your enjoyment: Whilst fact checking my Ying and Yang food knowledge, I stumbled across this classification from an Australian website. To be clear, we are not suggesting that you follow their 'extreme Yin' dietary suggestions. Read on and you'll see why.