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The summer season is in full swing here in Japan and I thought now would be the perfect time to introduce five popular gentei, summer specialty menu items that are served only during this blistering hot season.
For anyone who has traveled to Japan during this wicked season, I’m sure you’re well aware of how incredibly hot and humid it can get. If you haven’t, Tokyo summers are brutal to say the least. One step outside and you’ll be drenched in sweat and the saving grace is taking a quick break in an air conditioned restaurant or shopping mall. For many, slurping down a piping hot ramen during their lunch break isn’t the most appealing option so many ramen shops provide a refreshing summer only menu item to give customers an option for a more cooling meal. This can range anywhere from the classic Hiyashi Chuka, a cold soupless ramen popular during this time, or more creative renditions using ingredients thought to help with dehydration and summer tiredness to beat the heat. If your plan for a visit to Japan happens to fall during the summer, here are five summer gentei ramen shops you should definitely add to your itinerary!
Yosuko Saikan (揚子江菜館)
The most popular menu item often served at ramen restaurants during the summer is Hiyashi Chuka, a cold soupless ramen with vinegary, shoyu tare that is incredibly popular among Japanese salarymen looking for a quick bite to eat. While the origins of the dish is still up for debate, most consider Yosuko Saikan to be the first to serve it in Japan. The shop began operating in 1906 and is said to have first served Hiyashi Chuka in 1933. Located in the Jimbocho area of Tokyo, the shop is popular with the salarymen and office workers as many companies have their offices nearby.
So the dish is quite simple utilizing traditional yellow ramen noodles and mixing it with a sauce consisting of vinegar, shoyu, and sesame seed oil among others. However, the toppings are what makes the shop special as they are handpicked and assembled to resemble Mt. Fuji. The five colors represented by kanten (agar, white), chashu (black), cucumber (green), bamboo shoots (brown), and egg omelette (yellow) are meant to symbolize the natural beauty of Mt. Fuji. Some snap peas, boiled quail eggs, chicken meatballs, and poached shrimp give the dish a bit more substance and, while a bit more pricey than most shops, is worth every penny. While the shop is more a traditional Chinese restaurant, the origins begin here and those looking for the start of this iconic dish, should make a trip to Yosuko Saikan.
Sakaeya Milk Hall (栄屋ミルクホール)
Next up is Sakaeya Milk Hall which operates as a ramen shop and includes a Hiyashi Chuka on their menu during the summer season. Among ramen shops, this is probably the most popular destination for Hiyashi Chuka as it has been featured in a number of publications and TV shows throughout the years. Again, located near Jimbocho station, you can easily go back to back with Yosuko Saikan to compare the two as they serve vastly different styles.
At Sakaeya Milk Hall, the Hiyashi Chuka is a lot more simple as it targets a more casual customer base looking to come in and out for lunch. The basics of the dish is intact with a fantastic noodle pairing with a vinegary sauce that is sure to help you refresh after walking around in the dreadful summer heat. Toppings are cheap, but plentiful and provide a lot of substance and flavor to ensure you leave with both a full stomach and wallet. The highlight is definitely the sliced chashu which is a cold cut version of the one used in their ramen and is fantastic with this dish. The beni shouga, or pickled ginger, gives it a tangy acidity that is perfect for beating the summer heat. Sakaeya Milk Hall is one of the oldest ramen shops in operation so if you make a visit, be sure to check out the collection of photos they have around the shop highlighting their history!
Menkoidokoro Isoji (麺恋処 いそじ)
Located near Yoyogi station, Isoji is a ramen shop that commands lines throughout the year with their delicious bowls of W soup (double soup) Tonkotsu Gyokai (pork bone and seafood) ramen. However, during the summer, Isoji puts a Hiyashi Chuka on their menu that is absolutely divine and sometimes more in demand than their regular ramen. The dish is a bit different from the previous two shops in that it uses a more viscous sauce which has hints of the Tonkotsu Gyokai soup of their regular ramen, partially frozen, mixed in.
Aesthetically, Isoji is one of the most beautifully plated with a chilled rosy pink chashu, soft boiled egg, baby corn, cucumber, wakame seaweed, tomatoes, deep fried eggplant, and sprouts topping the ramen. Flavor wise, the sauce is more impactful with the Tonkotsu Gyokai incorporated in the sauce, but has the distinctly Hiyashi Chuka, vinegary vibe. Each component compliments each other nicely and is the refreshing, yet filling bowl you want for a summertime lunch. Short train ride from both Shinjuku and Shibuya station, shop is a great place to stop by, in between sightseeing the nearby area.
The most popular summer gentei menu on this list is likely the Hiyashi Chuka served at Senrigan near Komaba Todai-mae station. Senrigan is a Jiro-kei ramen shop which serves the typical Jiro style Tonkotsu shoyu ramen throughout the year with gentei specials on the menu based on the season. The summer time Hiyashi Chuka version of their Jiro style ramen is the most popular of their specialties and brings in 2-3 hour long lines during the summer regularly.
Instead of a vinegar and shoyu based sauce like the original Hiyashi Chuka, Senrigan uses a mayonnaise based sauce with a sesame seed paste mixed in. The thick and curly Jiro style noodles are shocked in water before being mixed with the sauce and is then topped with a mountain of thin strip daikon radish, carrots, and cabbage dressed with a garlic mayo sauce on top. Chicken chashu completes the bowl and toppings of Abura (pork back fat), Ninniku (garlic), Karaage (spicy fried tempura bits), Shouga (ginger), and extra veggies can be added at no extra charge. For a unique summer time cold ramen and you’re willing to wait in the long queues, Senrigan is definitely worthy of a visit. Be sure to bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated in line!
Due Italian is a classic ramen shop that has been popular since they first opened in the early 2000s as it was highlighted by the famous ramen chef Sano Minoru as one of his favorite 11 ramen shops. The regular shoyu and shio ramen is still highly regarded, but their unique specialty ramen iterations brought in a huge influx of foodies and gourmet hunters. Served year round is the Fromage Ramen which comes adorned with cured pork and cheese as well as a Lemon Ramen that includes thinly sliced lemon rounds making for an incredibly photogenic bowl that is always a hit on instagram.
During the summer, Due Italian releases their summer gentei specialty, a chilled Tomato Ramen, which covers the surface of the bowl with six different mini tomatoes for a visually striking dish. Soup is a chilled tomato puree and is just the right amount of sweetness and acidity that your body craves when enduring the Japanese summer heat.The mix of both fresh tomatoes and canned tomato puree gives the ramen an incredibly complex tomato flavor profile and pairs perfectly with the thin noodles. With multiple locations throughout the Kanto area, definitely stop by if you happen to find yourself near one and try their refreshing bowls!