Menya Japanese Noodle
401 W Broadway
3913 Knight Street
As much as I love a hot bowl of noodles, especially ramen, I tend to put a stop to such consumption once the summer arrives.
Food to me is very seasonal, I think its ideal if you eat what is best at that time of the year, whether that thing is grown, raised or caught. It’s also part of the reason why I could never live in a place where there does not exist a clear distinction between spring, summer, autumn and winter. I’ve actually turned down work opportunities to go and live in everyday hot climates because of it twice in my lifetime.
And thus the idea of wolfing down a steaming bowl of soup when the mercury rises over 25 degrees C, is something I consider irrational.
So what’s a rameniac to do?
Simple… hiyashi chuka.
Breaking down the Japanese language, “hiyashi” being cold, and the characters for “chuka” shorthand for “chuka-men“, or the generally yellow colored, crinkly flour-based noodles.
Hiyashi chuka, sometimes also called hiyashi ramen (in northern areas of Japan like Hokkaido), or reimen down in the Kansai region. As with most noodle-based dishes in Japanese cuisine, you can find a wide variety from prefecture to prefecture in terms of the flavoring, toppings, etc.
By chance, on a recent visit to Menya, I spotted the small chalkboard posted on the wall inside that noted a summer special of cold noodles. On closer inspection, I determined that indeed it was hiyashi chuka. I was interested in how they might do this Kyushu-style, as they do their regular ramen, so that was instantly determined as my order.
Besides the traditional soy-vinegar based sauce ($7.75) , they had what they called an “original sesame flavour” ($8.25), so guessed that might be the southern Japan version and went with the latter.
The first thing I picked up on was that they had changed the type of noodle since I was last there many months ago. Gone was the thinner straight type, which was replaced by a much thicker variety. I wasn’t sure if this was just for the hiyashi chuka, but a few looks around at other diner’s bowls confirmed the same noodle was being used for their hot bowl. I wondered about this clear change in their product (was it a supplier change, a philosophical adjustment to move away from Hakata tradition, or customer demands?) as I began to dig into my plentiful plate.
The toppings here were the usual cucumber, tomato, and egg, with some added shiitake, chicken and shrimp. The aromatic sesame sauce was mixed in throughout the noodles and some black sesame seeds were sprinkled on top.
Perhaps it was the much more filling type of noodle but this was quite a meal in itself. The thicker noodle did seem to match well with and allow the sauce to cling nicely. The toppings were plentiful and fresh, though the shrimp was a bit tougher than I would prefer. The balance of textures, from the crispy cucumber to the juicy soft slices of tomatoes were complete.
All in all, I’d consider this a more “upscale” or “luxurious” representation of hiyashi chuka, and it was a wonderfully flavourful dish. I’m not sure how much long into the summer this will be around, but would recommend you give it a try while you still can.
Upon learning from another message board that Deli Nippon was also currently serving up this creation, I knew I had to make a visit. This very bare bones, cafe-looking place is obviously a place where you don’t go for the decor. A strange unused, stainless steel buffet-type of contraption inside behind a panel of glass that separates the dining space from the kitchen, just adds to the mystic (and questions about the “designer”).
As at Menya, there are two flavours available. The orthodox soy-vinegar ($6.50) and a miso style ($7.00).
Aside from the oddly-placed slice of pineapple, the cherry on top, and the fake crab meat, this representation of hiyashi chuka is the more homey arrangement that I am accustomed to seeing in Japanese households with the thinly sliced ham, cucumber and egg. The accompanying soy-vinegar sauce was on the weak side from a flavour profile, and a few bites into it, I began thinking I could make a better one at home. For the price though, I could stomach it and the noodles were cooked right and the main trio of toppings were fresh.
Though different interpretations and slight variance in price, I would have to give the edge to the one I ate at Menya, despite it being the less traditional (at least to my Kanto-based tastes) of the two.
For another look at a hiyashi chuka, refer to an image in this older post.
As an added bonus, here is a look at the okonomiyaki offerings at Deli Nippon. Now I must admit I don’t hold high hopes for this dish in Vancouver, after experiencing the slothered with oil, undercooked version at Modern Club a while back.
At least the ones on hand at Deli Nippon were very reasonably priced (compared to Modern Club), so if a total disaster, I could live with it. I was a little thrown off by the “Italian” option, but for me, okonomiyaki always means pork, so “buta” it was.
As it was brought to the table later than the a fore mentioned hiyashi chuka, I couldn’t help to be pleasantly surprised as it was nice, wide disc, but not overly dense and thick. All the requisite toppings were there too.
Breaking it down some more, the base was cabbage and onion, topped with a layer of the same chuka-men used in the hiyashi chuka and a thin layer off egg on top. Though not horribly bad tasting by any means, it lacked the punch of a really solid okonomiyaki, I think the rather bland pork slices (which were kind of few and far between as well) being used led me to feel this way – they lacked the really crispy, bacon-like texture that I prefer. One thing to keep in mind, the small bottle of extra okonomiyaki sauce that they bring out, is simply just too thick for the small narrow spout, so you have to take off the lid and pour out the top directly.