Suki Yacking with Elizabeth Andoh (Tokyo Weekender, July 1975)

The hot and humid weather is upon us – it’s another Tokyo summer!

Today’s column gives two great culinary ways to cope with it all: somen (cold noodles) and kanten (a gelatine-like preparation).



1 bunch somen per serv­ing


grated fresh ginger-root (shoga); finely chopped scallions (negi); finely shred­ded shiso leaf


lemon slices, cut very thinly

soba-jiru (dipping sauce):

2 cups dashi; 5 table-spoons usuguchi shoyu; 1 1/2 table­spoons regular shoyu; 3    tablespoons sugar; 2 tablespoons mirin


1. Bring a large quantity of water (2-3 cups minimum for single serving; 7-8 cups for 4 servings) to a rapid boil in a large pot.

2. Add the somen (after untying each bunch; lay over boiling water like “pick-up-sticks”) and cup cold water. Wait until the water returns to a boil.

3. Add another 1/2 – 3/4 cup cold water and wait until the water returns to a boil again. Test a few strands of somen in a cup of cold water. If they’re trans­lucent, they’re done; if still opaque, add cold water to the pot and wait for the water to boil again. Usually 2-3 “boilings” will be sufficent.

4. Strain the cooked somen and refresh it in a bowl of ice water.

5. Prepare the condi­ments (shoga, negi, shiso) and arrange them on a small plate. Prepare gar­nish and set aside.

6. Prepare soba-jiru by combining all the ingredi­ents in a saucepan and heating thru until the sugar has melted. Stir to make sure all the ingredients have been well blended. Chill the soba-jiru or let it cool to at least room temperature (left-overs will keep for a week-10 days if covered in the refrigerator).

7. Serve the somen in deep bowls of fresh ice water. Garnish each bowl with a lemon slice. Each person should have a small, deep bowl for soba-jiru. Each person adds whatever condiments desired to his or her soba-jiru.

To eat: Lift out a mouth­ful of noodles from the ice water and dip them in the seasoned soba-jiru. Slurp and cat from there. Should the dipping sauce become too diluted (with the ice water that inevitably clings to the noodles), discard and replenish with fresh soba-jiru. Replenish condiments as necessary.


1. Somen are thin white noodles (dried) about 7-8 inches long. They usually come bound in bundles (about 1-inch in diameter) – one package may contain 5-10 bundles. Prices vary a great deal, but figure about ¥100-150 yen for one package. Occasionally, a single noodle in each bundle will be colored (pink or green, usually). This is for extra visual pleasure—it doesn’t affect the taste at all. Somen is eaten as a light snack or as a summertime starch substitute for rice, bread or potatoes.

2. Shiso leaves are broad and bright green and have a marvelous fragrence. They are sold in piles (about 10-15 leaves piled one on top of the other with the short stems held together by a rubber band) and should be rinsed with cold water and patted dry just before using. Roll up the leaf and slice it thinly across the grain. Figure on 2 leaves for every 2-3 servings, for those that really like it. A pile of shiso leaves usually costs loss than ¥100 in the height of the summer season.

3. Special somen dish sets are sold in the house­wares section of department stores during the summer months. A set consists of five large deep glass bowls and 5 small deep glass bowls (all “sets” in Japan are of five, not six). Sometimes the sets are as cheap as ¥1,500-1,800. though real crystal can be as costly as ¥6-7,000 for a set. The dishes look cool and the ice tinkles and makes you feel cool, too. In addition, these sets are great for large, individual chef salads (use the small bowls for a variety of dressings).

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  • 1 stick dried kanten
  • 1 1/2 cups flavored liquid (fruit juice)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 cup fresh fruit (optional)


1. Soak the stick of kanten in 1-2 cups cold water, breaking it up as it softens. Allow the kaiiten to soak for at least 20-30 minutes.

2. Shred the kanten and squeeze out all excess liquid.

3. Transfer the shredded kanten to a small saucepan into which the measured, flavored liquid and sugar (optional) have been added.

4. Heat slowly, stirring, until the kanten shreds have completely dissolved. Pour the kanten liquid into a mold (add fresh or drained canned fruit to the kanten liquid, if desired) and allow it to set. KANTEN WILL GEL WITHOUT REFRIGE­RATION, though chilling quickens the process.

5. Unmold (takes about 40 minutes to 1 hour to gel firmly)  and slice, if neces­sary, before serving.


1. Kanten is sold two sticks to a pack; cost is about ¥120 for the package. Kanten looks like pale, silvery cellulose. It is very light weight and brittle in its dried state. It is manu­factured from a type of marine vegetation called tengusa. Kanten will gel fresh pineapple (unlike re­gular gelatine). Already prepared kanten should be refrigerated if you don’t intend to eat it the same day. It will keep, refrige­rated for 3-5 days.

2. The simplest flavored liquids: canned fruit juices.