When contemplating dinner on a sweltering summer evening, a hot bowl of ramen doesn’t exactly leap to mind — you might say it’s the culinary equivalent of being locked inside a car with the windows rolled up at high noon on a day when the heat index threatens to break thermometers.
So it was that we found ourselves sweating over the menu at the Minneapolis location of Fuji-Ya on a recent Wednesday night, and spotted something new: Hiyashi Chuka, a traditional Japanese dish of ramen noodles and various toppings, served cold. Cold ramen? It sounded like an oxymoron. A potentially tasty oxymoron.
Japan’s summers are similar to ours here in Minnesota — hot, humid, and sticky. While other noodle dishes like udon and soba are served cold year-round, cold ramen is a summertime exclusive, and Hiyashi Chuka is a sign that summer has officially arrived. On this night, it happened to be on offer for the first time this summer at Fuji-Ya, and well-timed to the July heat wave.
When our Hiyashi Chuka arrived, we saw a bowl of ramen that was, somehow, not. Chef Matthew Kazama’s version mostly hewed to tradition: a nest of room-temp ramen noodles, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and egg strips rested in a shallow pool of flavorful tare sauce consisting of soy, rice vinegar, ginger, sugar, and stock. The addition of cold pork belly and a soft-poached egg were familiar — and welcome — carry-overs from the Hiyashi’s hot-soup brethren. The sauce was slightly sweet and tart, balanced by richness from the stock that didn’t cannonball heavily into the umami deep end. The crisp, thinly-mandolined cucumbers mingled with the bouncy ramen noodles to create a pleasing textural contrast.
Overall, we found it to be a refreshing and delicious alternative to the beloved-but-burnin’ hot bowls of ramen soup found at establishments such as Masu Sushi, Zen Box Izakaya, and Tanpopo. At $10, the Hiyashi proved a good value — the generous portion didn’t leave us hungry, and could have easily been split along with a sushi roll to make a full dinner for two. More importantly, it gave us a reprieve from the relentless heat, and stood out as a unique new seasonal ramen experience in the Twin Cities.
Ramen is on offer every Wednesday night at Fuji-Ya’s Minneapolis location, as long as Chef Kazama is working. Fuji-Ya recommends calling first just to make sure.
(Fuji-Ya Minneapolis, 600 W Lake St, Minneapolis, 612.871.4055 )