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Food Porn Friday: Hot day? Cold noodles.

Hiyashi chuka: Your new summertime romance.

Hiyashi chuka: Your new summertime romance.

It's no breathtaking mystery that I love ramen.  I have spoken often and passionately about my love of these Japanese wheat noodles, and how a bowl of hot, spicy ramen with a rich broth and a copious amount of toppings is something that truly makes life worth living.  For the longest time -- most of my life, actually -- it was basically impossible to find true hand-pulled ramen in New Orleans, so you can imagine my delight when Noodle & Pie opened up last year on Magazine St.  Their lovingly handmade noodles and savory broths are truly special, and that's saying a lot about a dish that's most commonly associated with dorm room microwaves.  And, of course, when I don't feel like going out for dinner, sprucing up some excellent instant ramen is a standard affair in the Gold house.

Still, there are times when a steaming bowl of noodles isn't the first thing your heart desires.  That time, usually, is July and August in New Orleans, when the mercury threatens to explode out of the top of the thermometer like in the cartoons, and the humidity level approaches "soup" conditions.  At those moments, it's sometimes best to have something cool and refreshing to eat, even though conventional wisdom say that hot and spicy foods are good for you in the summertime because they make you sweat, and sweat cools you down.  Whoever invented that adage clearly never spent an entire August in the Crescent City without air conditioning.

So, when I have my ramen cravings during the dog days of summer, it's not the hot noodles that I crave.  Years ago, I found an alternative: hiyashi chuka, a chilled ramen dish popular in Japan during the warmer months.  While it's still sadly difficult to find a restaurant in New Orleans that specializes in this Japanese summertime staple (and if you happen to find one, my God, man, LET ME KNOW), it's fun and easy to make at home.  Here's how, going by this great recipe:

First, you obviously need noodles.  Chukamen ramen -- curly, dried wheat noodles -- are the style you're looking for, and they're pretty easy to find.  Shin Ramyun is my go-to brand, so when I decide to make hiyashi chuka, I usually just employ the ramen and ditch the seasoning packets, which are loaded to the gills with sodium anyhow.  An alternative is to buy actual hiyashi chuka noodles, which you can find at the Hong Kong Market in Gretna, and which also handily contain a packet of dressing, but we'll get to that in a second.  Look out particularly for Myojo Chukazanmai (try saying that one ten times fast), a gourmet version of instant ramen that's air dried instead of flash-fried, resulting in less fat.

While you're at the Asian market, you'll also want to pick up a few ingredients that might be challenging to find at your local grocery store: good sesame oil, pickled red ginger, spicy Chinese mustard, roasted sesame seeds, and nori (dried seaweed).  Once you have all of your stuff good and ready, the rest is pretty simple.  Boil your noodles, then drain and chill.  The dressing -- if you didn't buy the packaged hiyashi chuka -- is a simple combination of water, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sugar.  The rest, as in hot ramen, is all about the toppings.  You can use chicken or ham, the classic "omelet strips," sliced nori, bean sprouts, toasted sesame seeds, cucumber, you name it, then pile 'em on your noodles.  For a some real Louisiana flair, I enjoy adding a few Creole tomato slices to the mix, as well.  Pour on your dressing, top with a dollop of that great spicy mustard you bought at the Hong Kong Market, and voila: a chilled noodle dish that looks delightful and tastes even better.

So, the next time that awful, oppressive New Orleans August heat tries to get the better of you, give some hiyashi chuka a try.  I will warn you, though: Once you get a taste for it, there's no going back.  You will want more, I promise.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.