On a hot summer day, nothing cools you down better than fiery spice. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, a chili-induced sweat is the body’s best defence against overheating.
If you’d still prefer something cool and refreshing, several Asian cuisines offer the best of both worlds – cold spicy noodles.
270 Robson St., Vancouver
Japanese cuisine features several cold-noodle dishes, including soba, somen and udon. Unlike the others, hiyashi chuka (cold ramen) is available only in the summer.
More of a salad than a soup, chilled ramen noodles are typically dressed with a soy or sesame vinaigrette (no broth) and topped with strips of egg crepe, cucumber, processed ham and imitation crab.
Ramen Jinya is one of the few restaurants in Vancouver that makes hiyashi chuka with slow-roasted pork and chicken, the same chashu used in its hot ramen. I recommend the pork. The chicken is dry.
The noodles are loose, with more chewy spring than hot ramen noodles, which continue cooking in the broth. The tare sauce is dark, tart and nicely balanced with what tastes to me like soy, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and garlic. In addition to pork or chicken, the toppings include bean sprouts, egg, spinach, cucumber and pickled ginger. The latter gives the dish a supremely fresh kick and makes a beautiful contrast to the savoury sauce and meat. If you want to add some spice, there’s a dab of hot mustard on the side of the bowl and chili powder on the table.
Regularly $9.75, hiyashi chuka can also be ordered as a combo for $13.50. The set comes with excellent chicken karaage (tender on the inside, extra-crispy on the outside) and a drink (go for the iced green tea).
If you’re not familiar with Ramen Jinya, it’s a Japanese chain that opened its first North American location in Los Angeles, where Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic, named it one of LA Weekly’s 99 Essential Restaurants.
Sura Korean Restaurant
1518 Robson St., Vancouver
The Korean version of cold noodles is called mul naengmyeon. Served in a large stainless-steel bowl, it features long, thin buckwheat or sweet-potato noodles in a slushy beef broth bobbing with sliced beef, cucumber, Asian pear, radish and a hard-boiled egg.
At Sura, the bouncy noodles ($10) are made from buckwheat and the broth is clean, crisp and delightfully icy. The pear adds a subtle sweetness. But it does need a few dashes of hot mustard and vinegar (served on the side). You can also stir in some kimchi, if you desire.
More adventurous palates might prefer the bibim naengmyeon, which adds a scoop of gochujang (red chili paste) for heat and thickness.
The best part? The leftovers don’t have to be reheated at home.
Golden Szechuan Restaurant
3631 No. 3 Rd., Richmond, BC
Of all regional Chinese cuisines, Szechuan (or Sichuan) is my favourite. I love its scorching heat, funky fermented flavours, smoky pork, sharp pickles and the lip-numbing, mentholated sensation of the singular Szechuan peppercorn.
When a good friend and trusted foodie told me that Golden Szechuan is, in his well-fed opinion, the best Szechuan restaurant in the Lower Mainland, I raced out to Richmond to try its spicy cold noodles ($8.95).
There are probably as many versions of cold Szechuan noodles as there are restaurants in Richmond. While I certainly haven’t tasted them all, I can unequivocally say that these ones are addictive.
The pulled wheat noodles have a nice grainy texture. The dark sauce – a slick combination of chili paste, black vinegar, garlic, ginger and sesame oil – is neither overly hot, nor overly numbing. And not the least bit salty. Flecked with toasted sesame seeds, chili flakes and green onions, these meaty noodles are utterly slurpalicious.
I’m sure they would have tasted even more delicious the next day. Alas, I didn’t have leftovers to take home.