Noodles are eternal. Noodles are forever. There’s a reason noodles are often linked to longevity -- they increase happiness and therefore increase long life (this logic checks out). But when it’s 98 degrees outside, slurping down steaming bowls of shoyu ramen, soupy udon, or stir-fried chow mein doesn’t always seem appealing.
Thankfully, there’s a whole world of cold noodles to explore so you can still get that chewy, springy texture without the added heat -- unless we’re slurping Sichuan cold noodles, of course. Here are nine cold noodle dishes you should definitely try this summer:
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A classic cold noodle summer dish -- mandatory for backyard barbecues and potlucks -- pasta salads can be sharp and tangy, filled with olives and vinaigrettes. There are Italian pasta salads and Greek pasta salads. You can basically take any of your favorite salads, or even sandwiches, and translate them into pasta salad form: BLTs, chicken pesto, caprese, you name it. The possibilities are truly endless; there’s a world of pasta shapes to choose from, but no matter what you pick, it's probably going to be cold and delicious.
Hiyashi chūka is a Japanese dish inspired by Chinese food; the translation literally means “chilled Chinese.” The meal consists of a bed of cold ramen noodles topped with julienned carrots and cucumbers, slivers of ham, tamagoyaki or sliced egg omelets, char siu or barbecue pork, and ginger. The combined ingredients are bathed in a cold tare sauce that is a combination of sweet, savory, and vinegar-forward.
Naengmyeon is a Korean chilled noodle dish composed of buckwheat noodles, julienned cucumbers, pickled radish, and boiled eggs. There are two distinct variations of naengmyeon: the first, mul naengmyeon, features a cold broth made from beef, chicken, or dongchimi -- a variation of kimchi that contains Korean pears, radishes, scallions, and green chiles and makes from a briney, fermented broth. The other type is bibim naengmyeon, which, like bibimbap, is tossed with a spicy chile sauce made from gochujang, or Korean sweet-and-spicy chili paste. Either is a great backyard BBQ side, whether you're sticking to hot dogs or going full KBBQ.
Sichuan cold noodles
Though not hot in temperature, these cold noodles will definitely set your mouth on fire with the help of Sichuan peppercorns. Sichuan cold noodles are delightfully savory, spicy, and numbing -- making for a unique dining experience. The thin noodles still have the same spring you’d expect from liang mian -- or cold noodles -- and the spicy-hot-but-temperature-cold is an interesting duality that plays out in your mouth. Eat these noodles with sweetened lemon tea to ensure your tongue doesn’t burn off from the chiles.
The great thing about a dish of zaru soba is that you can have all the components that make for a good soba dish -- springy, buckwheat noodles; light and flavorful sauce or soup; perhaps a crispy side of tempura -- without the added steam from a hot broth. Instead, zaru soba calls for a dipping sauce known as tsuketsuyu; it’s made from a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, kombu or sea kelp, bonito flakes, and sake. If it’s too hard to wrangle the dipping broth ingredients, but you still want to eat chilled soba noodles at home, it’s easy to purchase bottled, premade sauce to fulfill are you noodle dipping dreams.
Yum woon sen
Yum woon sen is a glass noodle dish that hails from Thailand and is often found under the salad section of the menu (though it is full of noodles). It gets that salad title due to the refreshing herbs, lime juice, and chiles that are tossed alongside the starchy cellophane noodles. You can typically find seafood and ground pork in yum woon sen; expect to taste the balanced flavors of spicy, sweet, salty, and sour in this dish that are typical for Thai food.
Like most Southeast Asian countries, the temperature in Vietnam can climb pretty high. Pair that with the stuffy humidity and it’s easy to understand why bún chả, a Vietnamese cold noodle dish, exists. For those unfamiliar with bún chả, it’s comprised of some sort of protein -- typically pork belly, pork shoulder, or meatballs -- pickled veggies, thin vermicelli noodles, and fresh herbs. The noodles, meat, and sides of fried egg rolls are dipped in a sweetened and diluted fish sauce mixture. It also happens to the be the dish former President Barack Obama shared with the late Anthony Bourdain on in Hanoi.
For those who prefer thicker, chewier noodles over the thin strands of vermicelli, there is bukkake udon. As the name suggests, the dish is made up of the rounder, thicker Japanese noodle, udon, submerged in a cold shoyu and daishi-based broth. Toppings add to the flair of this dish, and can include soft boiled eggs, pickled ginger, sesame seeds, shredded seaweed, grated radish, and crunchy fried tempura flakes.
Tum khao poon
If you’ve ever had Laotian papaya salad, or tum mak hoong, then you’re aware of the layered deliciousness that comes from pounding unripe papaya, chiles, tomatoes, fish sauce, sugar, and padaek (fermented fish paste) together. To make for an even more interesting textural salad, tum khao poon calls for the addition of stringy vermicelli noodles. Though it's cool in temperature, beware: tum khao poon can be explosively spicy in the best way possible.
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Kat Thompson is a staff food writer at Thrillist who loves the hot-and-cold sensation of Sichuan cold noodles. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.