Though somen* noodles are strongly connected to summer in Japan, did you know that production is at its peak during wintertime?
This time we will be introducing the Shodoshima tenobe somen noodles.
*somen = Japanese vermicelli
With origins going back about 400 years to the beginning of Edo period (1603~1867), along with “Ibonoito” and “Miwa somen” noodles, Shodoshima Island’s somen noodles are said to be among Japan’s three greatest.
Apparently, when people from the Ikeda region of Shodoshima Island would stop by at Miwa in Nara prefecture on their way back from a pilgrimage to Ise, they learned the production method for somen noodles, and brought it back to Shodoshima Island.
For this article, we visited the 100-year old Masagokinosuke Seimenjo (‘Masagokinosuke noodle-making plant’) on Shodoshima Island, which is currently managed by 4 people: Hiroaki Masago (3rd generation), Atsushi (4th generation) and their wives.
Noodle making on Shodoshima Island has since olden times been centered on household industry. Even today, there are apparently many noodle-making plants run by families.
As it starts at dawn, around 3am, and finishes just before dusk, somen noodle making takes time. Within the course of one day, everything from kneading the milled wheat flour, adding salt and water, and cutting the dried noodles is accomplished. Then on the following day, the final process of binding and packing the noodles is done.
When we visited the noodle plant for this article, along with seeing cured noodles being stretched, we saw the “hatazuke” process where the noodles are laid on an apparatus called “hata”.
This is the hashiire (hashiwake) process where ‘stuck together’ noodles are carefully separated using long chopsticks (hashi). Machines cannot do the craftsman’s fine work…
The noodles are laid on the hata and dried in the sun. As Shodoshima Island enjoys relatively low precipitation, it’s apparently the ideal place for sun drying.
Bathing in sunlight, the layers of noodles look like a beautiful works of art.
When you get a little closer to the noodles, you can smell the scent of the wheat flour and sesame oil.
The special characteristic of Shodoshima Island’s somen noodles is that they’re made using sesame oil, one of the island’s special products.
After being thoroughly dried, the noodles are cut and bound into the shape familiar to all Japanese people.
Known as the ‘3 brothers’, this is the Masagokinosuke Seimenjo’s product line-up.
They are “hosokuchi”, “futokuchi” and “fushimen”.
The stylish wrappings were renewed 3 years ago on Atsushi’s suggestion.
Apparently they were designed to be an easier-to-buy and use size and packaging style.
On my way back from the noodle plant, I heard that there’s a place where you can try the Masagokinosuke Seimenjo’s somen noodles, so I decided to take a small detour.
At Pon Café, which is located near Ikeda port, I tried the “Soy-milk tan-tan o-somen” made using the thicker “futokuchi” noodles.
A genuinely delicious dish made without using any meat of fish, the full-flavored sesame paste, soy milk and nakamiso paste based soup sticks really well to the noodles.
On the day I visited Shodoshima Island for this article, the temperature was still quite low and it was a bit cold, but after I ate a bowl of carefully handcrafted somen noodles, both my mind and body were warmed!
Address: 2484-2 Ikeda, Shodoshima-cho, Shozu district, Kagawa
Setouchi Finder: Yumi Kobayashi
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