Regional name differences and variations of this and similar dishes and who invented this dish etc are quite complicated. In Hokkaido 北海道 where I grew up, this dish is called “hiyashi ra-men” 冷やしラーメン. The rest of Japan including Tokyo, this dish is usually called “hiyashi chuka” 冷やし中華 which is short for “hiyashi chuka-soba” 冷やし中華そば. “Hiyashi” means cold and “chuka-soba” means Chinese “soba” or noodle. Although this is more of a summer lunch item and not an Izakaya food, Izakayas in Hokkaido often serve “ra-sara” ラーサラ which is short for “ramen salad” throughout the seasons. This is a variation with some more vegetable toppings resembling a salad more than a noodle dish. It is said to have been invented by the chef at the Sapporo Grand Hotel for their Beer Hall (Bierhalle) when it was opened for the first time in the 1980s. I have not made this dish for a long time. An intrepid Japanese food and culture explorer I know announced his intention to thoroughly explore cheap Chinese food and “hiyashi chuka” in the Kanda 神田 area during hot summer days in Tokyo. This combined with the unseasonably hot weather we are having here in the DC area made me think of this dish. In contrast to regular ramen, which appears to invoke profound emotions among “rameniacs” out there, this dish is very low-key and cool-as-a-cucumber–no high emotion required.
Ramen noodle: The dried ramen noodle I had in my pantry this time is made in Yamagata prefecture 山形県, which is located in a northern part of the mainland Japan. It is rather thin and straight but has a nice firm texture, I have no idea what style of a ramen noodle this is (Yamagata style??). I prepared it as per the package instruction and washed it in cold water and drained (Do not ask me how many times I have to shake a “spider” strainer or a flat “zaru” strainer, I just use a good American colander.)
Sauce: Again, there is no complicated preparation for the sauce (you need not to boil whole birds, pig heads, bones, and other secret ingredients for days and months in a cauldron while saying secret mantras). It is essentially a vinegar, soy sauce, mirin with some sesame oil; so I just used a bottled good quality ponzu (shoyu) sauce (this one specifically said “with Hokkaido kelp broth”–my kind of ponzu). I dressed the noodles with a small splash of dark roasted sesame oil before plating it and added the ponzu sauce over it (not too much). All the topping should be cut into thin match stick strips (or “julienned” as Julia[n] Child used to say) and top the noodle with the individual toppings arranged in a radial fashion rather than randomly scattering them (just a tradition). You can mix it up yourself before eating. I had a leftover miso-marinated grilled chicken thigh, so I used that. I also used cucumber, scallion, perilla, pickled ginger root, and golden thread egg (kinshiran 金糸卵). You could add strips of nori sheet, sprouts, carrot, corn, etc but now you are getting dangerously close to the “ra-sara” territory.
I garnished it with Campari tomato and served it with a dab of Japaneses hot mustard. This was a lunch and we ate it on our back deck which is perfect especially in this rather hot and muggy weather.