August in Japan is the kind of hot that makes you convinced that your bones have liquefied. I should qualify that statement. The two Augusts, ten years apart, that I was in Japan, the heat was miserable. Somehow the heat struck me by surprise, both times. Sure, I had a childhood of visits to the miserably, mind-boiling heat of India to prepare myself. Sure, the fact that I was dumb enough to get stuck in the heat twice gives you the sense that I deserve it.
But, I blame Japanese design. This is a culture, highly attuned to, actually reverential towards, nature with kami kindly abounding in this rock and that old tree. But, if you spent your time, as I often do, looking at prints of ladies at moon-viewing parties and the like, you will know that not one of those gals looked as if they were sweating enough to fill an inland sea.
Each time, as I planned my trip to Japan, I packed my suitcases with whatever struck me as design forward. Long black pants, perfect. Collared shirts, okay. Cotton cardigan, yes sir. I would like to think my brain was being even more design forward than my rational self. After all, each time, first in my semester there, and then for a visit, soon after my arrival, I found myself scouring the racks for seasonal cloths.
So, the first time I was in Kyoto, garbed newly purchased baby doll dress (accept that image for what it is), leaning against the white wall in some temple, my mother’s steps on preventing heat stroke started to cycle in my head. First, don’t go out between noon and three, I could hear her say. Alright, so it was half past twelve. Next. There was something about find shade quickly. I have always thought the Japanese prize nature on human’s terms rather than Mother nature’s. This is the land of square watermelons. The temple I was standing in had woefully few artfully manicured trees giving off enticing, though cruel, puddles of shade over a white sandy expanse. Alight, so find shade quickly was a surprising difficult proposition, considering I was standing in a garden.
What other advice had my mother planted into my inner brain. Hydrate appropriately—not too quickly and with light food. As a completely non-Japanese speaker, I found the byzantine arrangement of streets exciting. I came to accept that I would never find the same place twice. When I found a café, I didn’t really care what was on the menu. I took a seat near the back of the restaurant. In my crumpled cotton dress and oxblood Doc Martens, I must have been a sight to the housewives with their pressed jackets and silk scarves. I took the omnipresent book from my pink purse, and began to settle in.
The waitress was a kindly woman who assumed, rightly so, that reading the menu would be too advanced for me. With tasteful nods and gestures, she said that this restaurant really only served a few items, and the most popular was cold buckwheat noodles. Ice cold noodles, with their sooty grey look, didn’t strike me as particularly appetizing on its face, but then I began to look at the treatment of the dish. The noodles were arranged just so on a slatted lacquer tray that was festooned with gold leaves in silhouette. A small dipping bowl was set to the side. This was clearly a fashion forward way to stave off heat stroke.
When the dish came, I was on a roll with my summer reading. I let the noodles sit a moment. It’s not as if they could get colder. I pulled the tray closer to me without thinking. I held the chopsticks mindlessly; and grabbed a few noodles without much care or thought. I stabbed the noodles into the dipping sauce and raised the lot into my mouth, still focused on the action of my book. As the salty, earthy, cool, smooth, fullness of the bite began to register in my mind, I set my book on the table. I don’t remember which book I was reading, but I remember that first taste of buckwheat noodle.
I have played around with making buckwheat noodles. I have long ago accepted that the artisanal buckwheat noodles from that fine little shop are not within my reach. Instead of the futile effort of recreating remembered perfection, I have danced around buckwheat noodles. I made some flat ones a couple years ago, to use as a sort of salad wrapping.
In the heat and emotional exhaustion that has been August for us. Seeking foods that cool, in all senses of the word, we made buckwheat pasta tossed with vegetables and quick pickled radishes. While that first bite our buckwheat was different in context and content from that moment in Kyoto, the joyful earthiness was there.
According to the Encyclopedia of Pasta is an antique pasta from the Basilicata region that was often served with a light sauce. Traditionally it is made with wheat, barley flour, chickpea flour, fava bean flour.
Cover 2 sliced radishes with vinegar. Add one pinch sugar, 2 tsps kosher salt, and 1 tsp mustard seeds (dry roasted)
scant 1/3 cup chickpea flour
scant 1/3 cup fava flour
Dry fry in a skillet.
1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill gluten free flour mix
scant 1/3 cup chickpea flour
scant 1/3 cup fava flour
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
Make into a mound of the flour, create a small well, add:
1 T olive oil
Water by the tablespoonfuls
Mix into a dough. Knead vigorously. This dough is seriously stiff. Let the dough rest for 1 hour.
Pinch off nickel sized balls (the book said chestnuts, but I can’t say I can estimate a chestnut). Place the ball on a floured surface. Push down with two fingers, and then drag your fingers across the surface. You get a flat canoe-like pasta.
Boil the pasta.
Dress with pickled radishes, soy sauce, pickling juice, olive oil, steamed summer squash, and sautéed radish greens.
I am sending this over to Presto Pasta Nights started by Ruth of 4 Every Kitchen and hosted by Amy of Very Culinary.
I am also sending this one on to Two for Tuesdays from Girlichef and Real Food Wednesdays from Kelly the Kitchen Kop.