Knockout Noodles: Hiyashi-Chuka at Slurping Turtle
So I'm sitting down to lunch recently at one of my favorite noodle haunts, Slurping Turtle, and what do I see on the menu? Chef Takashi Yagihashi's tori ramen. OK, if that statement didn't quite rock your world, here's some background: This past winter, the tori ramen at Slurping Turtle took gold in Serious Eats: Chicago's massive round-up of the best ramen in the city. Despite our praises, the tori ramen has been an elusive find at the River North noodle house throughout the ensuing months. It goes off the menu, it comes back, then it goes away again, then it's only available at lunch, and so on. According to my server, its current engagement is slated to end in a few short weeks. It's maddening.
Besides the newsworthy import of this information (go get your tori ramen while you can), I bring all this up to illustrate the paralyzing dilemma I faced at lunch: seeing that—sweet!—the tori ramen is back, but—oooo!—the current noodle offerings also include something brand-new: hiyashi-chuka ($14), a dish of chilled wheat noodles topped with all sorts of vegetal goodies. I was intrigued. I had last flirted with hiyashi at the start of summer while researching a story on Chicago's cold-noodle dishes. With the words of Barney Stinson playing in my head, I did the incredible and ordered up the hiyashi-chuka...and was handsomely rewarded.
This and the hiyashi ramen I was served at Ai Sushi back in June are quite different dishes. For one thing, Slurping Turtle's hiyashi-chuka has no dipping sauce accompaniment. I came to think of it as a light summertime pasta salad, by way of Japan. The dish is anchored by a bed of chilled, wavy ramen noodles—slippery, springy, and full of bite. Atop the noodles, a rainbow of ingredients, including delicate strips of tofu, ocean-tinged seaweed, baked kabocha squash, slices of heirloom tomato, pickled ginger, juicy asparagus, shredded lettuce, sweet corn, nori threads, enoki mushrooms, a sprinkling of sesame seeds, and a dollop of spicy mustard on the outskirts of the plate.
The squash was delightful—baked super-soft and with the caramelized brown-sugar flavors typical of sweet potatoes—as were the fresh heirloom tomatoes. Stirred together, the plate's contents, all of which are vegan, offer lots of surprises when tasted in tandem. There are sudden bold hits of flavor, say, from a morsel of fragrant pickled ginger, which are strung together between lighter, more delicate bites of sweet corn and forgiving squash. With the broth subtracted, it's also very easy to really zero in on the textural pleasantries of the ramen noodles. And restrained seasoning meant the plate happily welcomed a splash of soy and a dash or two of togarashi.
Surely, this traditional fair-weather fare will go on hiatus soon enough, as well, once summer passes into fall. So now the dilemma is yours to solve.