Tokyo heatwaves call for cold food. Bazoku in Asakusa serves a fine bowl of hiyashi chūka (cold Chinese-style noodles) that’ll cool you down and put you in a food coma - in the best way possible.
Bazoku’s hiyashi chūka. - image © Florentyna Leow
Every year, restaurants all over Japan bust out cold food as soon as temperatures start creeping upwards. Sales of cold soba noodles, cold somen noodles, smoothies, ice creams, and shaved ice probably went through the roof this summer. The next time you’re experiencing a Tokyo heatwave, you should look for some hiyashi chūka, a vibrant, colourful chilled noodle dish that sweet, tangy, and savoury all at the same time.
Bazoku in Asakusa. - image © Florentyna Leow
Literally translating as ‘chilled Chinese,’ hiyashi chūka purportedly has its origins in ‘liang ban mian,’ a Northern Chinese cold noodle dish - not that the two have all that much in common. Many Chinese restaurants here either riff on Chinese food or cater to Japanese palates, effectively making them Japanese-Chinese dishes - a cuisine in its own right. As Makiko Itoh points out, any dish with ‘Chinese’ in the name here in Japan is likely to be Chinese-inspired, rather than an attempt at recreating a Chinese dish.
It’s a functional little restaurant - not much in the way of decoration. - image © Florentyna Leow
In the case of hiyashi chūka, that means a sweet and tangy dressing for the chilled noodles, with plenty of sesame seeds, and toppings like ham, omelette, and cucumber strips. None of these toppings are orthodox for most Japanese noodle dishes. Still, hiyashi chūka is quite recognizably a Japanese dish in both appearance and taste, especially for the way it adapts Chinese ingredients for local palates.
A huge pyramid of toppings. - image © Florentyna Leow
I love eating cold noodles. What stops me from eating Bazoku’s hiyashi chūka more than once a year is its sheer size. It’s a monster of a noodle bowl. You’ll see a veritable pyramid of toppings first: sliced ham, cucumbers, omelette, pickled red ginger, sprouts, prawns, jellyfish, a circle of charshu so fatty and smooth I thought I was eating liver pate.
Digging below the surface. - image © Florentyna Leow
Dig below and you’ll find a layer of ground chillies and bean paste, a little like the stuff they use in their tantanmen. Below that is a tangle of noodles, with so much dressing that it’s more like a soup.
Mostly demolished. - image © Florentyna Leow
Bazoku’s noodles deserve special attention. For one thing, they’re made in-house, and they’re good - super smooth and slippery, splashing sauce everywhere when slurped. Texturally, they’re bouncy and resilient, halfway to cooked, chilled jellyfish. The other reason to visit is to listen to the sound of noodle-making. Periodically, you’ll hear explosive bangs - the vigorous slaps of noodle dough onto a floured surface. You can even hear it as you’re walking down the street towards the restaurant.
A restaurant with many celebrity signatures on its wall is usually doing something right. - image © Florentyna Leow
The only thing really missing in this hiyashi chūka is the almost nonexistent chile heat. It’s very Japanese in that way: the dressing is fragrant and flavourful with sesame and vinegar, beautifully balanced between sweet and tart flavours, but not at all spicy. I like my cold noodles to have spicy heat in lieu of actual heat, with more salt than vinegar. But if you’re not a spice masochist like I am, Bazoku’s hiyashi chūka is for you.
Make your own dipping sauce with soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil. - image © Florentyna Leow
An order of gyoza is almost de rigueur at a place like this. Juicy and garlicky, they’re not at all bad when eaten hot. But woe betide you if you let them sit for too long: the skins are a little too thick, and gyoza turns stodgy all too quickly, losing the crispy bottoms that make them so alluring. Eat fast or don’t.
Close-up shot of the toppings. - image © Florentyna Leow
Reasons to visit Bazoku, in brief: their hiyashi chūka is a fine version of the genre, with noodles so smooth it’s like eating off a Slip n’Slide. It’s a huge bowl of noodles that’ll put you in a food coma straightaway. If it ain’t summer, their tantanmen is an equally fine bowl with the same noodles and nutty, smoky, chilli tare to stir through. It’s in Asakusa, where tourist density is high, but it’s far enough from the main drag that you won’t see the same crowds as around the temple. And where else can you hear noodles being made?
Cross the road and turn left at this corner. - image © Florentyna Leow
Directions: Take Exit 3 of Tawaramachi Station. Once you’re above ground, make a U-turn from the staircase. You’ll be facing an intersection. Cross the road heading along Asakusa-dori Road (the roads are signposted) - you’ll see a sushi shop on the corner. Keep walking straight, passing by a 7-11, until you reach an Italian restaurant on the corner on your left. Cross the road from there and make a left immediately. Bazoku is at the end of this block.
Name in Japanese:
1F Toyoda Building, 2-7-6 Kaminarimon, Taito Ward, Tokyo
東京都台東区雷門2-7-6 豊田ビル １Ｆ
11:15am - 8:30pm
Subway: 5-minute walk from exit 3 of Tawaramachi Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, or 6-minute walk from exit A4 of Asakusa Station on the Tobu-Asakusa Line.
:: Read customer reviews of Bazoku on TripAdvisor
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