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The Best Summer Ramen Is Cold, Cold, Cold

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor
July 31, 2014

Hot mazemen from Ivan Ramen NYC Slurp Shop. Photo credit: All, Alex Van Buren

The ramen trend has gained such a foothold in the American culinary world these last few years that ramen snobs know their shio from shoyu from tonkotsu broths, and some are even making their own, from scratch.

But they may not know a ton about cold ramen. 

According to Ivan Orkin, ramen scion and owner of Tokyo- and New York–based noodle restaurants Ivan Ramen, “Cold ramen has just really taken off in Japan over the last three or four years.” Because “Japan is much more seasonal than America,” cold ramen dishes do brisk business in late June, July, and August—and arestarting to gain traction stateside, too. 

Orkin sells a cold rye ramen dish called mazemen, with spicy sesame, salted chili sauce, and prawns, at his downtown New York City shop. It’s killer: hugely spicy but cold on the palate, with a ton of crunch thanks to scallions and cucumbers. The noodles themselves, which have been saved from a dousing in hot broth, retain a touch of the al dente quality prized by ramen and pasta lovers alike. “When you eat it cold,” Orkin says, “you really experience the flavor and texture of the noodle.”

Here are the four most common cold Japanese ramen dishes (all of which employ wheat-based ramen noodles), according to Orkin:

Hiyashi ramen: Hiyashi means cold, and this dish means, straight-up, “cold broth, with cold noodles.” It could entail a tomato-based or lemon-based broth (both of which Orkin has experimented with), and any sort of topping, whether it’s shredded chicken, ham, or something else. The important thing? Iit really does cool you off,” says Orkin. He likes to make his hiyashi ramen without much animal fat, so that the broth doesn’t congeal. By using vegetable-based fats, it’s lighter than most bowls of hot ramen… although he laughs that it shouldn’t be too light: “Any ramen with no fat isn’t ramen, in my opinion!”

Hiyashi chukaThis is the “most common cold style” seen nationwide in Japan this time of year, says Orkin. Its distinguishing characteristic? A soy- or sesame-based vinegary sauce that “has a sour thing going on,” which is poured over the noodles, and a side of karashi, a spicy Japanese mustard. “To an American, it maybe seems like a noodle salad” at first blush. Expect shredded chicken, pork, and really “any kind of garnish that works.” (Orkin plans to add a hiyashi chuka to his menu this August.)

Tsukemen: Here, cold noodles come with a small bowl of hot dipping sauce that is like “a more flavorful version” of the typical ramen broth. Tsukemen is so big in Japan that there are entire restaurants dedicated to serving it. You can order these noodles warm, but most people prefer the cold option, says Orkin. 

Mazemen: Definitely ask before ordering mazemen. Sometimes it comes cold—as it did at a pop-up called Yuji Ramen in New York City, decked with eggs and porkand sometimes it’s hot. (When it’s hot outside, you probably care!) This dish, which means “mixed noodle,” in Japanese, is distinguished from the others thanks to its signature tiny amount of broth. But you want enough that “it’s slurpable,” says Orkin. He serves his mazemen cold and topped with prawns, as shown above. 

Will cold ramen take off stateside? It remains to be seen. “Some people are like, ‘what, cold soup?’” said Orkin. As is true of ramen itself—which is still making inroads across America outside of major metropolises—“it’s still very new.”