Hand-stretched somen noodles like thread
“I want to make Nankan Somen and Nankan Town more exciting.”
Nankan somen / Saruwatari Seimenjo
Nankan Somen is made in Nankan Town in the northwestern part of Kumamoto Prefecture. It is said to have a history of 250 or 300 years, and in the Edo period, it was offered by the clan to the shogunate. We interviewed Mr. Shunsuke Kanasaka who is a president of Saruwatari Seimenjo.
Shunsuke Kanasaka Born in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1983. Worked at a hotel and an Italian restaurant, and at a soba restaurant. Learned how to make Nankan Somen at Saruwatari Seimenjo and became independent in 2017.
A traditional technique that has continued for 300 years
Nankan somen has been produced in Nankan Town for 250 to 300 years. It is said that at one time there were more than 200 somen factories, but now there are only 10.
―What are the characteristics of Nankan Somen?
All the noodles are made by hand, and there are two types: “Shiraga Somen” and “Mage Somen”. Shiraga somen is stretched to 3 to 4 meters long and then cut at both ends to make a bundle. Mage somen is 2.5 to 3 meters long and is bent and bundled when it is half-dried. Different artisans make different types of somen.
―How is it made?
It takes two days to make, and the dough is left to sit overnight before being stretched out the next day. It is a tradition at Saruwatari Seimenjo to add eggs to the flour, salt, and water. The oil used for the dough depends on factories. I use rapeseed oil.
manufacturing process of Nankan Somen
|１. Knead the flour with salt and water and let the dough rest.|
|２. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin into a round, flat shape.|
|３. Cut the dough from the outside in a circle.|
|４. Stretch the dough into a string by hand and let it sit (about 2 hours).|
|５. Stretch more thinly and let it sit overnight.|
|６. After letting the dough sit overnight, hang it on two sticks in a figure-eight pattern.|
|７. Pull the dough two separate times and let it sit. (about 2 hours at a time.)|
|８. Using two sticks, stretch the dough to about 3 meters and let it dry.|
|９. Trim off the edges when half-dry and bind together using a frame.|
※The above is the case of Saruwatari Seimenjo. The name of the process and the working method differ depending on the factory.
Somen that can be up to 3 meters long
In the past, Nankan Somen used to be produced only in winter, but now it is produced throughout the year.
―What is the most difficult part of the process?
The most difficult part is the salt level. The more salt, the harder it is to stretch and dry. I write down the data every day and refer to the past records. The temperature and humidity vary from day to day, so stretching the dough outside is also difficult.
―Please let me know how to cook it well.
After boiling the noodles in plenty of water, rinse them three or four times in cold water and chill them in cold water before serving. It is not recommended to serve them in ice water, as the taste will be lost if they are soaked in water.Mage Somen should be folded before boiling. They are 3 meters long, so if you boil them as they are, it will be difficult to eat them!
A soba artisan turned into a somen artisan.
Mr. Kanasaka learned how to make Nankan somen after accidentally eating it.
―Please tell us how you started making somen.
I had been working at a Soba restaurant for about nine years and was thinking of starting my own business. At that time, I enjoyed eating Nankan somen at my parents’ house, and when I asked my mother about it, I found out that it was made by a distant relative. The late Asaka Igata of Saruwatari Seimenjo, who was my master. I went to visit her in the hope that she would teach me how to make somen for a short time, but I ended up training while helping out at the store.
―So, after completing your training, you decided to start your own business.
The process of making somen is profound and every step is interesting. Following completion of my apprenticeship and training at Saruwatari Seimenjo for two years, I became a franchise store owner.
―How did you feel about taking over the name of the factory?
The Saruwatari Seimenjo was started by my master’s grandmother. Now that I have been given the name of the factory, I’m afraid to change the way we have been making it, or rather, I think it is better not to change it. I am grateful to my master for teaching me all the techniques necessary for making somen.
He also wants to tell the charm of Nankan Town
The Saruwatari Seimenjo receives many orders from all over Japan.
―What made you happy when you started making Nankan somen?
I moved to Nankan Town before I became independent. I am happy to have made friends with the people of Nankan Town. Elementary school and junior high school students also come to observe my work.
―On inheriting the traditional technique
I have inherited the tradition of Nankan Somen that has lasted for 300 years, and I would like to preserve the method and pass it on to the future. If there are people who want to make Nankan Somen, I will teach them, and if there are people from other countries who are interested, I will teach them too, so I want them to make it in their own countries.
―For the future.
I would like to promote Nankan somen to various people and tell them about the charm of Nankan Town along with Nankan somen. I hope that Nankan Somen and the town will become a lively place together.I would be happy if the appeal of Nankan Somen and Nankan Town spread and the town becomes more lively.
※The above information is current as of November 2021.
The beautiful, thin, thread-like Nankan somen.Somen which are made by Saruwatari Seimenjo are very popular and keep selling out. I would love to try the ones made by Mr. Kanesaka.
■ Saruwatari Seimenjo Mr. Kanasaka became a franchise owner in 2017. He continues to make traditional handmade somen. Currently, there are no stores selling it, but it is sold online. Location：2889-1, Oaza Shimosakashita, Nankan-town, Tamana-gun, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan URL ： https://saruwatari-seimen.com/ https://www.rakuten.co.jp/saruwatari/