We were rolling down Hudson St, just past the tunnel, Julio Iglesias sang La Mer and I think my feet were hanging out of the window. It was something like a welcome back to New York, the city jubilant in its midsummer grime and garbage smell, on one of those hot and sweaty nights for which people somehow still show up in record numbers. Beautiful women walked the sidewalks with their hair still wet, smiling as we drove by, in spite of our NJ license plates. I waved back with my feet, in search of the next song. We drank beers over ice when we arrived, on the rooftop leaning back to look at stars that were probably just airplanes, circling before landing at JFK. My brother was on holiday in Japan with his wife and offered us the keys to his place, a favor that, like all things in New York, would come at a price.
We woke up the next morning drenched in our own sweat. A nightmare heat wave struck Manhattan and to top it all off, the AC was broken. Hallelujah. We hit the streets immediately in search of relief, stopping at Il Cantuccio on Christopher for a quick duck into the shade behind a queue of like-minds, the backs of their shirts soaked through like navy blue Rorschach tests. I fantasized about taking a wrench to the fire hydrants, and failing that, I could clear out the shelves of the refrigerator and cram myself in. On the back patio sat a glandless Italian man in a three piece white linen suit, totally crisp, smiling at us over his Gazzetta dello Sport.
We kept the apartment dark, with the curtains drawn and the box fan on full blast by the window. The pantry was bare except for a few of my brother’s essentials, some 70s Armagnac, a couple packs of dried noodles, rice vinegar, sesame oil. In the fridge there was soy sauce and a knob of ginger. Could we risk boiling water? The humidity was already above a hundred percent, any higher and it we could call it a spa. The Japanese are going through it too, the mother of all humid fogs they call tsuyu, the grey and rainy season. My brother wrote from Kyoto, saying they just had nagashi somen. What a jerk, this was no time to make dashi. I decided on an quicker alternative, hiyashi chuka, cold ramen dressed like a salad with the refreshing bite of a sesame and ginger vinaigrette. I ran down to the store for a little bit of ham, cucumbers, scallions, and tomato, slicing and arranging them over the noodles, plus a little shiso plucked from the fire escape. There it is, hiyashi chuka, cold ramen on the hottest day of my life.
2 packets of dry ramen
1/3 pound of ham
1 small cucumber, cut into matchsticks
1 small tomato, sliced
2 handfuls of mixed greens
2 scallions, thinly sliced
about 10 leaves shiso, chiffonade
2 tbsp kizami shoga (pickled ginger)
For the dressing:
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
2 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp honey
Boil dried noodles according to package instructions, then drain and rinse under cold water. Meanwhile, whisk together all of the ingredients for the sauce until combined. Arrange the noodles on two large plates and top with as much ham, cucumber, tomato, greens, scallions, shiso, and shoga as you would like. Drizzle the sauce over both plates and enjoy immediately.
Jeffrey Ozawa is a writer and cook living in Chicago. His blog, Gorumando, explores life’s pleasures through food.
(top photo: Andrew Jungclaus, bottom photo: Jaimie Lewis of Machins Choses)