‘Tis the season for cold noodles!

If you’ve been following us for a while, you probably know how delicious we think Japanese convenience store food is. From their hot food to their frozen food to even their packaged bread, there’s hardly anything we wouldn’t be happy to eat from a Family Mart, Lawson, or 7-Eleven.

But now that summer is here, all we want to eat is stuff that can keep us cool, which is why our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun is all about the cold noodle dishes, known as “hiyashi men”, right now. Did you know that Family Mart alone sells nine different kinds of hiyashi men? Naturally, P.K. had to try them all, not only because he loves carbs and cold noodles but because he’s on a mission this summer to eat every hiyashi men dish sold at convenience stores in Japan.

In truth, P.K. generally tends to buy bento from 7-Eleven rather than Family Mart, just as a matter of habit, which means he’d never really eaten Family Mart’s hiyashi men before. So when he tried all nine, he experienced a real shock about the overall quality of Family Mart’s hiyashi men bento.

Here are P.K.’s thoughts on all nine of Family Mart’s hiyashi men dishes.

● Hiyashi Chuka Aburiyaki Chashu Nose (Cold Ramen with Seared Roast Pork) – 530 yen (US$3.90)

Although the amount of “seared roast pork” was sadly a bit on the underwhelming side, overall, this was a very well put together bowl of Chinese-style cold noodles. It’s the type of noodle dish that doesn’t have one particular selling factor except that it’s perfectly orthodox.

P.K. did wish that there were a bit more of the toppings that added some crunchy texture, like cucumbers, bean sprouts, and kikurage mushrooms, but at this reasonable price point, there was nothing to really complain about. This is a dish that’s standard, yet polished.

● Goshu Guzai Goma-dare Hiyashi Chuka (Cold Ramen with Steamed Chicken and Sesame Sauce) – 530 yen

Just like the name indicates, this noodle dish is chock full of sesame flavors, from the first bite to the last. Sesame sauces are delicious in their own right for their strong flavor, but by the end of a dish like this, it gets somewhat monotonous. Ordinarily you don’t get tired of regular hiyashi men dishes, but that’s what happened for P.K. with this one. Still, it was a pretty tasty dish.

● Goma no Fuumi to Kasho no Kaori! Hiyashi Tantanmen (Cold Dan Dan Noodles) – 550 yen

With its delightful aroma of Szechuan peppers, this dish was delicious from the very first bite. If you like spicy flavors, then you’ll definitely like this one. P.K. thinks this also fits the bill for those whose love of fiery food is a source of macho pride. He ate the whole thing in a flash. It was that good.

● Moriokafuu Reimen (Cold Noodles with Kimchi and Roast Pork) – 520 yen

This is based on a cold noodle dish that originated in the town of Morioka, Iwate Prefecture. Family Mart’s version doesn’t quite measure up to the standards of local Morioka restaurants, but it was still really delicious for a convenience store meal. The broth had the perfect level of acidity to it, but what really made it the ideal hiyashi men dish for the height of summer is the super slippery noodles that just slide right down your throat.

Normally P.K. would look down on a hiyashi men dish that doesn’t have green onions, but this one was, as a whole, really good. In the oppressive heat of Japanese summer, there may even be days when hiyashi men is too much, but even on those days, this take on Morioka Reimen with leave you feeling cool as a cucumber.

● Hiyashi Tororo Soba (Cold Soba Noodles with Grated Yam) – 460 yen

There’s a bit of folk wisdom that says “You can never get a bad convenience store hiyashi tororo soba.” The reliability of Family Mart’s Hiyashi Tororo Soba is what makes it so excellent. Really, there’s no way to combine soba, the classic hiyashi soba broth known as men tsuyu, grated yam, seaweed, and wasabi and not have it come out delicious.

● Omori Hiyashi Shio Nikujiru Bukkake Udon (Cold Pork Udon Noodles) – 498 yen

The fatal weak point of boiled udon is a lack of the right balance of softness and elasticity, but these noodles make up for that for how downright thick they are. They are super satisfying, and while the broth is salty, it has a kind of wildness to it that isn’t altogether unpleasant.

The meaty toppings make this dish plenty hearty. It’s also got a very strong ginger flavor. Altogether this is udon that comes out of left field; it’s udon for someone who wants something a little different from regular cold udon dishes.

Hiyashi Ume Oroshi Kishimen (Cold Plum and Radish Flat Udon) – 439 yen

Kishimen is the name given to wide flat noodles, and these have a great, fun texture. Plus, topped with grated daikon and picked plum, this dish is the definition of refreshing. P.K. did not hate that pure, refreshing flavor, but, sad to say, he does not like pickled plums, so this was not his personal favorite.

● Hiyashi Bukkake Tenobashi Somen (Cold Somen Noodles in Broth) – 430 yen

This dish actually bears the logo for Ibo no Ito, a popular brand of somen, a type of thin white noodle. P.K. assumed that meant the dish used Ibo no Ito noodles, since he quickly, and happily, recognized their familiar taste and texture. It may not be showy but it’s that good old somen flavor that P.K. knows and loves. That familiar comfort is the best part of this dish. You might be able to easily make the same exact thing at home, but that’s actually what’s good about it. You literally can’t go wrong with it.

● Hiyashi Tsukemen Gyokai Tonkotsu Shoyu (Cold Seafood Tonkotsu Soy Sauce Noodle Dish) – 550 yen

This one was kind of shocking! P.K. isn’t much of a tsukemen, or dipping ramen, fan. Eating this, though, he learned what it is about tsukemen that people like. The broth in this dish deserves special mention; it had a degree of perfection that P.K. did not expect.

A punch of rich, seafood and pork bone broth flavors gave it a certain umami, and it had the aroma of fish meal. Its thick noodles also made it super satisfying. Overall, P.K. thought this was very well put together for a tsukemen dish. He might even go so far as to say that it’s better than spending 1,000 yen or more for takeout tsukemen from a ramen shop. Frankly speaking, it was delicious.

Out of all nine dishes, P.K. could honestly say that not one of them was lacking. Though he doesn’t usually buy his bentos from Family Mart, he had to say that their hiyashi men dishes are pretty good! If he were to pick a personal top three, he’d choose the Cold Seafood Tonkotsu Soy Sauce Noodle Dish, the Cold Noodles with Kimchi and Roast Pork, and the Cold Somen Noodles in Broth. The somen noodles, in particular, are a great option to fall back on if you can’t decide what to eat.

As expected, Family Mart didn’t disappoint, just like 7-Eleven’s hiyashi men dishes didn’t disappoint either (well, except for one). P.K. plans to test out more cold noodle dishes from other convenience stores, so keep checking back to find out which ones turned out to be his overall favorites!

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