Legend has it that a female emperor in ancient China, suffering through a hot day, demanded her noodles be served cold instead of hot. It was her birthday that day, and thus began a tradition: Every birthday from that day forward she asked that her noodles be served cold.
In modern-day Seattle, I think the Vietnamese bun dac biet at Green Leaf ($10.95) would be an ideal choice to carry on the tradition. It’s a bowl full of surprises: cold rice vermicelli topped with grilled pork, shrimp and chicken, and crisp egg rolls. As you mix the nuoc cham (sweet fish sauce dressing) into the dish, you discover lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and herbs hiding beneath—like a cold noodle salad of sorts.
I always opt for the vegetarian bun tofu at Pho Cyclo ($7.55), its cold rice noodles topped with lemongrass-fried tofu, fried onions, cilantro, basil, bean sprouts and green leaf lettuce. In Japan, similar dishes are served either hot or cold, depending on the season.
But in the University District, you’ll find zaru udon at U:Don ($5.50) year-round, chewy house-made wheat noodles served cold with a soy dipping sauce. You’ll have a plate of noodles, a bowl of sauce, and a dish with wasabi and green onions (ask for the tempura bits for crunch). Dip and customize each bite as you wish.
Similarly, opt for the cold kanro dipping ramen at Samurai Noodle ($8; hot kanro is also offered): cold ramen (egg noodles), pieces of delicious hand-pulled pork, bamboo shoots and roasted green onions, which you dip into the salty fish sauce.
Sadly, the one cold noodle dish that eluded my search was also the simplest: cold sesame noodles. I searched, tasted a few that fell short, found a hot version I liked, but I’m still on the lookout for the perfect version of this classic.