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Room-Temperature Ramen and Cooling Appetizers From Nippon

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It feels like 105 degrees outside, yet still craving ramen? Not an uncommon situation for Asian noodle soup lovin' Houstonians in the summer months. In the humid hell that is August, there's something to be said about letting a giant bowl of ramen delivered to you piping hot, cool to room temperature (colder than average anyway because of the air conditioning).

Nippon may not have the best udon and ramen in town, but their pork ramen is consistently terrific and their selection of starters, diverse and comprehensive. And, most importantly, it tastes even better when it's not boiling.

To best prepare your palate as well as keep with the "beat the heat" theme at Nippon, choose a starter that similarly improves under (near) arctic conditions. Standbys such as edamame and fried tofu (agedashi tofu) are solid but are boring companions to the flavor maelstrom that is Nippon's ramen. Take advantage instead of the fact that Nippon offers over 20 different additional appetizers, organized appropriately by protein (or lack thereof).

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Although it's tempting to get your RDA of vegetables at Nippon by ordering tempura, garden fare more soothing during the summer months can be found in their ohitashi, a small mountain of soft boiled spinach topped with crispy bonito flakes. Like the ramen, this dish loses nothing when consumed not warm, and if ordered for takeout, even benefits from the cooling effect of a car ride home.

Pescetarians will particularly relish Nippon's fresh and saltwater starters like the tako wasabi, raw octopus softened in a wasabi marinade and served on a mound of sliced cucumber. Equally refreshing is the the ikura oroshi, daikon relish adorned with pearls of salmon roe that enable multiple miniature chilling explosions of briney salt in each bite.

If you're set on matching your pork ramen with an appetizer that features a land rather than sea creature, your first instinct (understandably so) may be to order the karaage, because it's fried chicken deliciousness. Warm batter and foul do not sit well in the stomach during balmy summer nights--you're better off ordering Nippon's yakitori, chunks of dark meat chicken whose sweet miso flavor is riper when the skewers aren't so fresh off the grill.

"Room temperature" always a pejorative descriptor when it comes to food? Not so, in my experience, at Nippon.

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