Cold noodle salads may be a summer staple, but most start with a disadvantage that ends up disappointing on the plate. More often than not, you can blame the noodles themselves. That’s because most salads use Italian pastas, which not only turn mushy once dressed, they also lack sufficient flavor of their own to counteract the dulling effect of being served cold.

Luckily, the solution can be as simple as switching to another noodle. Asian-style cold noodle dishes—such as Japan’s hiyashi chuka, or chilled ramen with a punchy sauce, crisp julienned vegetables and meaty protein—rarely suffer the same challenges. Much of the credit goes to the ramen itself.

Asian noodles, such as ramen, start out with more flavor built right in. Whereas dry Italian pastas typically are made from little more than flour and water, Asian noodles include salt, which gives them a leg up on flavor from the start.

And ramen is a particularly good choice because it is made with a mixture of alkaline salts called kansui, which not only gives the noodles their characteristic yellow hue and pleasant chewiness, it also adds a mild eggy flavor. As a bonus, ramen is made with a harder variety of wheat, so it soaks up less dressing and won’t turn to mush like frilly Italian pasta shapes do.

Many American cooks tend to overcompensate for the flavor deficit of Italian noodles by heaping on mayonnaise-­based dressings. But these mostly end up weighing down what should be a light, summery dish. Since Asian noodles bring more flavor to the table, lighter dressings are just fine.

For our summer noodle salad, we sought flavor inspiration in hiyashi chuka, which combines a riot of toppings, flavors and textures. The dish begins with chilled cooked ramen tossed with a light, tangy dressing of soy sauce, rice vinegar, grated ginger, toasted sesame oil, the sweet rice wine mirin and a bit of sugar.

The noodles then are topped with a choose-what-you-like array of ingredients—ham, cooked shrimp or chicken, cucumber, seaweed, tomato, shredded cooked egg, corn, carrot, crabmeat, bean sprouts, herbs, sesame seeds or whatever leftovers might be in the refrigerator. The key is to opt for toppings with a variety of textures, and to make sure they are sliced into thin strips so they easily combine with the noodles.

To get the most flavor from a short ingredient list, we pared the toppings to deli ham, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and roasted seaweed snacks. A sprinkle of sesame seeds adds a burst of texture and nutty flavor that reinforces the flavor of the sesame oil in the dressing. Though some dressing recipes include sesame paste, we prefer to omit it, creating a sauce with lighter body.

Even scaled back, our hiyashi chuka hits all the right notes of chewy, savory, crisp and chilled—and never dull or mushy.