CHI­NESE NOO­DLES FOR THE SOUL

Be­sides be­ing an af­ford­able sta­ple food in China that is en­joyed by the masses, noo­dles of­ten also rep­re­sent an emo­tional link to cher­ished mem­o­ries

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai

xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Rui Xinlin used to be a top stu­dent from one of the best high schools in Shang­hai, but af­ter suf­fer­ing from an un­for­tu­nate case of con­gen­i­tal heart disease, he failed his na­tional col­lege en­trance ex­ams.

There was a sort of sil­ver lin­ing, how­ever, as he em­braced rock mu­sic dur­ing his re­cov­ery pe­riod and be­came a rather prom­i­nent mu­si­cian in that genre in the 1990s. He be­came the lead vo­cal­ist for a band called Bach­e­lor’s De­gree and had per­formed be­fore tens of thou­sands of peo­ple at Shang­hai’s then largest con­cert hall and sta­dium. He said that rock mu­sic helped him to vent all the frus­tra­tion and anger that was caused by the in­ci­dent.

That was un­til the con­di­tion resur­faced in 2008 and al­most claimed his life. Forced to change what he calls “a vul­gar life­style” in the af­ter­math of the ill­ness, Rui quit the mu­sic scene, got mar­ried, had a child and took on a job as a com­puter pro­gram­mer with the mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment.

This time around, Rui turned to, oddly enough, noo­dles for so­lace.

“Con­fu­cius once said that lis­ten­ing to Shao (a type of Chi­nese mu­sic be­lieved to have orig­i­nated 5,000 years ago) makes peo­ple for­get about the taste of meat for three months,” said the 49-year-old.

“I think it’s the other way around. Sa­vor­ing noo­dles makes me for­get the ex­cite­ment rock and roll once brought me. By putting these fa­mil­iar foods in my mouth, I am giv­ing my brain an elec­tric shock, just like how rock mu­sic used to en­er­gize me,” he added.

For starters, he said that eat­ing noo­dles, which are usu­ally priced no more than 50 yuan a bowl in Shang­hai, is an af­ford­able way to sa­ti­ate hunger. He said that a Chi­nese feast is an­gry if you are eat­ing some­thing she doesn’t cook,” laughed Rui.

In late 2010, when two of his fa­vorite noo­dle shops were torn down to make way for the flag­ship store of fast fash­ion brand H&M, Rui em­barked on a jour­ney to find other good noo­dle shops in the city. He started a blog ti­tled Look­ing for 30 bowls of noo­dles in Shang­hai to doc­u­ment his quest.

Un­ex­pect­edly, the blog went vi­ral, at­tract­ing mil­lions of read­ers and spawn­ing copy­cat blogs. It was even ref­er­enced by lo­cal food pro­grams. He reck­oned that if his work was worth pla­gia­riz­ing, it might also be some­thing worth in­vest­ing in.

En­cour­aged by the re­cep­tion, Rui de­cided to take things one step fur­ther in 2014 by writ­ing the book The Big Fla­vor of Small Snacks, a 360-page, 280,000word doc­u­men­ta­tion of 60 types of Shang­hai street snacks and noo­dles from 200 eater­ies.

Rui at­tributes his pas­sion for Shang­hai street food to his child­hood days, most of which were spent around Shang­hai Yuyuan Gar­den, known as the birth place of the city’s culi­nary cul­ture. He notes in the pref­ace of his book that the num­ber of eater­ies in Shang­hai peaked in the mid 1950s at 23,020 but later dipped to just 1,845 in 1992 be­cause of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nom­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion.

“Like hu­man be­ings, eater­ies and snacks will one day meet their demise. I am writ­ing to help them leave a mark in his­tory,” he said.

On the con­trary, Rui has not writ­ten any­thing about his rock and roll days. How­ever, he has passed on his love of Pink Floyd, one of Bri­tain’s most cel­e­brated bands, to his teenage daugh­ter who is now ma­jor­ing in psy­chol­ogy at a univer­sity in the United States.

“As it turns out, get­ting into col­lege and en­joy­ing rock and roll mu­sic aren’t con­flict­ing mat­ters,” he laughed.

YONG KAI FOR CHINA DAILY

Rui Xinlin en­joy­ing a bowl of noo­dles in Shang­hai. The for­mer lead vo­cal­ist of a rock band said that his love for noo­dles and street food stems from his child­hood days.

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