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
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.
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.