Time to prac­tise food eti­quette

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Use your noo­dle

The 1985 Ja­pa­nese com­edy Tam­popo is billed as a “ra­men Western” — like the spaghetti Westerns that Ital­ian film di­rec­tors made about the early Amer­i­can West but with Ja­pa­nese noodles and food cul­ture at its heart.

In a won­der­fully round­about way, with the twists and turns of mul­ti­ple sub-plots, it tells the story of two Ja­pa­nese milk truck driv­ers who guide the widow of a noo­dle shop owner in her quest for the per­fect recipe, and help her turn her strug­gling es­tab­lish­ment into the best ra­men noo­dle house in Ja­pan.

In one scene, a young stu­dent learns the right way to eat noodles from an el­derly gen­tle­man who has been study­ing noodles for 40 years. The old man says: “First ob­serve the whole bowl ... Ap­pre­ci­ate its gestalt. Savour the aro­mas. Jew­els of fat glit­ter­ing on the sur­face. Shi­nachiku roots shin­ing. Seaweed slowly sink­ing. Spring onions float­ing. Con­cen­trate on the three pork slices. They play the key role, but stay mod­estly hid­den. First ca­ress the sur­face with the chop­stick tips.” “What for?” asks the stu­dent. The old gen­tle­man replies: “To ex­press af­fec­tion.” “I see,” says the stu­dent. “Then poke the pork,” says the old man. “Eat the pork first?” asks the stu­dent. “No. Just touch it. Ca­ress it with the chop­stick tips. Gen­tly pick it up and dip it into the soup on the right of the bowl. What’s im­por­tant here is to apol­o­gise to the pork by say­ing, ‘See you soon.’ Fi­nally, start eat­ing — the noodles first. Oh, at this time, while slurp­ing the noodles, look at the pork.”

Tam­popo was one of the first movies to bring to our at­ten­tion to the cul­tural bias in­volved in the man­ners and pro­to­col of eat­ing. Uni­ver­sal to the ta­bles of China and Ja­pan, chop­sticks are all about show­ing po­lite re­straint. Un­like knives and forks, which can eas­ily show men­ace (re­mem­ber that har­row­ing fork-stab­bing scene in the movie The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover?), chop­sticks are del­i­cate im­ple­ments that al­low you to eas­ily se­lect, un­ravel, shift or prod.

As might be ex­pected, there are rules about what you can and can’t do with a chop­stick. In Ja­pan, bad ta­ble man­ners in­clude neb­uri-bashi (lick­ing chop­sticks with the tongue), komi-bashi (forc­ing sev­eral things into your mouth at the same time us­ing chop­sticks), saguri-bashi (search­ing with chop­sticks for any spe­cial tid­bits in the bowl) and sora-bashi (putting food back from your own bowl into the cen­tral dish).

Rat­tling your chop­sticks against the bowl, says an old Chi­nese proverb, means you and your de­scen­dants will al­ways be poor.

In both China and Ja­pan, how­ever, it is very good man­ners, in fact im­per­a­tive as a sign of good taste and ap­pre­ci­a­tion, to slurp loudly as you eat your noodles. Give it a go this week­end.

VIETNAMESE NOO­DLE SALAD Ready in 30 mins Serves 6-8

250-300g dry udon or other noodles 2 large car­rots, peeled and finely shred­ded 7cm piece daikon radish or cu­cum­ber, finely shred­ded, or 2 cups bean sprouts 2 spring onions, finely shred­ded 2 hand­fuls co­rian­der leaves 2 hand­fuls basil or mint leaves 1 lime, very thinly sliced (op­tional) 200g cooked or hot-smoked salmon, coarsely flaked (op­tional)

Vietnamese dress­ing

2 Tbsp fish sauce 2 Tbsp su­gar 2 Tbsp white vine­gar

⅓ cup wa­ter ½ long red chilli, very finely sliced Zest of 1 small lime, finely grated Cook noodles ac­cord­ing to packet in­struc­tions, then drain and rinse un­der cold wa­ter to re­move ex­cess starch. Place in a mix­ing bowl with all other in­gre­di­ents ex­cept salmon, if us­ing. Add dress­ing and toss to com­bine. Gar­nish with salmon and serve.

Annabel says: You can toss cooked chicken, Chi­nese bar­be­cue pork, duck or prawns through this salad in place or the salmon used here, or leave the pro­tein out for a sim­ple side dish. The Vietnamese dress­ing is use­ful to make in bulk and store in the fridge — it goes well with pretty much ev­ery­thing.


Ready in 25 mins Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main 100g bean thread ver­mi­celli or dried rice ver­mi­celli 1 litre good-qual­ity beef stock 2 cups wa­ter 1½ Tbsp fish sauce ½ tsp five-spice pow­der 1 pinch of ground cloves 1 Tbsp grated fresh gin­ger ½-1 long red chilli, de­seeded 1 kaf­fir lime leaf or zest of 1 lime, finely grated 4 but­ton mush­rooms, sliced 1 stalk lemon­grass (op­tional) 100-150g beef fil­let, trimmed 2 spring onions 1 medium car­rot 2 Tbsp chopped co­rian­der 2-4 Tbsp lime or lemon juice To serve Co­rian­der leaves Lime cheeks Sliced fresh chill­ies (op­tional) Place ver­mi­celli noodles in a bowl, cover with boil­ing wa­ter and leave to soak for 10 min­utes. While they soak, place stock in a pot with wa­ter, fish sauce, five-spice pow­der, cloves, gin­ger, finely chopped chilli, lime leaf or zest and mush­rooms. Bruise the lemon­grass stalk, if us­ing, with a rolling pin and add to the pot. Bring to a boil and sim­mer for 5 min­utes. While the broth is cook­ing, cut the beef fil­let across the grain into the thinnest pos­si­ble slices. To pre­pare the gar­nish, cut spring onions and car­rot into 5cm lengths and then shred finely. Drain noodles, snip with scis­sors in a few places for easy eat­ing and di­vide be­tween heated bowls. Top with raw beef slices and co­rian­der. Re­move lemon­grass stalk and lime leaf, if us­ing, from broth, ad­just sea­son­ings to taste and di­vide boil­ing broth be­tween bowls (it will lightly cook the beef). Driz­zle each bowl with 1 Tbsp lime or lemon juice and top with shred­ded spring onion and car­rot. Gar­nish with co­rian­der leaves and lime wedges and serve at once. If de­sired, ac­com­pany with a bowl of sliced chill­ies.

Annabel says: You can make this with chicken stock and chicken if you pre­fer but you’ll need to sim­mer the thinly sliced chicken in the broth to fully cook it through be­fore ad­ding it to the noodles. Bean thread ver­mi­celli is of­ten avail­able in the pro­duce depart­ment at the su­per­mar­ket. You can boil it for hours and it won’t fall apart.


Ready in 20 mins Serves 4 150g dried rice stick noodles 400g chicken mince 3 cloves gar­lic, crushed 1 Tbsp fish sauce 2 Tbsp neu­tral oil Zest of 2 limes, finely grated ¾ cup co­conut cream 6 Tbsp sweet chilli sauce 3 Tbsp soy sauce ½ cup wa­ter 6 whole bok choy (about 600g), cut into 3cm slices (or use shred­ded cab­bage or beansprouts) To serve 3 Tbsp lime or lemon juice 2 spring onions, finely chopped 2 Tbsp black or toasted plain sesame seeds Place rice noodles in a bowl and cover with boil­ing wa­ter. Leave for 10 min­utes then drain into a sieve. While the noodles are soak­ing, mix chicken with gar­lic and fish sauce. Heat oil in a large, heavy­based fry­ing pan or pot and cook chicken over a high heat, breaking up with the back of a spoon, un­til browned (6-8 min­utes). Add lime zest, co­conut cream, sweet chilli sauce and soy sauce and bring to a sim­mer. Rinse cooked, drained noodles and add to the chicken mix­ture with the ½ cup wa­ter. Place bok choy in a bowl and cover with boil­ing wa­ter to wilt. Drain, add to the chicken mix­ture and toss over the heat for a minute or two to com­bine flavours. Driz­zle with lime or lemon juice and scat­ter with spring onions and sesame seeds to serve.

Annabel says: You can use any kind of noodles for this tasty noo­dle bowl, but rice noodles make it su­per easy as you need only to cover them in boil­ing wa­ter and leave them to soak. If us­ing other types of noodles, cook ac­cord­ing to packet in­struc­tions, then drain into a sieve. This recipe also works well with pork or beef mince.

VIETNAMESE NOO­DLE SALADFor lots more de­li­cious fresh recipes, in­clud­ing noo­dle ideas, keep an eye out next week for Annabel’s new an­nual, A Free Range Life:To­gether, writ­ten with her daugh­ter Rose (Annabel Langbein Me­dia, $24.95). It’s avail­able at Pa­per Plus and all good book­stores and su­per­mar­kets na­tion­wide from mid-Oc­to­ber. Find out more at or fol­low Annabel on Face­book or In­sta­gram.



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