Time to practise food etiquette
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)
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.
THAI CHICKEN AND BOK CHOY NOODLES
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 annabel-langbein.com or follow Annabel on Facebook or Instagram.
THAI CHICKEN AND BOK CHOY NOODLES