Sat­is­fac­tion GUARANTED

From China to Thai­land and be­yond, noo­dles are the ul­ti­mate com­fort food in Asia


Easy to eat, slip­pery, soft, com­fort­ing, flavour­ful in all its ren­di­tions, and a cinch to cook, noo­dles are the per­fect one-dish meal. Whether it is Chi­nese noo­dles, Ital­ian pasta or Ja­panese ra­men, they can be pre­pared hot or not, en­joyed in the bit­ter cold of win­ter or in the hu­mid­ity of an op­press­ingly warm day. Ev­ery Sin­ga­porean who has stud­ied abroad will agree that the ticket to hap­pi­ness in a for­eign land is a case of in­stant noo­dles stuffed un­der his bed, with one pot and a pair of chop­sticks for cook­ing.

It is im­me­di­ately warm and com­fort­ing, or cool and re­fresh­ing when you need it to be—and all the time, it of­fers not just sus­te­nance but sat­is­fac­tion. A sta­ple car­bo­hy­drate, it gives you en­ergy, fills your tummy and even­tu­ally con­verts to sugar to make you happy.

At the most ba­sic, noo­dles are flour mixed with water and oil to be­come a dough, shaped then boiled, served out fresh or dried, and turned into a myr­iad dishes, from soup to dry, saucy or tossed into sal­ads.

Of all the world’s cuisines, the Chi­nese and Ital­ians stand head and shoul­ders above all oth­ers in their pro­lif­er­a­tion and love for noo­dles. In­deed their pas­sion seems in­ter­twined, as peo­ple con­tinue to de­bate whether the great trav­eller Marco Polo brought knowl­edge of noo­dles from China back to Italy, beget­ting the pasta tra­di­tion. Af­ter all, the ear­li­est ev­i­dence of noo­dles in the world comes from China— in the form of a 4,000-year-old length of yel­low noo­dles found un­der a clay­pot, near La­jia at the Huang He river in western China, mea­sur­ing three mil­lime­tres in di­am­e­ter and half a me­tre in length. Not only have we been eat­ing noo­dles for the long­est time, it was al­ready in mass, com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion by 100 AD in Han China and even writ­ten about as early as 25 AD.

The early noo­dles in China were fresh ones, while the dried noo­dles came af­ter the age of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. Chi­nese noo­dles are made from a range of grains: wheat grown in the north gave ‘mian’, from which also evolved var­i­ous shapes like the flat and wavy mee pok, fine mee kia, ee-fu noo­dles or yi mian, and Hong Kong mee. Rice from the farms in south­ern China gave us rice-based noo­dles like bee hoon (or ver­mi­celli), hor fun and kway teow, bee tai mak—short, tear-shaped noo­dles which re­sem­ble spat­zle—and mian xian, which are very fine, meltin-the-mouth noo­dles thin­ner than an­gel hair. Even mung beans were turned into tang hoon, pretty translu­cent glass noo­dles.

Of all the noo­dles, la mian, or hand­made noo­dles, is the most dra­matic. Mainly the do­main of the north­ern Chi­nese, it has es­tab­lished roots in Tai­wan and Hong Kong more so than in Singapore. La mian starts as a lump of noo­dle dough which, when made by an ex­pert, is deftly pulled and folded onto it­self count­less times un­til it be­comes mul­ti­ple lengths of thin noo­dles in a mere few min­utes. You'll most likely see this demon­strated in restau­rants in Hong Kong and never fails to im­press. Its rus­tic cousin is ‘ban mian’, also hand­made just be­fore cook­ing, and ei­ther sliced into strands or roughly peeled and tossed into boil­ing stock.

With this sta­ple, the Chi­nese have cre­ated a plethora of dishes, from soup to gravied con­coc­tions, deep-fried, braised and paired with all man­ner of in­gre­di­ents from the most hum­ble root veg­etable to the most sought-af­ter sea crea­ture. At street level, there’s white and light fish ball kway teow; hearty Hokkien mee for the hun­gry; prawn noo­dles redo­lent in its rich stock; ban mian all steam­ing with minced pork, dried ikan bilis, mush­rooms and veg­eta­bles; won­ton noo­dles all slip­pery with boiled meat dumplings; and char siew kolo mee tossed in its sweet hoisin-based gravy, just to name a few. On birthdays, noo­dles are de rigeur: Un­cut and lengthy, they are happy sym­bols of longevity, and ev­ery­one present is obliged to slurp a few mouth­fuls.

The Chi­nese pas­sion for noo­dles had spread across Asia over the cen­turies and are par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent in the re­gion's street foods. From the In­done­sian beef bakso, and Malay soto ayam to Viet­namese pho, Nonya laksa, Thai­land's pad Thai, and even Ja­panese ra­men (de­rived from the Chi­nese ‘la mien’). In fact, the tra­di­tion of Ja­panese noo­dle mak­ing came from China, but has since evolved along its own route with noo­dles like thick chewy udon made from wheat flour; flat, rib­bon-like kishamen, a Nagoya forte; fine ver­mi­celli-like hiya­mugi; and soba, buck­wheat noo­dles that some­times come flavoured with green tea or sour plum. Swim­ming in a light stock, or redo­lent as ra­men in unc­tu­ous, spicy, miso-based broth, del­i­cately tossed in shoyu and served on a bed of ice, Ja­panese noo­dles are loudly slurped across Ja­pan and in other coun­tries be­yond. In multi-cul­tural South­east Asia, noo­dles have in­spired a merg­ing of cul­tures in one dish, with the likes of mee goreng com­bin­ing In­dian, Chi­nese and Malay in­flu­ences.

The beauty of noo­dles is that, like rice and bread, it is an ex­traor­di­nar­ily ver­sa­tile in­gre­di­ent that pairs with all kinds of flavours, from light clear soups with gen­tly flavoured in­gre­di­ents such as prawns, lob­sters and scal­lops, to heavy pair­ings like laksa in its spicy, co­conut-rich broth and sam­bal, mee re­bus with its sweet potato-based sauce and co­pi­ous amounts of green chilli top­ping. It has an amaz­ing abil­ity to ab­sorb the flavours it is cooked in—such as in richly flavoured Hokkien mee or spicy mee siam—and can be made as sim­ply or as elab­o­rately as you fancy.

This page The tra­di­tional art of mak­ing noo­dles by hand

Be­low, from left Noo­dles are hung to dry; Mak­ing soba by hand

Easy Pork & Mush­roomFried Kway Teow

Dan Dan Noo­dles

Mee Siam

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Singapore

© PressReader. All rights reserved.