All strung up
Hannah Robinson slurps her way through bowls of endless noodles, and untangles the mystery of what makes them so good.
OK, so we‘ve had the Italian pasta revolution. Pasta, pesto and parmesan now permeate every culinary corner, from supermarket shelves to gourmet restaurants — everyone is selling fresh, hand-made pasta in every colour. shape and flavour imaginable. Chocolate pasta? I mean, really.
But if pasta is such a wonderful, nutritious and simple food, then why did noodles get left behind? Asia did it first — Italy only caught on when Marco Polo brought the idea back from his travels. They even copied the little wun tun dumplings and called it ravioli. Noodles versus pasta. In the speed stakes, noodles win outright, beating dried spaghetti by at least four minutes. And all right, they don‘t go in for mathematically-engineered, precision shapes, but there‘s a lot more variety in texture and cultural background. Just about every Asian country has a particular noodle tradition of its own. In Northern China and Japan. noodles are the mainstay of the diet, more so even than rice. On every corner of
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Noodle feast: (from back left. anticlockwise) Fresh oil, dried ban pho. dried rice stick, dried semen. dried bean flour, fresh egg, dried soha, dried
every street you will find a noodle shack or hawker with a big vat of bubbling stock and many different types of noodles ready to cook, some dried, some fresh, some that he will make from scratch on his stall, often usingjust a knife to scrape strands of dough into the broth. Noodle dough can be based on eggs, beans, rice, wheat flour, wheat starch and oil. They can be boiled, steamed. stir-fried or deep fried. eaten as breakfast, brunch or banquet, savoury or sweet.
There is, however, an alarming array ofthem. To stand in front of the noodle shelves in a Chinese supermarket wondering which type to choose can be a disconcerting experience. So to simplify things a little. here is a basic noodle guide for the bemused shopper or diner:
Egg Noodles These are the most common ones, available dried in most supermarkets and corner shops. and are usually used in Chinese carry out chow mein. You can buy them fresh in the chill cabinet at Chinese supermarkets. Made from wheat flour and egg, they are yellow and fairly solid, varying in thickness. Boil dried ones until tender and rinse fresh ones in boiling water. You can go on to drain and stir-fry
them or even deep fry them to crisp as
a crunchy snack. Rice Vennicelli Fine, creamy. almost
transparent noodles, often sold in little hay-stack bundles tied round with a red ribbon. Made from ground rice and water, these are the ones that Indians make their honey-soaked, shredded wheat sweets from. Need soaking but then take hardly any time to cook. Serve soft or stir fried, but nicest deep fried as a crispy, feather-light garnish. Hice stick noodles Short, flat. whitc. almost transparent noodles, most popular in Vietnam where they are
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Asia did it first - Italy only caught on when Marco Polo brought the idea back from his travels. They even copied the little wun tun dumplings and called it ravioli.
called banh pho. A favourite in Vietnam is pho. a wonderful dish where these noodles are served with a mountain of gamishes, usually pickled carrots and cabbage. shredded lettuce, cucumber, slices of spicy beef or chicken, ground peanuts, and a spicy chilli fish sauce. Try it at Vietnamese restaurants — when made well it‘s incredible.
Bean Thread Noodles Super-ﬁne transparent cellophane-like noodles, often sold in great, tangled bundles tied
udon, dried bean thread vennicelli, fresh shanghai.
three times with string as they are so strong and springy. Impossible and messy to cut when dry (if you have to, do it inside a big paper-bag or you’ll be walking on a very crunchy kitchen floor) but soft and slippery once soaked for five minutes in warm water. Usually used in tasty soups where they disappear to the bottom of the bowl and slip off your chopsticks. Good stir-fried with chilli sauce and mushrooms. The romantic Japanese call their bean thread-type noodles lmmsuame and shiraraki which mean ‘spring rain' and “shining waterfall‘.
Shanghai noodles The noodle of Northern China. A thick. round egg noodle, very similar to Japan’s udmz as their cultures are close. Available dried or sometimes fresh in transparent plastic tubs. Boil until tender in salted water and use like egg noodles. Very filling. Apparently the Northern Chinese are much bigger than the southems, and it‘s all down to eating these noodles.
Udon Japanese wheat flour and water noodles, sold here mainly dried, ﬂat and deadly straight in packets with stylish Japanese writing and designs. Also fresh (numa udmi) in the refrigerator. sold in plastic sacks, often with a sachet of stock powder. The best way to cook dried ones is to drop them into a large pan of briskly boiling
90 The List 21 October-3 November 1994