Start your celebration with a big slurp
PHOTOS BY STEVE SMITH, VISIONFIRE STUDIOS
Did you know that in China noodles are a symbol of long life and prosperity? As a bonafide “Noodle-aholic,” I was pleased to learn this symbolism. What a lovely idea. A long, delicious unbroken noodle, that everyone likes to eat, represents a long and happy life. As a result of this happy denotation, prosperous pasta dishes are found at celebrations such as birthdays, new baby blessings, weddings, and are often a traditional dish served at Chinese New Year. When talking longevity noodles, the idea for consumption is that they should never be cut or even bitten, lest your risk cutting off the prosperity. So, it’s best just to slurp–it’s considered good manners with the sound effects the best evidence that you are enjoying your meal.
While any noodle dish is an auspicious meal, there is a particular noodle especially associated with long life and prosperity in China. This noodle is known by many names including Yi mein, e-fu, and long-life noodles. These noodles are wheat-based and are made as long as possible! Additionally, the noodles have what is called an “alkalizing agent” added to the dough, often lye water, soda water or baking soda, which makes the noodles “springy.” This type of noodle, due to the deep-frying, is not typically made at home and comes to life after they have had a good soak in boiling water.
Yi mein noodles are usually served at the end of celebratory banquets in China. These banquets often have as many as 10 courses so it seems most guests take as big a slurp as they can of the long-life noodles, but most of the noodles end up coming home in a take-out box for the next day.
The longevity noodles are often served with mushrooms, which naturally grow very quickly and therefore symbolize an increase in abundance. A green herb, or vegetable, such as chives, is added as green represents wealth.
Despite the notoriety of the longevity noodle Anna Chow, who owned and operated the Moonlight Restaurant with her late husband in Antigonish for 32 years, she says she never makes the long life noodle herself but she has enjoyed them at many Chinese celebrations. She is, however, quick to share her love of other noodles dishes that have become favourites and the center of many of the Chow family celebrations and she was delighted to make a few of these dishes recently with her grandson Cooper Smith of Trenton.
Anna told me that glass noodles are one of her favourites to prepare, and she often makes glass noodle dishes for family dinners.
Anna shared a few tips on preparing glass noodles that will keep your family and guests happy and slurping all through the dinner.
Start by soaking your glass noodles in by soaking in boiled hot water for a few moments. Glass noodles don’t have a lot of flavour. She likes to serve them with a stir fry of bacon, cabbage, and red pepper slices that are seasoned with salt, pepper, and soy sauce.
Chinese glass noodles are lightweight, almost transparent noodles that are made from mung bean starch. (Other glass noodles, such as Korean and Japanese ones, are made from other starch, such as sweet potato or sometimes arrowroot or tapioca) They are also called cellophane noodles, which alludes to their wispy nature.
I shared my experience of hand-making wheat flour Chinese noodles with Anna and I admitted that I found them very difficult to eat with their extremely heavy denseness. Anna suggested I would love glass noodles, as they are so light.
Another noodle dish Anna prepares regularly is made with egg noodles that are purchased frozen from one of the Chinese markets in Halifax. Anna boils the egg noodles, allows them to dry, then stir-fries them in oil with garlic and ginger.
Meanwhile, Anna cooks cubed chicken and shrimp. To this, she adds red pepper slices, snow peas, and bean sprouts, that are stir-fried with salt and pepper. Soy sauce and oyster sauce are added. The egg noodles are put on the bottom of the plate, then topped with the stir fry, and green onion slices are added for garnish.
When I asked Anna where she purchases her noodles, she told me that she gets them from the Chinese markets in Halifax. When I asked her about other stores selling good noodles, she told me there is an excellent Japanese noodle – round, thick and white, which she buys from a local grocery store.
When I told Anna about my love of noodles, and how pleased I was to learn of the prosperity and longevity linked to them, she laughed and agreed how wonderful it is that something so tasty is also so auspicious.
Handmade Chinese Noodles | (Vegan) | Serves 6
4 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups water
Note: For the flour, bread flour or pasta flour is best. A high gluten flour is desired. All purpose flour will work, too, if that is all you have. I used the Pasta flour from Atlantic Superstore. Flour varies greatly from region to region and country to country, and these types of flours are the best match.
Be careful to not add too much water too the recipe. The dough is intended to be on the dry side, as this is what is gives them the appealing texture when boiled. Additionally, when rolling out the dough, if there is too much water, the dough will stick and be very difficult!
These noodles are also called hand rolled noodles, as they are rolled out with a rolling pin.
Make the dough
- Place the flour in a large bowl. Stir in the flour with a spoon. While still stirring, add the water a little bit at a time. The dough will be dry and “shaggy.”
- Turn the dough out onto a clean surface, dusted with a bit of flour. With your hands, shape the dough into a ball and knead for around 10 minutes. Eventually the dough will form into a smooth ball. The dough will be a bit on the tough and dry side.
- Place the ball of dough back into the bowl, cover with a clean towel, and allow to rest for 30 minutes or up to 8 hours. (If leaving the dough for longer than 30 minutes, cover with plastic wrap.)
Make the Noodles
- Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead several times to remove air bubbles.
- Use a large knife to cut the dough into 4 portions. Use one portion at a time, keeping the others under the towel.
- Cut the portion of dough in half and begin to roll out with a very lightly floured rolling pin. The desired shaped is a long rectangle. I find it works well to roll the dough a few times in one direction, then pick up the dough, flip it, and roll the opposite end. I rolled my dough around 15 inches long and five inches wide.
- Lightly dust the dough with flour, then fold up the dough, in a sort of cinnamon bun style, into a small rectangle. With a sharp knife, slice the folded dough into noodles.
- Unroll the noodles. Lightly stretch them to get them as long and thin as possible.
- As you prepare the rest of the dough, Hang the noodles on a drying rack. I hung the finished noodles over the edge of a large bowl as I made the rest of the noodles.
- Prepare a large pot of rapidly bowling, very salty water. Add the noodles carefully, ensuring they are separated. The noodles will cook very quickly. Depending on the size of the noodles, they may take from one to four minutes
- Serve with a sprinkle of chives (green is a symbol of prosperity) or another green herb. My tip: Twirl the noodles on your spoon to get them all in your mouth without breaking!
Chinese New Year this year falls on February 1, 2022.
Chinese New Year, also called spring festival or lunar new year, is based on the moon cycle, which means the date changes every year. The festival starts at new moon and ends at the full moon. This usually occurs between the end of January and the end of February. When the full moon arrives, the celebration wraps up with the Festival of Lanterns. The traditional Chinese calendar is called a Lunisolar calendar, as it is based off the movements and positions of the sun and moon. Chinese New Year is a time for everyone to head home. Last year in China an estimated 98 million people travelled in China for the celebrations.