I assumed that we would be eating a serious amount of rice in Beijing. But that, of course, was before we arrived. On our first full day in China, my husband found a restaurant close to the hostel we were staying at. It was bustling during the mid-day rush. The prices were reasonable, the smell was enticing and it had around two dozen wooden tables with short chairs.
Rice was not on the menu. This was a Shanxi noodle restaurant. We started eating there frequently, before discovering a whole hutong (small lane) full of restaurants. There was one restaurant that served rice – but the rest just had noodles.
Once we moved into an apartment, we stopped eating at noodle restaurants every night. But we didn’t have a rice cooker, and making rice in a wok, while possible, is a pain. So we ate noodles, at home.
So it seemed appropriate that the first Chinese food I learned to make was not a rice-based dish. It was noodles. These are hand-stretched noodles – the process for making them is quite different from making Italian-style pasta, and the taste is different. I also learned how to cook the noodles – which is also different from what I am used to (and what we had been doing previously). Here are the directions:
Get a mixing bowl, and put in a pinch of salt. Put in the amount of flour you would like to make. I was using white flour, but I don’t see why you couldn’t use whole wheat.
Add water, mixing and kneading as you add. You should get a dough that is stiff but not too dry. Once you have mixed and kneaded the dough, you’ll want to cover it with a cloth and let it rest for at least half an hour.
You’ll find that the dough rises ever so slightly during the rest. Once the dough has rested for at least half an hour, it’s ready to cut. Form the dough into a tube that is about 1.5 inches thick. Then cut off slices from the tube – each slice should be around 1/8th of an inch thick.
Next, pour some oil on to your cutting board. Take each slice and dip it in the oil, and then press it into a long oval. Make sure each oval is well coated with oil, and stack the ovals in your original mixing bowl.
Now you’re ready to make the noodles.
Chop up whatever vegetables you’re going to serve in the noodles. Heat up your wok and add oil – then toss in the vegetables. In this example we had tomatoes and mushrooms (and bok choi added in at the end), but you can use a wide variety of vegetables.
Once the vegetables are cooked, pour in water or broth. Wait until the liquid comes to a boil. Once it boils, you’re ready to stretch the noodles.
Take an oval. Grab it at one end and gradually stretch it out. Drop it in the pot. Repeat until you have finished all of the ovals. Add any quick-cooking veggies like bok choi or spinach. You can add some Chinese cooking wine, vinegar or soy sauce for flavor. The noodles cook pretty much immediately, so as soon as you’ve added your last-minute ingredients, serve and enjoy!