The noodle soup to top ALL noodle soups

It has been a while since I’ve returned to my hometown of Cincinnati, and what a great visit it has been. Catching up with old friends, playing video games with my fam, and, of course, chowing down on THE absolute best homecooked Chinese cuisine in the western hemisphere. After a long day of travel, nothing satisfies me more than the comfort of my Mom’s zhongcan.

But as much as I’d like to go through all the goodies my family stuffed me with this trip, I am going to be sharing my most favorite noodle soup (yes, it surpasses even my love for pho), which my mom prepared me the morning I left to come back to St. Louis. To me, it is the ultimate comfort food: thick, pillowy rice noodles and savory shredded pork shoulder floating in a rich, mouth-watering broth topped with fresh scallion and dried chili flake. It really is very simple, yet I can never get tired of it. The dish is a regional specialty out of my parent’s hometown in Ping Xiang (Jiang Xi Province) and my mom has been making it for us ever since I can remember. It’s one of those sentimental foods that represent so much more than simple nourishment – just like that scene in Ratatouille,  I am instantly transported back to my childhood with each bite.

Lucky for you, I managed to restrain myself long enough to take a picture:

Approximately 2 minutes before this was inside my belly.

While I have never attempted to recreate it (yet), I asked my mom to walk me through the steps in case some of my readers were curious as to what holds the number 1 spot in my noodle bracket. This recipe derives from what used to be a small hole-in-a-wall noodle shop called 杨胡子米面, which literally translates to Yang’s Beard Rice Noodles. However, up until I asked my mom for this recipe, I thought the owner’s name “Yang” was the character for “goat” and had always remembered this dish as “Goatee Rice Noodles” (probably because I thought that’s how you look whilst slurping up these white noodles?); just one of my many lost-in-translation tonal switch-a-roos, lol. Anyways, I distinctly remember eating at this spot when I visited China in 2002, and it is the type of place that screams “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain. All the ingredients were prepared fresh in front of the restaurant; small wooden tables and stools cluttered the floor and loud Asian women were yelling all types of crazy while dishing out deliciousness left and right. The best part: bowls were only 5 RMB! That’s less than 1 USD for the greatest soup there ever was to slurp. I immediately wolfed down 2 bowls and demanded to come back the next day. No objections there, since it happened to be one of my family’s favorite local eateries from when they were growing up as well.

Anyways, here are the directions for awesome-in-a bowl. Keep in mind, the key to this soup, as is with most noodle soups, is a well-prepared broth. The entire process can take up to 5 hours, but the broth and pork can be prepared ahead of time and then frozen for later use. If you are too lazy or don’t have the time to procure the broth, you might as well just forget trying at all (trust me, it’s worth the effort). If you are a vegetarian, then… I feel sorry for you:

Yang’s Beard Rice Noodle Soup

Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings):

  • 2 lbs broad, ribbon-style rice noodles (fresh)*
  • 2 lbs pork shoulder (with bone)
  • 3-4 scallions (chopped)
  • 5-6 slices of fresh ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • Dried chili pepper (flakes or slivers)
  • 2 tsp salt (preferably kosher)

Equipment:

  • Large soup pot w/cover
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Large colander for noodles
  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

Preparation:

  1. Trim fat off the pork shoulder and place the meat (w/bone) into a large pot, adding water to cover. Boil for 5 minutes, remove and rinse the shoulder under cold water.
  2. Clean the pot and then refill water to cover the meat again. Add the slices of ginger root, bring to boil and let simmer for 30 minutes, covered.
  3. Remove the pork and cut most of the meat off the bone; shred with hands and set aside in a small mixing bowl. Add one tablespoon of soy sauce and about ¼ tsp of salt. Mix well and place, covered, in the refrigerator.
  4. Return the remaining bones (w/some meat still attached) to the pot of water and ginger. Cover and simmer for an addition 1-4 hours (longer the better) until the broth is ready.
  5. About ten minutes before you plan to eat, heat another pot of water to boil and add your fresh rice noodles. Cook for 2 minutes, remove and drain.

Serving:

  1. In a large soup bowl, add ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon soy sauce.
  2. Add 1.5 cups of the broth to the bowl and mix well.
  3. Add noodles until the bowl is about ¾ full and then scoop in 2 tablespoons (OR MOAR) of the shredded pork. Mix well.
  4. Top with 1 tablespoon of chopped scallion and 1 teaspoon of dried chili flake (can omit if you are a wuss). Stir and ENJOY!!!

Optional Yummies:

Sometimes we get fancy and add extra goodies such as steamed (bai cai) bokchoy, roasted peanuts or a fried egg (over-medium so the yolk can thicken the soup).

ENJOY!

John

p.s. If you ever find yourself hanging out with me in Cincinnati and are invited over for dinner, don’t hesitate to ask for this! My mom usually has all the ingredients on hand b/c she knows we all love it so much. Can’t wait for the next trip home!

*you can find fresh rice noodles at your local oriental market; these are the ones that are vacuum sealed in plastic and may come in a wide sheet that needs to be cut (but definitely NOT dried). You can substitute using rehydrated dried rice noodles, but if you have the option, definitely go fresh.

Family Feature: Tommy Huang (弟弟)

This week I’m gonna shift gears and focus on one of the other purposes of this blog: my family. As I mentioned in my first post, I created bananalife to not only be an outlet for me to share all things ABC, but also to keep a space dedicated to my large and loving family. For this first family feature post, I am proud to introduce you to my one-and-only younger brother, 黄瑞 欣 a.k.a. Tommy.

He used to look like THIS:

scavenging the bed pillow chocolates on our cruise in 2001

Now he looks like THIS  -__-

The wasabi challenge (2011)

Here are the basics on Tommy Huang:

  • Loves video games, especially Dynasty Warriors and Pokémon franchises (as do I)
  • Has a great knack for baking, especially desserts (creme brulee, anyone?)
  • An absolute BOSS at origami. No joke, check out some of his work HERE.
  • A ladies man (I came home to celebrate his 14th birthday last year and found our house filled with a dozen teenage girls o_O)
  • His favorite color has always been pink, no matter what he tells you now.

I honestly don’t remember the exact moment when my parents told me I was going to get a younger sibling. I do know that I had just turned 8 years old and that my initial reaction probably involved some ninja jump-kicks along with hi-pitched squeaks of joy. My mom tells me that not 5 minutes after hearing the news, I asked: “Can we name him… Tommy… after Tommy Pickles???” (90’s cartoons FTW).

Despite looking more and more physically similar as the years go by, Tommy and I are quite distinct in terms of personality. I attribute it partly to the fact that as my parent’s first born, I grew up in a much different environment than my brother.  I like to joke that I was the guinea pig – a human beta test, if you will – for my parents who had just moved to the states a couple years prior to my glorious world entrance and were still learning how to be American themselves. Subsequently, I was definitely given more freedom as a kid, dabbling in everything the typical all-American childhood has to offer: boy scouts, soccer, baseball, summer camp, et cetera. Tommy, on the other hand, got a more streamlined tiger-treatment from the start. Not that he wasn’t allowed to pursue these activities, it’s just this time around I think my parents were able to reflect off of other ABC families they had met and got a better idea on what was more “efficient” – i.e. he started playing violin when he was very young, joined the local swim team and (recently) started to play tennis like a good little Asian. It’s kind of like the first time you play Pokémon where you don’t really care what the best ones are and just explore/experiment; then during your next play-through you go in with an agenda to raise the best team and find all the items. I believe there are merits to both avenues, and my family can definitely show for that… wait, did I just compare my development as child to the training of fantastical monster-slaves?

… Anyways, another difference and something I’ve always been jealous of Tommy is that he’s been able to travel back to China much more than I have. Busy high school and college summers have prevented me from going for the last decade, but Tommy was able to take advantage of his grade school breaks along with the benefit of our mom being able to travel to China for work each year. I think being able to go on these trips (6 times in his 14 years vs. my 4 times over 23 years) has given him a better appreciation for our family’s heritage and Asian culture in general than I was able to have growing up. As a result, Tommy’s mandarin is much stronger than mine when I was his age and I envy him for that!

Bros at Keystone, CO (2008)

To conclude this feature, here is a short letter I’ve just written to Tommy, b/c I know he be reading bananalife:

Dear Tommy,

After moving to St. Louis almost 6 years ago, I realized I have missed much of your transformation from cherubic yet devilish tagalong baby brother to too-cool-for-school wisecracking teenager. That can’t really be helped, though, with our almost 9-year age difference. You’ve grown so much since I last shared a home with you, both physically and emotionally; and it was been so much fun to watch you grow each time I visit. I won’t lie, you used to annoy the crap out of me and I have absolutely no regrets locking you out of my room when I was trying to play Magic cards with my friends. But as we both have matured and continue to do so, I am glad that we are becoming better and better friends even though we aren’t able to spend as much time together. I’m proud of you and look forward to the next time we can destroy some n00bs on xbox together.

Sincerely your 哥哥,
John

p.s. I’m sorry I used to shoot you with my AirSoft gun.

p.p.s. I can’t believe mom let me have an AirSoft gun.