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.

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Why I always eat my vegetables…

Growing up in an Asian household, I think one of the things I am most thankful for is the eating habits I’ve acquired. I guess I have to attribute most of this to my family, which is FULL of fantastic cooks, but I realize that there is something innate in Asian culture that has led to such healthy and flavorful cuisine. As a people, we are very resourceful, especially when it comes to food. If you think about it, traditional chinese cuisine is not really rich or extravagant, but rather wholesome and always full of flavor. We find ways to utilize almost every part of an animal or plant and can stretch a couple dishes to feed an entire family. Not to mention it’s all pretty healthy too! When was the last time you saw a chinese dish that used butter, cream or cheese in it? Never, because it simply isn’t done (dim sum desserts don’t count). And you wonder why your Asian friends are all so thin (though international McDonald’s and KFC have been changing that as of late).

Nevertheless, I haven’t always loved Chinese food. In fact, I used to be quite a pick eater when I was younger – go ahead and ask my parents; there was a time when I demanded Happy Meals and pizza rolls day in and day out and had to be force fed my spinach. But gradually (I think traveling back to China so often had a large part to do with it), I began to appreciate zhōngcān, and even started to crave it when I had too many sandwiches back-to-back. There is a certain comfort in a blank canvas of white rice: that foundation of clean, pure and unadulterated nourishment that marries with practically any sauce, meat and vegetable – what’s not to love? Grabbing up a bowl of the finest short-grain and sitting around sharing plates of food “family-style” is something I’ve always loved about Asian cuisine:

HEY! QUIT TAKING PICTURES, WE TRYNA EAT!

But I digress. What I really wanted to talk about in this post was how being Chinese has instilled in me a love for fruits and vegetables. I know it sounds strange, but I am very thankful for it. Despite my finicky palette as a kid, I remember always asking my mom to buy us juicy mangoes, seedless watermelon and those delicious, crispy Asian pears. Being introduced to fresh produce at a young age, I really can’t imagine what it would be like without it. It wasn’t until I started having sleepovers with my white friends that I realized how lucky I was. I mean, the only fruits and vegetables my friends ever ate came out a yellow can and were either drenched in blindingly sweet syrup or frozen solid. That’s no way to live!

One particular childhood memory I have regarding food was having dinner down the street at my white friend’s house when I was about 8 years old. We had roasted chicken (yum), fresh dinner rolls (YUM!) and… some odd, yellowish/brown item I later learned was… buttered broccoli (-____-). Why must white people do such horrible things to their vegetables? Strange as it may sound for a third grader, broccoli was actually one of my absolute favorite foods… and it sure as hell it wasn’t supposed to look like that! What I’ve always seen as a bright, crunchy and fragrant green was reduced down to a soggy, fattening, denatured mess. But being the polite guest, I forced it down and pretended to enjoy it. My friend saw this, thinking I actually liked it, and shoveled his broccoli onto my plate while his dad wasn’t looking! Infuriated, but not wanting to cause any trouble, I woefully ate his portion. And that was the last time I ever ate there.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my friend; that he had to be subject to this culinary injustice is such a travesty! If you’ve always hated broccoli, then I blame your parents. I also blame butter. And if you’ve only eaten broccoli that’s been doused in cheese or ranch dressing, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. Try some of mama Huang’s 西兰花 and you’ll be wondering why you’ve been so silly all these years.

So for my first bananalife recipe, I am going to share with you one of the simplest and best-tasting ways to prepare broccoli (credit goes to my mom!)

STIR-FRIED BROCCOLI W/GARLIC (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2x broccoli crowns
  • 3-4x cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of water or beef/chicken broth
  • kosher salt to taste
Equipment:
  • Stovetop
  • Large skillet or wok
  • Slotted spatula
  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
Preparation
  1. Remove any leafy parts from the trunk of the broccoli crowns and wash with cold water.
  2. Take the crowns and tear off florets into bite sized pieces (larger florets can be halved). You will be left with the tough trunk section which can be peeled and sliced into thin pieces (don’t throw it out!)
  3. The garlic should be sliced into very thin rounds. Like in Goodfellas. Well, maybe not THAT thin, but you get the idea.
  4. Heat the oil in your skillet to medium-high heat; add the garlic slivers and toast until fragrant (should only take a minute or so). Don’t let the garlic burn!
  5. Add your broccoli florets to the pan and stir to coat with the garlic infused oil.
  6. Add the 1/2 cup of water or broth to the pan. This will prevent the garlic from burning; the steam will start to cook the broccoli (but you don’t have to cover it).
  7. Sprinkle salt to taste and continue to stir occasionally for about 5 more minutes.
  8. Once the broccoli is bright green, tender yet still crunchy, you can take it off the heat and serve!

This is how it should be done. Butter, GTFO.

I think the reason why this is so delicious is that it accentuates the great texture and color of the vegetable without compromising its taste. Since broccoli on its own is rather bland, the garlic adds the right amount of flavor without overpowering its natural floral fragrance. YEAH, I KNOW WASSUP!!!

Hope you guys enjoy! If you have young kids, this is the way to introduce them to broccoli 🙂

John