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:
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)
- Large soup pot w/cover
- Small mixing bowl
- Large colander for noodles
- Chef’s knife and cutting board
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In a large soup bowl, add ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon soy sauce.
- Add 1.5 cups of the broth to the bowl and mix well.
- Add noodles until the bowl is about ¾ full and then scoop in 2 tablespoons (OR MOAR) of the shredded pork. Mix well.
- Top with 1 tablespoon of chopped scallion and 1 teaspoon of dried chili flake (can omit if you are a wuss). Stir and ENJOY!!!
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).
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.