Noodling Around Asia

shanghai cny

This post is for #LetsLunch, a monthly virtual potluck on Twitter.  The theme this month is noodles, hosted by Betty Ann at Asian in America.

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I just came back from an amazing trip to Asia, where I tagged along with my husband, who was traveling for work.  I took it as an opportunity to meet up with friends from my college and study abroad days, as well as with fellow #LetsLuncher Vivian Pei! That was a blast.  Naturally, we met over a meal.  Westerners may not consider noodles a typical breakfast, but we do! In fact, we had not one, but two types of noodles.  The first, char kway teow, wide rice noodles in a spicy soy sauce with some sausage, egg and cockles FTW! As a chaser, we had a bowl of fantastic noodles in a spicy curry broth.  Now that is a breakfast of champions!
kway teowvivian p

curry noodle

sg chinatown hindu cny

These were the first two of many bowls of noodles I slurped on my trip, which took me from Singapore, to Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai.  All this, despite the fact that I had just made a decision to cut back on carbs.  Because, when in Rome!

Coming back home, to the children I left behind to gallivant around Asia and eat noodles (among a feast of other delights) and my best-mother-in-the-world who bravely took on the task of watching them for nine whole days by herself, I didn’t need to eat anymore.  (In fact, the first thing I did was look in the crisper to see if there was any kale :)).  But the night after our return, I felt we should celebrate an early Chinese New Year with my mom, in a way that would allow us to relax at home and also require little effort, both for my daughters’ beloved and beleaguered Ah-Ma and for my jet-lagged, stressed-about-returning-to-work self.

The solution presented itself to me: hotpot (or in Mandarin, huo guo, which translates literally as “fire pot.”).   Not only is this a traditional meal for Chinese New Year, it is also a cook-your-own kind of meal.

hotpot

hotpot meathotpot veg

The hotpot has existed for over 1000 years in China, and is thought to be of Mongolian derivation, but this is probably a myth, as it is not a part of modern Mongolian cuisine. It originated somewhere in Southern China, and spread to Northern China during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906). From China, this meal has spread in many variations in different Asian cultures, and is a treat especially in cold weather. I grew up eating the Taiwanese version, which involves a clear pork or chicken broth as a base, and various meats, seafood, tofu, vegetables and noodles as the ingredients.

It’s basically choose-your-own-ingredients, which each diner/cook adds to the bubbling communal broth. The best part is making your own dipping sauce (in Taiwan, a raw egg is combined with Sa Cha sauce (a soy and seafood flavored “barbecue” sauce) and/or soy sauce, but you can also add chilies, minced garlic, cilantro, scallions, and any other variety of savories, to your taste.) People can get very creative with the sauce making.

My favorite aspect of eating hotpot is not the individual ingredients I have chosen, nor the sauce I have created, but how the broth tastes at the end, when the flavors of each person’s choices have simmered together into an unimaginably rich, fragrant broth. This is when the noodles are added (not earlier, when they would absorb all of the broth). The complexity of this flavor is the product of the contributions of the many cooks who created this group meal, which is a nice metaphor for family togetherness.

noodles

Happy #LetsLunch everyone and Happy Year of the Sheep (or Goat)!  Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Taiwanese Hot Pot

Ingredients

At least two, but preferably more, guests/cooks; the more the merrier!

You can choose an combination of meat, tofu and vegetables for hot pot.  Here are some typical examples:

A variety of thinly sliced meats (hint: slice while frozen to make paper-thin slices), such as chicken, pork, meat and lamb

Fish balls or fish cake

Shrimp

Sliced squid

Tofu, cubed

A variety of Chinese greens, chopped (I like whole leaf spinach and Napa cabbage in my hotpot)

Fresh mushrooms (Enoki mushrooms are fun)

Noodles, such as quick-cooking mung bean noodles or rice noodles

Broth, chicken or pork are used most commonly

Condiments: Sa Cha sauce, soy sauce, minced garlic, chilies or chili sauce, diced cilantro, chopped scallions, raw eggs for stirring into the sauce

Equipment

Traditionally, a large wok over hot coals.

Modern home cooks can use a large, covered electric skillet. (My parents still use the covered electric skillet they received for a wedding gift in 1967– used only for this purpose.)

Technique

Bring the broth to a boil.

Each guest/cook selects a variety of ingredients to add to the communal hot pot. Based on cooking time, meat is usually added first, vegetables just briefly, and noodles at the very end, because they absorb a lot of the broth. Make sure to have extra broth or water on hand to replenish the broth throughout the meal. Adjust the temperature to keep the broth at a gentle simmer. While the food is cooking, each guest/cook makes her own dipping sauce of a raw egg mixed with the condiments of her choosing.

Thank you for coming by! What are your favorite noodle dishes? What are your family’s Chinese/Lunar New Year traditions?

Also, please check back later to see what other noodles the #LetsLunch gang are serving up!

Lokshen Kugel at Monday Morning Cooking Club.

Gingery Chicken & Bok Choy Noodle Soup from Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan.

Ramen with Bacon Southern Style at Sweet Savant.

Grilled Tofu Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad at J Loh.

Thai Glass Noodle Salad at Insatiable Munchies.

Chicken Lo Mein Noodle Soup with Roast Barbecue at Asian in America.

Korean Stir Fried Glass Noodles (Japchae) at The Asian Grandmothers’ Cookbook

Emergency Anti-Hibernal Salad at Glass of Fancy

Bang Bang Biang Noodles at The GastroGnome

Marinara Chicken at Wok Star