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Exploring special regional noodles

THE Great Chinese Noodle Odyssey takes us to Hong Kong and Taiwan where we savor pig's knuckle rice noodles, mutton hotpot noodles, ham and egg noodles and other variations on humble Chinese pasta. Nie Xin reports.

Noodles are ubiquitous in China and different regions are known for their distinctive little strips of dough, served in soup or with sauces.

In our noodle odyssey around China, this week we introduce the noodles from the south, which includes Guangdong and Fujian provinces, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and advise where to taste them in Shanghai.

"For me, noodles are the purest food. No matter where you are, with only boiling water and basic sauce, noodles can be the fastest and easiest way to connect with your hometown," says Shocann Chen, a Shanghai-based Taiwanese.

Chen was born in Taipei, immigrated to Canada at a young age, and now is based in Shanghai.

"Taiwan natives love Taiwan beef noodles, which are the most famous (from Taiwan)," Chen says. "If you have a bowl of hot beef noodles with delicious soup, you get the feel of being home."

Chen's family observes the Taiwanese tradition of eating a bowl of pig's knuckle manxian (rice-flour noodles) on birthdays or to celebrate big events, wherever they are.

In winter Taiwanese like to eat mianxian in mutton hotpot. When the hotpot is almost finished, people will put the raw manxian into the soup, producing a pot of mutton mianxian.

"It's my favorite in winter. The noodle soup is super-nutritious and can be the tastiest mianxian in the cold season when you need energy from food," Chen says.

In southern Taiwan, salt-water pasta is very common. Traced to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), salt-water pasta in Tainan city was brought by immigrants from Foochow (today's Fuzhou).

Noodles in Fuzhou are known as xianmian (literally thread noodles). The rice vermicelli are widely considered as lucky noodles reputed for bringing a long life to those who eat them.

In making the noodle dough, no water is used - only egg is added to the flour and salt.

Then the dough is kneaded into a flat shape and then cut into strips.

The cooked dried noodle is then mixed with minced pork stew, soy sauce, shallots and garlic - then the traditional Tainan salt-water pasta is ready.

This pasta is the most popular food in Tainan. Some people add shrimp or pig's knuckles.

In Hong Kong, noodles are an integral part of its food culture.

There are many delicious noodles, including wonton noodle soup, che-chai noodles, dry lo-mein and crispy noodles, often combined with different barbecue and marinated specials.

Hong Kong people traditionally use light yellow youmian (literally oil noodle), rice-flour noodles and white vermicelli.

In Hong Kong, whether diners want something big and meaty or small and dainty, there's the wonton noodle for everyone. Shrimp-filled wonton with minced pork is most commonly served with thin noodles to make wonton noodles.

In addition to che-chai (taken by car, sold from a handcart) noodles and wonton noodles, old-time Hong Kong people like rice noodles known as laifen (round noodle), which is transparent.

"Laifen is usually combined with Cantonese barbecues and marinated specials like roast duck, barbecue pork, marinated chicken and fresh shrimp," says Vinci To, a 30-year-old Hong Kong local.

Hsimenting Ay-Chung Mianxian 西门町阿宗面线

Address: 699 Xianxia Rd

Tel: 6290-5001

Taiwan rice-flour noodles are thin, soft, chewy and tasty. In Taiwan people eat hoemmade mianxian to celebrate birthdays and other big events.

Pig's knuckle mianxian is the most traditional, but seafood such as shrimp, clams and fish balls can be added to the soup.

A-Zong Mianxian in Hongqiao's Gubei area has tasty Pig Knuckle Mianxian. The pig knuckle is cooked with soy sauce, so it's a little sweet and salty. The soup tastes of meat and shallots.

The restaurant also serves Taiwanese oyster omellette, braised pork rice and three-cups chicken.

Cha's Cantonese Restaurant 茶餐厅

Address: 30 Si'nan Rd

Tel: 6093-2062

Opened three years ago and filled with 1970s Hong Kong ambience, Cha's is a favorite place for young people to hang out, either at the original on Si'nan Road or in Tongxin Square on Xingeng Road.

Cha's is decorated in the style of the 1970s. Its Cantonese food and beverages are popular, business is brisk, there are long waits for seats and guests mostly have to share a table with other diners.

Cha's provide the typical che-chai (taken by car) Hong Kong noodles. In old Hong Kong, the noodles were sold be peddlers pushing a small hand cart or truck, hence, the name. The cart contained many different compartments and dishes to be served with the noodles, including fish balls, chicken wings, pig's blood, sausage and pig's skin.

Customers can choose the dishes and noodles. The common che-chai noodles are ordinary oil noddles, rice-flour noodles and thick rice noodles.

Michael (MiGao) Restaurant 米高餐厅

Address: 3/F, Bldg 6, 123 Xingye Rd

Tel: 6384-6667

Can-dan-mian (ham and egg noodles) is one of the most popular dishes in Hong Kong. People eat these noodles for breakfast, afternoon tea or formal meals.

The noodles with ham and egg, as well as some vegetables (usually lettuce) are easy to cook. But very high standards are set for the soup, which is light and delicious. Some diners and chefs are meticulous to the point of obsession with the quality of the soup.

The newly opened Michael Restaurant in Xintiandi serves high-end authentic Cantonese food and beverages. Their Can-dan-mian is the star attraction, regarded as among the best in town.

"We use fine ingredients, fusing Hong Kong-style classical Cantonese dishes with new elements, giving full play to the essence of each taste, and highlighting its cultural influences," says restaurant owner Wu Qiang.

The décor mixes yellow and orange with black and white, creating a bright and warm, yet mysterious, atmosphere.

The dishes are healthy, fashionable, creative and appetizing. Popular dishes include classic crispy pork, mushroom tofu, salt and pepper crispy fish and grilled mashed potato with bacon and onion.

Jiheng Noodle House吉亨面馆

Address: 433 Guyang Rd

Tel: 2809-6088

The Taiwan beef noodle is closely connected with the veterans' villages where refugees from the Civil War fled from the Chinese mainland. The origin was from north China, since many refugees were northerners, but it was influenced in Taiwan by local folk cooking culture. The noodles are usually round and thick, served in a soup of braised beef with soy sauce.

Cozy Jiheng Noodle House is regarded as one of the best in the town. It serves delicate noodles in a homey atmosphere. The place is almost always crowded with customers at meal times.

The noodle soup is the star attraction. Customers can choose beef, tenderloin or beef tail. The restaurant serves authentic Taiwanese cold dishes such as stewed tofu, pork intestimes and spicy beef tenderloin.

Taiwan beef noodles are always changing; there's braised beef, stewed beef with brown sauce and dried spicy noodles.


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