Where Will All These Noodles End?

Ain’t no rice in Beijing, just way too many noodles

Smiling with the best in handmade noodles
Now that’s handmade noodles!
You can even look over the chief's shoulder to get a better view
Note that he’s making linguini
Holly and Ren sure do enjoy those noodles!
Holly and Ren like the noodles
Sometimes, she shuts up long enough to eat.
See, noodles are the best!

You think I’m eating a lot of rice here? I know you’ve heard the
‘all the rice in China’ line (or was it tea?), and you’ve all
eaten Chinese take-out with rice in the States, but I’m pretty much
rice-free in Beijing.

The reason is simple. This far north, I’m not in rice country, that’s in
the south, near Hong Kong. I’m in wheat country. What do you make with
wheat? No, not bread, which seems rare to non-existent, but noodles.

Remember when you
were small, and told that Marco Polo brought back noodle technology to
Italy? Well, before I got here, I went along with the idea, but I was
skeptical. If not pasta, what did the Italians eat before noodles? And
even after noodles, what did they put on ’em before the arrival of the
tomato from the New World?

After my third day in Beijing, and the sixth meal of a bowl of noodles
with a light meat and vegetable topping, I realized exactly how the
Italians survived. Every single northern Chinese meal, vs. southern
Chinese dishes, is noodle based. Usually served in a bowl with mixed
toppings, the noodles can be rice, wheat, or egg and each are prepared in
front of your eyes.

No, not from the box, we’re talking a guy kneading the dough and
dropping the super-fresh noodles he just pulled, into a cauldron of
boiling water. After a few minutes, the fresh stuff cooks way faster than
the box variety, its scooped into the bowl. The toppings are added just
before your handed this steaming mass, which usually sets you back around
a dollar or less.

The trick, once you have the food, is to mix it for a while before you
eat it. The toppings are usually cold, the broth cool, and the noodles
boiling hot. Mixing the ingredients will cool the noodles and heat the
toppings, while mixing the flavor all around.

Once it is an edible temperature, the slurping begins. Chinese do not
eat noodles, or anything else for that matter, quietly. They don’t spin
the noodle on a fork, or break them in half before boiling. They use the
chopsticks, which I’m damn good at by now, to pull a mass of noodles to
their mouths. Then, with suction forces that not even scientists can
explain, they suck the entire noodle group up, long tailing noodles and
all.

Eating is very messy, with a few of my shirts no longer fit for public
viewing and the restaurant floors scattered with bones, spills, and the
random cat. Messy, but one of my favorite activities in this timeless
land.

Hey, I’ve even dragged dates (before I met Jingmei)
to my favorite noodle shop, well more like a stand, just to see how’d they
react. Most noodle shops are not much more than a table to knead on,
a kettle of boiling water, a few eating tables and stools. No walls,
roof, or even tablecloth usually, just you, your food, and all the other
customers staring at the laowai who likes local food.

Occasionally,
being in such a public eye, I get a little annoyed, especially when
someone walks right up to my table and stares at me. I usually shoo
them away with one of my three Chinese phrases (something like, ‘What
the hell you looking at!?), or, if they are extra nosy, I pull out my
camera, wave, and take their photo. Luckily, most shop owners, once
they see I don’t want to be disturbed, will keep the fools from getting to
close to the hunger-crazed foreigner.