While living and traveling in the Orient, I was ever amazed and delighted with the innovative dishes made from a large variety of noodles which have long been esteemed and staple foods in all Far Eastern countries.
When and where noodles were first prepared and eaten is not known, but they are certainly ancient. Noodles made of wheat, rice, and beans, either fat or in strings, have been common fare in China for thousands of years.
Chinese traders and settlers introduced and popularized noodles throughout the Orient where they are commonly eaten for meals and in-between snacks. It is a daily custom to drop in to a noodle restaurant or small noodle-shop or to stop at a vendor's cart for a pickup of noodles.
The specialties may be a flavorful soup, a stir-fry mixture, a combination dish or a bowl of cold or hot noodles, sometimes attractively garnished, which are dipped in piquant sauces.
Chinese noodles (mien ) come in a wide variety.The best known are dried stick noodles, cellophane (or transparent) delicate strings and egg noodles either in strands or in broad strips. The noodles are always long as they are a symbol of longevity and are enjoyed as a significant food for birthday celebrations.
In the United States the most popular Chinese noodle dish is chow mein, with fried noodles. It probably was created by a Chinese-American, but a similar one is served in China, often as a snack. Basically, the dish is a flavorful mixture of ingredients that are stir-fried, thickened with a cornstarch-soy sauce mixture and served over crisp fried noodles. More elaborate versions are sub gum chow mein and wor mein. Dishes that include the word lo are those in which the noodles are boiled and served soft rather than fried and crisp.
The Japanese noodle repertoire is quite extensive. It includes udon (wide wheat noodles), soba (buckwheat noodles), somen (thin wheat noodles), and shirataki (cellophane noodles). The later are made of bean paste. Some stores sell small packets of "instant" wheat noodles, which are prepared by simply pouring hot water over them.
The Japanese eat noodle soups and colorful dishes made with fish, meat, vegetables and noodles that are attractive and distinctive. Some dishes are designed for summer and many for cold weather. Noodles are a symbol of good luck in Japan and are traditional fare for the New Year in order to ensure good fortune during the coming year.
In Korea, kook soo (noodles) are served in soups and combined with flavorful seasonings and foods in main-course dishes. The Filipinos have a variety of pancit noodles. One elaborate dish, called pancit luglug, made with shrimp and a variety of colorful flavorings and garnishes, is served traditionally for birthdays.
In Thailand a superb creation called mee krob, made with pork, shrimp, eggs and crisply fried rice noodles, is handsomely garnished. A sweet version features fried noodles coated with caramelized meat sauce.
A national dish of Vietnam, Po or Pho, eaten as a snack or a quick meal, is made of boiled dried stick noodles, cooked beef and beef broth flavored with anise, pepper and ginger. Garnishes include chopped scallions (previously marinated in vinegar) and lemon wedges. It is served with nuocman, a fish-based liquid that has a pungent aroma.
Some noodles are sold in supermarkets. Others are available in Orietntal markets and specialty food stores. Here are recipes for three good Oriental noodle dishes. JAPANESE QUICK-MEAL NOODLES (4 servings) 1/2 pound of Japanese udon noodles or spaghetti 4 cups dashi or chicken broth 1 tablespoon sake or sherry 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 teaspoons sugar 4 scallions with tops, chopped 4 medium fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced 6 cubes bean curd (optional)
Cooked noodles in boiling water until sofe, about 5 minutes. Heat dashi or broth in a large saucepan. Add remaining ingredients and noodles and leave on medium heat long enough to heat through. KOREAN CHOP CHAY (8 Servings)
In Korea, chop chay is a dish of several chopped ingredients, including vegetables in season and noodles. Meat is added sometimes. 2 pounds boneless beef (round, tenderloin) 2 garlic cloves, crushed 16 scallions, with tops, cleaned and cut into 1-inch lengths 1/2 cup soy sauce 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds 1/2 cup (about) peanut or vegetable oil 4 medium carrots, scraped and diced 2 large onions, peeled and dices 2 cups washed, trimmed and chopped spinach leaves 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned and chopped 2 cans (1 pound each) bean sprouts, drained 4 bamboo shoots, chopped or about 1/2 cup chopped 1/2 pound cellophane noodles or vermicelli
Cut beef into thin strips about 3 inches long; put in a large bowl. Add garlic, scallions, soy sauce and sesame seeds. Mix well; leave 1 hour or longer, stirring occasionally, to marinate.
When ready to prepare dish, heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet; add meat and marinade; cook only until meat is tender. Remove meat to a plate; keep warm.Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet; add carrots and onions and saute spinach, mushrooms, bean sprouts and bamboo shoots for 3 minutes. Cook noodles according to package directions; drain. Return meat, carrots, onions and juices to skillet with vegetables; mix well; leave over low heat long enough to warm; add noodles and leave over low heat 3 or 4 minutes to blend flavors. INDONESIAN BAHMI GORENG (Serves 4 to 6) 1/2 pound fine egg noodles or vermicelli Salt 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork strips without fat 1/2 cup soy sauce 2 garlic cloves, crushed 6 scallions, with tops, cleaned and chopped 2 eggs, beaten 1/2 cup (about) peanut or vegetable oil 2 onions, peeled and sliced 2 teaspoons minced ginger root (optional) 1 cup drained bean sprouts 3 cups chopped Chinese cabbage 1 1/2 cups small or medium shrimp, cleaned and cooked Freshly ground black pepper
Cook noodles in boiling water until tender; drain; spread on a large plate and cool. Put in refrigerator for 2 hours. Put pork strips, 1/3 cup soy sauce, garlic and scallions in a large bowl; mix well; leave to marinate, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours.
Pour eggs into a lightly greased skillet; tilt at once to spread evenly, cook over a low heat until set. Remove to a plate and cool. Cut into strips; set aside to use as a garnish.
When ready to cook the dish, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skilet, add onions and ginger and saute untio softened. Add pork mixture; saute several minutes, until cooked. Remove to a plate. Add 3 tablespoons more oil to skillet; add bean sprouts, cabbage and shrimp and saute until vegetables are just soft. Return cooked pork, onions and ginger root to skillet. Stir in remaining soy sauce, season with pepper.Leave over low heat.
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in another skillet; add chilled noodles and cook until golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to pork-shrimp mixture.Serve garnished with cooked egg strips.