Ode to Noodles

Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I am obsessed with noodles. I don’t discriminate.  I like Asian noodles, Italian noodles, made-up-recipe-noodles, fancy noodles, cheap noodles, wet and dry noodles.  I am especially partial to pre-packaged, spicy noodles that contain 300% of your daily dietary intake of sodium.  (I refrain from drinking all the broth, and this seems like a reasonable compromise to me.) I am your stereotypical, chopstick-wielding, broth-slurping, Asian noodle head.

I think noodles are the perfect food.  There are an endless number of ways you can prepare them: you can add different vegetables, change the proteins, jazz them up with herbs and spices.  They never get old.  And while I love the delicious, authentic dishes prepared by my mom and aunt, I’m not even opposed to watered-down versions (I’m no noodle-snob).

I have a stash of instant Udon noodles in my cabinet at work.  I say it’s for emergencies, or days when I am too busy to pack a fresh lunch, but really it is there because I experience withdrawals twice a week.  When this happens, I pace around irritably, wondering why nothing I eat seems to satisfy me.  I keep saying that I can get by with whatever I have brought from home that day.  It’s a perpetual lie I tell myself. I blame my mom for this fixation, of which I am no longer ashamed.

Stating the obvious, I grew up eating a variety of noodle dishes.  Mom has taught me to make a few of them, but of course her recipes are very vague, in the spirit of oral tradition.  I also think it is a secret ploy to keep me from staying away from home too long.  She tells me the general ingredients but no exact measurements; her favorite thing to say is, “You just add little bit like that.”  Never mind that most dishes share the same ingredients, and that it’s the proper ratio of this Magic Menagerie (plus the one special variable) that determines the difference between a warm bowl of flavored water and liquid gold.

Yes; as far as traditional noodle dishes go, the broth makes all the difference.  Second in importance is the consistency of the noodles themselves.  For example, in Pad Thai (or, as I like to call it, Pad Lao), boiling instead of pre-soaking the rice noodles leads to mushy disaster.

You can be a noodle connoisseur without knowing how to prepare them, but this would have you spending a lot of money dining out.  Frugal people must learn how to cook.  My specialty turns out to be Pad Thai/Lao, and it is quite easy to make.  However, my version requires more ingredients than usual and, therefore, adds more prep time. I could go on for quite some length about noodles.  But, in the interest of short attention spans, I shall end with a list of my favorite dishes that we regularly eat in the Shire.

1. Pho (Vietnamese noodles, traditionally in beef broth)

2. Sukiyaki (Glass noodles served in broth with red bean curd base; filled with napa cabbage and seafood)

3. Ga-poon/kanom cheen (rice vermicelli in broth made from either ground pork or fish)

4. Kow piaak (handmade rice Udon in broth made from either chicken or pork)

5. Tham muah (similar to spicy papaya salad but with blanched vegetables, shrimp, and rice stick noodles)


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