Friday, October 19, 2007

Making of a bowl of noodles (拉麵)

From Beijing I flew down to Suzhou for 2 full days’ of teaching over the weekend. Our university have been jointly offering a MSc in Information System program in China, together with the Xian Jiaotung University. So we often have to come to Suzhou or Xian on weekends to teach.

On Sunday evening, after finishing all my classes, I went out to have dinner. I was watching the man “pull” a lump of dough into fine noodles, when the two men in the next shop came over to check me out. It turned out they were concerned that I might have come from the municipal government, to check up on their shops. When they found out I was just a visitor trying to take some pictures, they smiled and said “please keep taking pictures”, while they walked back across the street.

When I went in to order a bowl of the noodles, this man took over. He separated a fist-sized lump from the big lump, kneaded it for a couple of minutes, and started pulling, waving, and pounding it into a bunch of fine noodles. While he was still pulling it, he suddenly walked out the door, and dumped the noodles into the big pot.

You cannot get noodles any fresher than that! And it costs only five Reminbi. OK, there could have been more beef in the soup, and the soup probably had a bit too much MSG, but the noodles were really delicious. And just the show itself was worth more than the five Reminbi, which is equal to about five Hong Kong dollars.

I bet as China becomes more prosperous, either or both of two things are going to happen. Firstly, hand-made noodles will be replaced by cheaper-to-produce, machine-made noodles. Secondly, “pulling” noodles will become more up-scale, moving into expensive shops where the same bowl of noodles will cost fifty Reminbi.

By the way, their faces, clothes, and conversion give me the impression that they are Chinese Muslims.

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