The Kungfu of Noodles

Not many people know this, but I am a ninja.

OK, not true. But I am a kungfu master. I know that sounds like another joke, but I actually am a master of Bak Mei Kung Fu (aka Pak Mei aka Bai Mei), which simply means my teacher says I can teach the art form. I’ve been training and practicing in martial arts since I was four years old, initially under the tutelage of my father, a Hap Ki Do black belt. After his death, I studied Tae Kwon Do throughout my primary and high school years, intermingled with some Wing Chun, until in my early 20’s when I stumbled along Bak Mei, and I would like to say that I haven’t really looked back since. Sideways, downwards yes, but not backwards.

Kung fu has changed my perception of learning, teaching and everything in between. I would love to write more about Bak Mei Kung Fu, but not right now. Today, we talk about my newest obsession – Making noodles.

I made my first batch of noodles yesterday. I made it according to recipe I saw on a Chinese cooking Youtube channel. The first thing that struck me about this recipe is that it was only four ingredients: Strong flour (150gm), salt (half a teaspoon), one egg and water (combined weight of 75gm). Or a ratio of two to one plus some salt.

Now, doesn’t that sound awfully similar to another type of noodle? Pasta! Yes it does, but everyone already knows pasta is from China…. everyone except the Italians, that is.

Back to the noodles. The secret to a good noodle in my opinion is creating a dry but smooth dough. It needs to be harder (dryer) than a loaf of bread for example, but it cannot be so dry that it is crumbly. Reason being, these bad boys will eventually be boiled, and if you eat it like they do in China, it is very likely to be served in some form of soup, so a dough that is too wet will just be soggy and kind of gross.

But this need for a dryer dough means you’re going to need some work in the gym. You see, to form that dough, you will need to knead and knead and knead. Let it rest for half an hour, and then knead that lump of dense dough some more. Kneading is necessary to create gluten strands within the noodle to give it a chewy yet bouncy texture. In Cantonese, we call it ‘daah’ng‘. Sort of.

Wait, there is more. If you’re going to do things the traditional way, after kneading it, you need to roll it out very thinly. This was by far the hardest part, made more so because I don’t have a rolling pin and had to make do with an empty beer bottle. It would be infinitely easier with a pasta machine attached to a drill as a drillbit.

You’re aiming for a consistent 2mm thin piece of dough; I think I got down to 3mm before laziness overcame me. Once you have achieved your desired thickness, or close enough, it is time to fold the dough over itself in a contiuous S-pattern. Flour the dough on both sides before doing this. I would recommend no more than five layers, otherwise you’re going to squish the dough together in the next step.

The next step is cutting with a knife. Like a ninja, or a Kung Fu master (see what I’m doing here?)

Again aiming for 2mm wide slices so that you end up with 2mm by 2mm noodles before they’re cooked. Once that is complete, throw it in boiling water as you would pasta and the rest is up to you.

I chose to stir fry mine. Taste wise it wasn’t exceptional, but it wasn’t bad either. I think I got the texture right, but I know there is more to improve. Of course there is more to improve. This is the first time I tried making it!

I have analysed the situation. I know where I am lacking. I need to make use of one thing that Marco Polo didn’t take with him back to Italy. We need ‘gan sui‘, or alkali water. I can’t tell you exactly what this water does, but I suspect it will change both the texture of the noodle, as well as bringing out the flavour of the egg. We will find out soon enough. My next batch will be ‘gan sui mien‘.

Creating something from scratch, combining raw ingredients, letting it settle, kneading it with equal part aggression and tenderness, and then cutting it like a ninja is strangely satisfying. It was an exercise in restraint and persistence.

Just as with mastering kung fu, and I suppose any art form, half the battle is in not quitting.