I like to watch kids news programs with my little boy. That particular evening, the program covered the famine situation in Sudan.
‘Did China have famines?’ my little boy asked. These few innocent words had brought back my memories of a peasant family begging at a roadside noodle shop. I could still see their shadows overcasting me even today.
In the early 1970s, my grandmother cooked communal dinners for extended families. Each family contributed to the cost of the food. We nearly never went out to eat – the budget was tight and every cents were precious.
One evening, we missed the communal dinner. So we went to a local noodle shop for dinner. The place was shabby but filled with steam and warmth. There were three pots – the first pot was hot water to boil the noodles; the second pot was cold water to cool and rinse the noodles, a process called ‘crossing the cool bridge’; a third pot was filled with hot broth. We sat down on the wobbly wooden chairs and started to enjoy our noodles. The meal was not much, only noodles and a few green shallot floating on top of the plain broth. But it was a rare and prestigious treat for a little girl and her worn-out mum.
Suddenly, a mother and her children in ragged clothes surrounded our table. They looked different from our city folks, with dark and coarse skin from working in the fields. They were dirty and messy, as if they had been living on the streets for weeks. They spoke among themselves in a dialect that I had never heard of. They would have travelled from afar, probably from another province where their crops failed. They had such hungry eyes. The children just devoured some leftover soup from the next table and redirected their attention to our bowls.
‘Eat up all your food’, my mum said to me sternly. When I finished, my mum picked up the bowl and devoured the last drops of the soup. The family moved away to another table, motionless. My heart was heavy.
Many years passed, my memories of that family did not fake. I was most puzzled by my mother and why she did not show any empathy to those children? After all, she was an orphan herself. She should understand the pain and suffering of being hungry, homeless and helpless.
That weekend, I made a large batch of noodles from scratch. I tossed the noodles with a splash of soy sauce and a splash of sesame oil.
After that weekend, I stated cooking for the homeless community on a regular basis. Life has been kind to our family and we will always share our food with those in need.
- 2.5 cup of plain four, more for dusting
- 1 cup of hot water
- 1/2 tsp lye water (‘kansui’, lye water, lkaline solution, 枧水), available from Asian stores
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 portion of dark soy sauce to 1 portion of sesame oil
- sesame seeds, toasted, to garnish
Making the dough
- I used a bread maker – mix the lye water with hot water, pour in the bread maker; add flour and 1/2 tsp of salt;
- Make the dough using the dough setting, approximately 20 minutes; wrap and leave the dough in fridge to rest for 2-3 hours.
Roll out the noodles
I used a pasty machine – simply roll out the dough, dusted with flour and put it through the pasta machine, first as a flat sheet, then as noodles; when making the noodles, dust some flour so the noodles won’t stick together.
Cooking the noodles
- In small batches – bring a large pot of water to boil; add salt; drop the fresh noodles in the hot water; cook for 2 minutes, stir occasionally
- Take out the noodles with a sieve and rinse under cold water; shake off the liquid
- Toss with a splash of dark soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil
- Garnish with sesame seeds