Even with the American staple of mac and cheese, the beloved lady and the tramp style spaghetti and meatballs, my life has revolved around a single bowl of noodles. It’s not the three minute ready-to-eat cardboard tasting ramen packs, or the inexpensive yet delightful bowl of Pho I can get down the street. My grandma’s bowl of noodles is priceless.
Unlike the typical chubby toddler, I hated noodles with a fiery passion. With my stubby legs and flailing arms, I sprinted in the opposite direction every time I was offered a simple spoonful of those limp, slimy noodles. In my eyes, noodles wiggled like worms, sliding, gliding, and slipping into the puckered lips of hungry children. I backhanded every bowl of noodle set before me. Noodles flying and broth splashing, I watched as organized chaos ensued before me.
A first generation Asian American child, I was always told that the acceptance of one’s culture lies on the forefront of one’s responsibilities. But when it was discovered that I had rejected the noodle dishes especially popular in my grandmother’s hometown of Xi’an, I was cast aside as a shameful and unsuccessful candidate to pass down the family noodle recipes.
One rainy afternoon, I wandered into the kitchen. Drawn in by the aroma of simmering pork and mushrooms, I arrived before a bubbling cauldron of pink broth. I watched in awe as little oil droplets slowly formed on the surface of the soup, giving way to the rapid bubbles of water simmering just below.
Eager for a taste, I perched myself onto the countertop and spooned a few drops of soup. I blew hard at the soup, painting the countertops and floor with small beads of soup. As I brought the remaining two droplets of soup to my eager lips, my grandma walked through the door. I jumped, splattering the last drops onto my bright yellow rain jacket in utter frustration.
Laughing, she spooned the soup into a small bowl. “Close your eyes and taste this” she whispered. I waited for what seemed like eternity, gaping until she shoveled a large spoonful into my mouth. Quickly, the delicate pork flavor and umami of the mushrooms invaded my mouth. As I swallowed, I felt a slippery strand slide down my throat. I opened my eyes in horror. There on the soup splattered countertop, was a tangle of noodles in my soup. How they got there so quickly, I’ll never know. But the betrayal I felt was real.
My grandma grabbed me by the hand and explained the history and labor behind this specific bowl of noodles; a recipe passed gown three generations, it required days of labor and intensive work. The noodles first had to be made by hand, stretched thin like hair, but not enough the snap. The broth had to be simmered for over 16 hours then rested for another twelve hours to allow the flavors to develop.
The pork had to have a fat content of just twenty percent and the mushrooms that painted the broth a creamy pink hue had to be picked in the back mountains of China. Eyeing the bowl proudly, she described each component of the bowl of noodles as a symbol of longevity and good fortune. Persuaded solely by the promise of good fortune, I happily gulped down the meal without further complaint.
Since then, I’ve had that specific bowl of noodles countless times. For every birthday, trip, and milestone, this dish has alway been by my side. I’ve learned the noodle pulling techniques, the artful slicing of the pork, and the rough chop of the mushrooms. Learning the steps to making this near perfect bowl of noodles has not only drawn me into my Chinese culture, but also taught me how to embrace it. Now, I approach life with a fiery passion and open mindedness that has since been ignited by the craft of my culture.