Chinese Culture

The Official Top 10 Chinese Noodles

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The first nominated list of “China’s Top 10 Famous Noodles” was released recently by the Ministry of Commerce and China Hotel Association. The 10 noodle dishes on the list are: 武汉热干面 (rè gān miànWuhan‘s Hot Dry Noodles), 北京炸酱面 (zhá jiàng miàn, Beijing’s Zhajiangmian), 山西刀削面 (Dāoxiāomiàn, Shanxi’s knife-cut noodles),  河南萧记烩面 (xiāo jì huì miàn, Henan’s Xiaoji Stewed Noodles), 兰州拉面 (lánzhōu lāmiàn, Lanzhou’s hand pulled noodles), 杭州片儿川 (piàn ér chuān, Hangzhou’s Pian’er Chuan), 昆山奥灶面 (ào zào miàn, Kunshan’s Aozao noodles), 镇江锅盖面 (zhènjiāng guō gài miàn, Chinkiang pot cover noodles), 四川担担面 (dàndàn miàn, Sichuan’s dandanmian), and 吉林延吉冷面 (yánjí lěng miàn, Jilin’s cold noodles).

top 10 noodles

In the past, people have always hailed 热干面, 炸酱面, 刀削面, 兰州拉面, and 担担面 as “China’s Five Famous Noodles”. This is the first time that an official organization has ranked a Top 10 list. After the news came out, many netizens were surprised that Shaanxi, a province with over a hundred ways to make noodles, didn’t make it into the top 10. Many find it hard to believe that 臊子面 (sàozi miàn, noodles with minced meat) and Biangbiang noodles aren’t recognized, and joked that it was because the Chinese characters for “biangbiang” cannot be typed out on a computer.

Other netizens whose provinces were not mentioned on the list exclaimed that they were 惊呆了 (jīng dāile, so surprised that they are stupefied) that their local famous noodles were dismissed.

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Choosing Wok

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You might not know it but cooking the wrong dish in the wrong wok can lead to murky sludge and bitter disaster. One Chinese netizen posts her frustrations, “Rust keeps appearing on the bottom of my iron wok, but I’m afraid the chemicals in non-stick or carbon woks will poison my food. Plus I hear the iron in iron woks is good for the blood. What kind of woks are you all using?” Clearly, choosing a wok isn’t as simple as picking the cheapest shiniest one off the store shelf. Follow this guide and know how to choose the one that’s right for you.

Handles

When looking at woks the first thing you might notice is all the different handles they come with. Some have two small metal loop handles on each side. Some have a long stick handle on one side and a loop handle on the opposite side. Others simply have a single long metal or wooden handle. All handles serve the same purpose—to lift the wok off the burner—so choose based on your own techniques and preference. Skilled chefs prefer the long handle as it allows them to toss easily. Always remember to test the weight of a wok before you buy. If it’s too heavy for you to handle, then choose a smaller one or one made from a lighter material, you certainly don’t want to sprain your wrist frying an egg!

Size

A typical family-size wok is 14 inches in diameter (suitable for a family of three or four). But woks can be found as small as 8 inches and as large as 79 inches. Smaller woks are usually used for quick stir-frying at a high heat. Large woks, over a meter wide, are mainly used by restaurants for cooking rice or soup, or for boiling water.

Bottoms

Depending on what type of stove you have, you’ll need either a flat bottom wok or a round bottom wok. Flat bottom woks are best for cooking with an electric range. But if you cook on a gas range, the round bottom wok is a better choice. The flames can wrap around the bottom and sides allowing for even heat distribution.

Material

Woks come in cast iron, aluminum, carbon steel, stainless steel and non-stick coatings. Each have their own advantages and purposes.

Traditional Chinese woks are made of cast iron. Thick and heavy, the iron wok (铁锅 tiěguō) takes more time to heat up, but it conducts heat evenly and retains heat longer, which makes it perfect for stir-frying vegetables. For a healthy fry, wait until the oil is hot; drop the vegetable in and stir-fry quickly at high heat for a short time to minimize the loss of nutrients. Chinese netizens claim that an iron wok is a good choice as traces of iron dissolve into the food and help boost your blood cells.

Ideal as an iron wok seems, it has several drawbacks. Iron rusts easily so remember to dry the wok thoroughly before and after use. It is also recommended to avoid cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes in an iron wok. Chinese foodies claim the acid can react with the iron and generate a harmful byproduct. And, if you don’t want to see your green bean soup to turn nasty black, don’t boil green beans in an iron wok

A good alternative to the iron wok is the stainless steel wok (不锈钢 búxiùgāng) which is rustproof and doesn’t have chemical reactions with acidic foods.

Aluminum woks (铝锅 lǚguō) are a thinner and lighter choice. Although an excellent heat conductor, aluminum does not retain heat as well as cast iron or carbon steel. Aluminum is also soft and not as durable. If you are looking for something light, a better choice is carbon steel (碳钢锅  tàn’gāngguō) which is thin and durable and can endure high temperatures.

Coated with Teflon, the non-stick wok (不粘锅 bùzhānguō) is ideal for steaming, stewing or boiling, but avoid deep frying, pan frying or stir frying dishes with it. At those temperatures the non-stick coating will break down into the food. Use this type of wok for making things like rice porridge. Fill the wok with ten cups of water and add one cup of rice. Bring to boil, reduce temperature and let simmer for an hour until the rice is thick and gooey. Great if you have the flu, upset stomach or relieving those inevitable Chinese banquet hangovers.

How to Celebrate Laba Festival

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The twelfth lunar month in Chinese is called La Yue(腊月), so the eighth day of this lunar month is La Yue Chu Ba (腊月初八 là yùe chū bā), or Laba (腊八 là bā). The day is also known as the La Ba Rice Porridge Festival.

The three major customs on Laba are ancestor worship, Laba Rice Porridge (腊八粥) eating and Laba garlic making.

Ancestor worship (祭祖): At the end of the year, working people get more free time to prepare for the sacrifice to the ancestors. The reason lunar December is called La Yue has a lot to do with the custom of sacrifice. First, the worship of ancestors, called “腊” in Chinese, and the sacrifice for the gods, called “蜡”, both frequently took place in the twelfth month, which led to the traditional name of the month: La Yue(腊月). Second, winter is the slack season for farmers so they have time to find things to burn in the sacrifice. The radical of “腊” represents the sacrifice of meat to one’s ancestors (“月” symbolizes meat).

Laba Rice Porridge (腊八粥 là bā zhōu, photo left): There are several legends about the origin of porridge eating on Laba: some claim it is of Buddhist origin; some say the porridge, made of red beans, has the power to exorcize evil from little kids; others say the porridge is in memory of a poor couple. The custom of porridge eating has been well-known throughout history, from the royal court to common people. The most “authentic” porridge is made in Northern China, especially Beiping (北平). Laba porridge is mostly made of rice and sticky rice, but can also include sugar, red dates, lotus seeds, walnuts, chestnuts, almonds, longans, hazelnuts, raisins, red beans, peanuts, water caltrops, roseleaf and other “treasures” (hence its other name, “eight treasure porridge”). Almost every region in China has its own local recipe for  Laba porridge. Eating hot porridge is great in cold winter, and the grain and nuts are considered healthy winter fare.

Laba garlic (腊八蒜 là bā suàn, photo right): It is an old Beijing custom to soak purple-peel garlic with vinegar and a little sugar. First, pare the old skin of the garlic, then put the vinegar and garlic into a jar and seal it up for keeping ’till the Lunar New Year’s Eve. When the whole family gets together for the dumpling feast on Spring Festival Eve, they take out the Laba garlic which will be crisp, with a vinegary flavor and a green color. Vinegar with the aroma of garlic is the best seasoning for dumplings.