It’s practically Lunar New 12 months, and Johnny Mui is lastly smiling.
After looking at empty tables for the final two years due to the pandemic, the proprietor of New York’s Hop Lee restaurant says enterprise is slowly recovering.
Mui joined the 48-year-old Chinatown institution in 2005 as an worker – after shedding every part to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans – and took over in 2018.
As of late, he’s busy speaking to suppliers to make sure he’s bought all the mandatory substances to fulfill the demand for considered one of Hop Lee’s hottest Lunar New 12 months dishes: Stir-fried Ginger Scallion Lobster Yi Mein – aka longevity noodles.
“Each Lunar New 12 months, virtually each desk would order our longevity noodles,” he says. “Good wanting and higher tasting, they symbolize luck, too.”
This 12 months, Lunar New 12 months falls on January 22, however celebrations happen over a number of days – collectively known as the Spring Pageant. Conventional rituals, meals included, are full of symbolism.
Longevity noodles symbolize lengthy life. In accordance with custom, the chef can’t reduce the noodle strands, and every strand must be eaten entire – no breaking it earlier than you eat it.
However that’s the place the consensus ends.
Ask individuals of Chinese language heritage which forms of noodles needs to be eaten, and also you’ll doubtless get totally different solutions.
Longevity noodles: the fortunate Lunar New 12 months dish
At Hop Lee, longevity noodles are synonymous with yi mein, also called e-fu noodles. These chewy and spongy Cantonese egg wheat strands are dried, deep-fried and consumed all 12 months lengthy, particularly on particular events like birthdays and in the course of the Spring Pageant.
Hop Lee’s lobster longevity noodles recipe has been handed down for many years. The yi mein noodles are braised with seasonings and shiitake mushrooms. The lobsters are stir-fried with fermented salted black beans, eggs, minced meats, ginger and scallions.
“Then we put the lobsters on prime of the noodles, and the juice trickles down. It’s so scrumptious. Even my son loves it – he’d ask me to organize the dish for his college events,” says Mui.
Over at Xi’an Well-known Meals – a humble Flushing, New York Metropolis restaurant that in below twenty years has swollen right into a profitable chain serving northwestern Chinese language meals – CEO Jason Wang has his personal view on longevity noodles, which he grew up consuming. In his opinion, any noodle that’s prolonged in size counts.
“Our biang biang noodles are undoubtedly amongst them,” says Wang.
Made with wheat flour and water, the dough is pulled and reduce into lengthy, flat and huge belt-like noodles.
“Essentially the most conventional method is definitely to simply put aromatics like scallions and garlic, together with freshly-ground crimson chili powder on prime of the noodles, sear it with vegetable oil and costume it with soy sauce and black rice vinegar. We name these Spicy Scorching-Oil Seared Hand-Ripped Noodles,” Wang tells CNN Journey.
Early Chinese language immigrants in the USA have been predominantly Cantonese, which explains why yi mein is commonly what many Chinese language People contemplate longevity noodles.
However regional cuisines, like dishes from Xi’an, have been popping up and diversifying the choices in latest many years.
“Yi mein are Cantonese noodles, so they’re totally different from what we’d eat, however the symbolism of longevity is shared,” says Wang.
“The precise sort of noodles varies, however the concept stays ‘lengthy noodles for lengthy life,’ and any lengthy noodles serve that function.”
Hong Kong’s Aberdeen Yau Kee Noodles Manufacturing facility, based within the Fifties, is ramping up manufacturing forward of the Spring Pageant. Throughout this time of 12 months, the manufacturing facility’s proprietor says demand will enhance by 20% to 30%.
“We’re busiest earlier than Lunar New 12 months as a result of extra events and gatherings are occurring at the moment, and other people eat e-fu noodles, or longevity noodles, on these events,” says Tang Pui-sum, second-generation director of the household enterprise.
As for why e-fu noodles are a preferred selection for Cantonese, Tang says it comes all the way down to high quality.
“Within the Guangdong area, individuals use e-fu noodles to deal with their household and mates on particular events as a result of they’re thought of higher – it takes extra steps to make, and the substances are higher. It’s additionally distinctive as a result of e-fu noodles are deep-fried, which units them other than different noodles in northern China.”
So now that the difficulty of what counts as a long life noodle is settled – brief reply: just about any noodle so long as it’s, nicely, lengthy – an vital query stays: who determined that consuming lengthy noodles can lengthen one’s life?
Most – if not all – blogs and web sites hint the historical past of longevity noodles again to Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (ruling from 141-87 BCE), who informed his ministers that he heard that if one had an extended face, one would have an extended life.
As he couldn’t change the size of his face, the emperor determined to eat lengthy noodles as a result of the phrase for noodle sounds much like the phrase for face in Chinese language. The customized then unfold past the palace to the remainder of the nation.
We consulted two meals historians for his or her ideas on the folks story – and so they aren’t shopping for that story.
“The Han Dynasty was the time when the event of China’s noodle tradition flourished,” says Zhao Rongguan, a number one scholar in China who has been writing about Chinese language meals historical past and tradition for the final 4 many years.
“It was the period that laid the foundations and methods of modern-day noodles. However to say that Emperor Wu was why we now have longevity noodles, I’d say it’s ridiculous web heresy.”
Chen Yuanpeng, a professor at Taiwan’s Nationwide Dong Hwa College who specializes within the historical past of Chinese language meals, determined to seek the advice of his colleagues too when requested by CNN Journey to share his tackle longevity noodles.
“I known as Mr. Wang Renxiang (a Chinese language archaeologist who focuses on meals tradition) and Mr. Naomichi Ishige (a Japanese meals historian and anthropologist). Each are Chinese language noodle consultants; neither understand how longevity noodles and the story happened,” says Chen.
The professor says he spent a number of days scouring previous texts and books. Lastly, he discovered a scripture highlighting the dialog between Emperor Wu and his minister, Dong Fangshuo, in one of many historic Dunhuang bianwen texts – a collection of melodic folktales written in the course of the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907) to unfold the teachings of Buddhism.
“Within the bianwen, the dialogue in regards to the size of the face between Emperor Wu and his minister ended with out mentioning noodles in any respect. The correlation between noodles and lengthy life was in all probability added and fabricated later,” Chen speculates.
“However we will’t dismiss the story – even when it in all probability was only a fable. It’s been shared so many occasions that many consider it; it has additionally turn into part of the tradition and historical past of longevity noodles, which has been documented for greater than 1,000 years.”
Even the methods longevity noodles are consumed differ tremendously relying on the placement.
They’re additionally eaten in different Asian international locations that commemorate Lunar New 12 months, like Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia.
Throughout Lunar New 12 months, South Koreans favor consuming japchae (Korean stir-fried glass noodles). Their longevity noodles, known as janchi-guksu, are reserved for weddings and birthdays.
Chinese language communities in Singapore and Malaysia usually use misua (wheat vermicelli) as longevity noodles – however “prosperity toss,” a mixture of colourful shredded greens and uncooked fish, is a extra in style Lunar New 12 months dish.
Though Japan follows the Gregorian calendar as a substitute of the Lunar calendar, they, too, have a customized of consuming noodles for the brand new 12 months. Toshikoshi Soba, or year-crossing soba noodles, are eaten on New 12 months’s Eve for good luck.
“Within the northern aspect of China, some individuals nonetheless comply with the previous method of consuming longevity noodles,” says Zhao.
“When the noodles arrive, the visitors would get up. They’ll choose up some noodles from the bowl, pull them up over their head theatrically with a pair of chopsticks, carry the noodles to their faces and slurp them in a single go together with a contented face. It’s a technique to specific their gratitude to the host.”
He provides that long-life noodles ought to have the size and tenacity to outlive a robust chopstick pull.
So now that we’ve established that types of longevity noodles differ tremendously and their again story is murky at greatest, absolutely everybody agrees on when they need to be eaten?
Nope. Whereas longevity noodles – irrespective of which sort – are a preferred Lunar New 12 months dish amongst Chinese language communities in North America, some argue they aren’t even a conventional Spring Pageant meals in China.
This shouldn’t come as a shock, given the sheer dimension of the nation and its many regional cuisines and traditions.
“I don’t assume my household would have longevity noodles throughout Lunar New 12 months,” says Chen, whose household moved to Taiwan from Tianjin in northern China.
“However I did make a bowl of da lu mian (northern-style braised noodles with minced meat, mushrooms and an egg) as longevity noodles for my mom’s birthday final 12 months. I’ve all the time solely related longevity noodles with birthdays however not Lunar New 12 months.”
However, Zhao asserts that noodles are nonetheless a preferred Lunar New 12 months customized, particularly in northern China.
“Longevity noodles are a part of the standard tradition for Chinese language celebrations … Throughout the vital Lunar New 12 months competition, we, in fact, will need to have noodles,” he says.
“The normal customized is to have dumplings on the primary day and noodles on the second day (of the Lunar calendar). Then, we eat noodles on the seventh, seventeenth and twenty seventh day (of the Lunar month), representing the massive days for youngsters, adults and the aged, respectively.”
As for why many Chinese language People primarily affiliate the custom with Lunar New 12 months, Zhao affords this idea: “When individuals drift away from their ancestral roots, they might not really feel their id for the remainder of the 12 months, however throughout festivals, the love for his or her tradition would explode.
“Usually, the diploma of continuity and symbolism of 1’s tradition in a diaspora neighborhood would exceed that of the native.”