A wok-ing class man

Noodle_vendor_Beijing

Noodle vendor, Beijing

I love a man who cooks for me. And if he cooks over a raging heat, outdoors, on a hot day, using skill, muscles, and professional technique, my appreciation skyrockets.

Enter Chinese street food vendor – located on a dusty roadside in Shun Yi, Beijing.

We pulled over our bicycles when we spotted him: the one-dish wonder. Smoky wok-tossed noodles were the extent of his roadside culinary repertoire. But they were outstanding noodles. And his skills on the wok were superb.

A number of locals queued ahead of us, so we watched the noodle man’s performance several times. He had it down to a three-minute fine art.

When the blackened wok was smoking he added a slug of oil followed by beaten egg, which formed a skin-thin omelet within seconds. Dried chilli was added if the customer acquiesced.

With his hand inside a plastic bag (who said hygiene suffers when food is cooked kerb-side?) the noodle maestro threw in mixed vegetables, including shredded cabbage, other greens, carrots, bean sprouts, and noodles.

Two large metal spatulas were his tools to mix the sizzling pan-load together. Then he threw in generous handfuls of shredded chicken and  gave it  all a good licking with what looked like oyster sauce.

The wok master carefully transferred the heaving pan to one hand and flicked the ingredients about eight times in quick succession. He tossed the wok as if it was weightless, though the pile of ingredients and size of the wok suggested otherwise. A slug of soy sauce was added and he effortlessly tossed the ingredients another six or seven times.

Three spoonfuls of an unidentified white powder were added (MSG? chicken powder?), and the wok was given a final few expert flicks. A fried egg on top was optional.

The food vendor’s face was smeared with sweat, a shroud of smoke hung thick around him, and the cauldron-hot contents of the wok spluttered and spat. He repeated his culinary act flawlessly numerous times.

The noodles were poured into plastic cartons. Each carton went into a plastic bag with a pair of flimsy, disposable chopsticks. Customers stepped forward to stake their claim. Locals sat around on their haunches, devouring their midday feast. We sat on a bench across the street. For quite some time the mound of smoky hot noodles didn’t appear to get any smaller. We dubbed them the never-ending noodles.

It was a no frills, no fuss operation. We were charged ex-pat prices – 15 Yuan (around $2.30) per serve – but there were no complaints from us.

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15 Comments

Filed under Gastronomic Travels

15 responses to “A wok-ing class man

  1. I love your writing style! So eloquent. Great tale, thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Lizzy. One of the reasons i started the blog was to write more about the things i actually like, outside of the day-to-day journalism job. I actually captured the noodle making on video, but haven’t worked out how to upload it to WordPress. I don’t think i can. Shame.

  3. Looking forward to seeing the video once you get it uploaded, I am sure you will work it out. The noodles sound divine. Food really is not just about the dish but the experience as well.

    • Indeed. I love the whole experience, even when cooking myself. I enjoy discovering a recipe, sourcing the ingredients, relishing in an afternoon-long cook-a-thon, then sharing the spoils (if successful). In much the same way i enjoy the the whole ensemble of eating out. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Oh how I love your writing! I felt like I was right there watching with you. I love street food. Yes, it’s not always the most hygienic place to cook and eat, but somehow it doesn’t matter so much if the food is cheap and delicious.

    I think you might be able to download some plug-ins in order to upload videos to your blog, but this might only be possible if you have a self-hosted blog. I hope you will find a way to upload the video as I would love to see it!

    • Thanks for your kind words. It’s always good to know your writing is appreciated. Makes the effort worth while.
      I think you are right about needing a self-hosted blog. I will look into it.
      Stay in touch.

  5. I feel like I was there with you! A man that cooks is definitely a good thing :)

  6. Thanks for your feedback Lorraine. Those men with an in-built cooking instinct are hard to find!

  7. Even without a video, I can imagine this through your words! I enjoy watching street food vendors in action too – even though I grew up with those sights and sounds, I never tire of it.

    • I love watching street food vendors in action too. I spent about two hours sitting in an alley in Shanghai watching them at work. I think they were wondering what the strange Westerner was doing sitting there alternatively staring at them and then tapping away on her iPhone (i was taking the notes … always the journalist!) That time in the alley was the highlight of my trip to Shanghai – despite it being an all expenses paid, whistle stop food tour/work trip, which included staying at the swanky Ritz Carlton! Saw a side of Shanghai i wouldn’t have encountered if my appetite hadn’t taken me off for an adventure!

  8. What a great piece of writing, Rachel. Like your other readers, I felt just like I was standing in the sun, waiting in line with you. Probably best not to know what the white powder was, though.

  9. SisterDarling

    Heading back for more tomorrow. Will think of you as I devour my never-ending noodles which I plan to wash down with a slug or two of Tsing Tao.

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