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Oodles of noodles

Last updated: 12 March, 2010

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN

Thin and floppy or springy and chewy, a bowl of noodles can quickly turn into an addiction, says Michael Patrao between slurps of the 2-minute wonder and the more potent, chilli-flecked fare from China Town

Until a little over 25 years ago, children in India were happily eating ajji’s savige (rice noodles), idiappam (nool appam), shavige baath or semiya. And then suddenly instant noodles came to India with a bang. India’s first indigenous soap opera, Hum Log began its telecast on July 7, 1984. It was sponsored by Maggi Noodles, a product of Nestle subsidiary, Food Specialities Limited. The product was launched with a total advertising slot of just five minutes during the breaks. Over 156 episodes of the serial, the two-minute noodles became a popular breakfast and snack food across the country. Instant noodles became popular with children; mothers discovered that fussy children were fond of it. And perhaps with this came the concept of ‘fast food’.

Meal in minutes
The USP of this ‘fast food’ was that it could be made in ‘2-minutes’. However, the original instant noodles advertised itself as ‘3-minute noodles’. Clearly, the manufacturer of 2-minute  noodles wanted to be one-up on the original instant noodles, invented by Momofuku Ando, who died on January 5, 2007, aged 96.

One cold night in 1957, walking home from his salt-making factory in Osaka in Japan, Ando saw white clouds of steam in the street and a crowd of people waiting for noodles to be cooked in vats of boiling water. Why not make it easier for everyone, thought Ando. It took him a year, working night and day in a shed, to find the secret of bringing noodles back to life. In 1958 instant noodles were launched in the market. All one had to do was to peel off the lid, pour boiling water, steep the contents for three minutes, stir well and serve.

Stringin’ along
Ando was laughed at by makers of fresh noodles all over Japan, but at the end of the first year, he had sold 13 million bags and attracted a dozen competitors. In 1971 came noodles in heat-proof polystyrene cups, so that the hungry did not even need to get the bowls out of the cupboard. The Japanese voted instant noodles their most important 20th-century invention.

There is some criticism that noodles are not a healthy food item. As if to disprove the allegation, Ando ate Chikin Ramen, his original flavour of noodles, almost every day and lived till the ripe age of 96.

And if the criticism still persists, these days we have something called ‘Foodles’, available in four-grain which is made with  rice, wheat, ragi and corn. It is accompanied by a sachet, which is said to contain nine vitamins.

Spaetzle or spaghetti
Each country has its own variety of noodles. The German variety — short, thick and small — is called Spaetzle. Italy has spaghetti (apart from a wide variety of pasta). Idiappam is rice noodles popular in Kerala.

Besides being a basic ingredient, noodles lend themselves well to a variety of dishes. Noodle soup refers to a variety of soups with noodles and other ingredients served in a light broth. Noodle soup is a Southeast Asian staple served with soy sauce. Chilled noodles are often served in a salad such as the Thai glass noodle salad. Like fried rice, you have fried noodles with dishes made by stir-frying noodles with various meats, seafood and vegetables.
From China Town, with love

Hakka noodles is a popular Indo-Chinese dish. It originated in China Town of Kolkata where Hakka (a community) of China, who hail from Fujian province had settled. The Hakka settlement in Kolkata popularised the Indo-Chinese cuisine (Chinese cuisine with a desi touch).
Traditional Hakka cuisine is very simple and makes use of natural ingredients and very little or no seasoning. This is contradictory to what is served as Chinese fare in Indian restaurants. Most Indo-Chinese Hakka preparations include heavy, oily seasoning.

Hakka noodles are traditionally flat rice noodles, which are tossed with garlic and vegetables or any other ingredients like mushrooms, cabbage, capsicum.
Try this Hakka noodle recipe which attempts to remain as close to the original and traditional recipe. It will take you about 15 minutes to make —  10 minutes of preparation time and 5 minutes of cooking time.
Ingredients:  2 cups flat noodles (Hakka noodles) — boiled and strained; 2 tsp garlic (chopped); 2 dry red chillies, broken into pieces; 3/4 cup cabbage, shredded; 1/2 cup capsicum, finely sliced; 2 tablespoons oil; salt to taste. For the garnish — 1/2 cup spring onions, chopped.
Method: Cut the spring onions into 1/4” pieces. Pound the red chillies and garlic. Heat oil in a wok, add chillies and garlic and fry for a minute. Add capsicum and fry on high heat till it turns tender. Put in the chopped  spring onion and continue frying for 2-3 minutes. Now add boiled and strained noodles and salt (to taste) and mix well. Add vinegar and mix. Hakka noodles is ready to serve.


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