Wednesday, April 14, 2010
My relationship with noodles… or pasta, has changed a lot in the past years of my life. The whole chicken noodle soup thing never carried over in our house as kids, so I didn’t grow up with an overwhelming fondness for the boiled dough. In fact, it was Campbells tomato and rice soup alongside a mandarin-lime natural soda that nursed us back to health when a head cold or stomach flu came into town. Now my mother was a fantastic cook mind you, and she did throw down some hand-made whole wheat noodles for her soups every now and then. But with 4 home-schooled kids, a dog, a holistic practice out of the house, and a thriving garden to tend- just open a can of go-to Campbells soup, mama! And still to this day, post-culinary school and with a healthy knowledge of the sodium content in a small can of Campbells, I still crack open a can of congealed, pink, salty, tomato base with plenty of water logged white rice grains. And not only does it heal me, but I love it.
Now, knowing that pasta, and noodles in general, are considered the “ultimate comfort food,” I only felt that this boiled egg and flour mixture was merely a bland vessel to carry hearty Bolognese, tangy pesto, or sweet peppers and sausage to my mouth. I would have opted for any number of these sauces, served in a large bowl with a hunk of crusty bread. Just let me be alone with my sauce…. but of course, in the manner that all food prejudices should be crushed- I moved to Italy. I made and ate fresh pasta prepared with quality egg yolks and semolina flour. I was left with a perfect pasta that accompanied the sauce and dissolved on my tongue. It was then that my idea of noodles as comfort food changed.
I must admit though, that my spaghetti Bolognese bowl of comfort has been properly trumped by a steaming hot bowl of pho, bun, or ramen. Thick vermicelli rice noodles, alongside shredded pork, spiced fish meatballs, fried baby eels (being my favorite in Hanoi) or crisp tofu topped with fresh shiso leaves and mint, and swimming in a pool of spicy aromatic broth…… Need I say more to convince you of it’s power? I was in South East Asia for 3 months, and I had a bowl of steaming hot noodle in beautiful broth for at least one meal a day. Even in the haze of humidity, I was to be found sitting on a small plastic stool, curbside, with my knees to my chin, ordering a hot bowl of noodles and broth.
A photo montage of the bowl sized comforts in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos
I recently dabbled in a bowl of comfort here in New York’s East Village, by the name of Momofuku ramen. Ramen noodles topped with slices of pork belly, shredded pork, scallions and a poached egg. All floating in a tantalizing broth, and served with my very own bottle of siracha hot sauce. I sat there, alone, at the bar of a crowded NY hotspot with my bowl of bliss and a lychee slushy, getting high from the flashbacks of Asian curbside soups. I was so entranced by this bowl that I even started to imagine that the wafts of loud conversations and Indie Rock music was actually buzzing motorbikes and songs of a non-understood language. The yolk broke open and gave the soup a richness that I had never experience before. I would have freaken’ crawled in the bowl and splashed around if it was at all socially appropriate. But I went to bed that night, feeling like this bowl of noodles had just healed me. It had not only transported me back, but it made me as comfortable with the same nostalgic appeal as the tomato rice soup that mom delivered to my bedside when sick. Needless to say, spicy Asian noodle bowls are the chicken noodle soup of my existence.
Definitely check out Momofuku if your in Manhattan or pick up the cookbook here, for a great glimpse into the genius of David Chang. And a couple of great noodle recipe from my friend's Carrie & Andy here and here. Enjoy!