Legend goes that when Marco Polo returned home after his journey to China, he brought noodles from the Oriental nation, contributing to the advent of Italian pasta. Perhaps this particular theory is not universally accepted, but an article in the October 2005 issue of British Nature magazine described the discovery of a 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles from an archaeological site in China’s northwestern province of Qinghai. While northern Chinese residents tend to use noodles as a staple, those in the central areas save noodles for special dishes rather than daily meals. During festivals and special occasions, housewives serve a variety of dishes created from wheat flour.
People in Jiangxi, my home province, produce a dried noodle, which is locally known as “oil noodle” because the addition of oil and salt help preserve it for a long time even in hot and humid weather. Still, it’s all-natural, created from home-produced flour and canola oil. Cooking it is simple too: Put oil in boiling water before the noodles, and then add chopped green onions before serving. Sometimes, cooked rice is boiled with the noodles to produce a singularly tasty mixture, which remains one of my favorite hometown treats.
My last trip home coincided with the birth of my nephew. Following local customs, my mother personally made “oil noodles” and invited all the villagers to share what is colloquially known as “happy noodles.” The endeavor required the assistance of a shelf, a holed platform, chopsticks, and a basin. After kneading oil and salt into the dough, Mom rolled it into thin strands and wound them around a pair of chopsticks before letting them sit. After a while, she hung the noodles from the shelf, which was so high that she had to use her tiptoes to reach it. One of the chopsticks rested on top of the shelf while the other hung naturally. This step stretches the noodles, which requires more skill than strength because optimum noodle elasticity requires rhythmic pulling. Seeing the process again brought my memory back to my childhood, when I often joined my mother pulling the noodles, making it a game as I watched the threads sway gently in the breeze like silk curtains.