Recipe: Hand-pulled longevity noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods
In the early 2010’s, if you were lucky enough to know my friend, Ping, and were then lucky enough to ever be invited to her Lunar New Year dinner, you lived a very blessed life.
Ping is a trained chef with the heart of an artist, and the spread she would make would take her days to prepare. I’m talking handmade dumplings, broths which bubbled away on her stove until they reached peak flavour, dipping sauces made from scratch, and plate after plate of delicious morsels which could cooked either by submerging them in the bubbling hot pot or sizzled on the surrounding grill plate.
I remember lying on the floor of her and Kevin’s living room after one such meal, in agonising pain due to the sheer volume of food I’d eaten, idly wondering if I could make room for some more. Her food is that good.
For this meal I didn’t set my sights even close to that high – I’m nowhere near as skilled as her, and we only have two bellies to feed in our house – but I did want to make something to mark the Lunar New Year.
Longevity noodles represent a long life and are meant to be served as one single strand. The kind of noodle (wheat, egg, etc) appears to be determined regionally, but is less important than the symbolism of a very long noodle bestowing a long life on the person eating them.
Being a voracious noodle eater, it’s wild that I’ve never attempted to make my own. I have watched in awe as chefs in the front window of Din Tai Fung make noodles and dumplings, and never made the leap to try it in my own home.
The process of making these noodles was a revelation. They need to rest a number of times (something we could all potentially learn from), and the way the dough transforms between each rest was a real surprise.
The dough is just water, flour, and salt. You do all the usual (knead, rest, knead again, rest again) and after this second rest you divide it in two, then roll each piece into long snakes. At this stage the dough was so silky – I kept exclaiming to Derek how nice it was to touch! It was soft and springy and fun to roll out.
After winding the snakes into a big spiral, coating them with oil, and placing in the fridge for another little rest, you take them out for a final rest at room temperature. And this is where the fun comes in.
I was not sure whether I’d be able to stretch the noodles in the same way I saw in the video. You loop the noodle between your fingers and then stretch your arms outwards, while swinging the strands up and down, helping them to stretch thinner while also being very careful that they don’t break (or get tangled, as you can see in the video in my Instagram post). Obviously it takes many years to perfect this method, so my biggest goal was to end up with something edible. And by all accounts, it was.
I managed to keep two very long strands, and two slightly shorter ones. I made a fairly simple veggie stir-fry to go with it, loosely based on this recipe. The noodles had a good bite and the sauce really clung to them. They were fun to eat – a little bit messy, a little bit slippery, but very, very tasty.
Wishing everyone a quiet, contemplative, peaceful, and relaxed year of the rabbit.