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Chinese Long Life Noodles
The Participant Observer Recipe of the Month is for Chinese Long Life Noodles (yī miàn, 伊面). Easy to prepare and satisfying, this dish is one of the many special foods eaten at the New Year in China.


Long Life Noodles (yi miàn, ??, aka Longevity Noodles) get their name because the noodles used are unusually long and therefore are symbolic of a long life. They are typically eaten at New Years but also eaten to celebrate the birth of a baby, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. They can also represent prosperity and good fortune. If you scour the Internet for recipes you will soon find out that there is an enormous variety of ingredients and flavorings that people use to make this noodle dish. Indeed the only common ingredient throughout is the noodles themselves. Therefore, feel free to experiment with your favorite stir-fry ingredients. Legend has it that the idea of "longevity noodles" dates to the Tang Dynasty 618 to 906 A.D. (568 - 856 BP) when times were hard and Empress Wang traded a purple shawl for a bowl of noodles which she presented to her husband on his birthday. Another story claims that the connection between long noodles and long life began during the Han Dynasty when Emperor Wudi claimed that the length of ones life was related to the length of the groove (the philtrum) below the nose was indicative of how long someone would live.

There are specific eating traditions related to long life noodles. One is that a diner will pick a noodle from his or her bowl and drop it in the bowl of someone whose birthday is being celebrated. Another is to hold a noodle up with chopsticks and comment on how long it is. One prohibition is to cut one of the noodles (as doing so would cut short your life) so it is not uncommon for diners to slurp their noodles into there mouths to avoid biting them.

The noodles are usually labeled e-fu or yi mein noodles and come either dried or fresh. This and other recipes call for shiitake mushrooms which are available either dried or fresh. To me the dry versions are too strong in taste and overwhelm a dish so I prefer the fresh ones. Pork and chicken (dark meat) are most commonly used in the dish. Another popular ingredient is Chinese Chives (aka Chinese leaks) that are thinner than regular leeks but thicker than scallions. The dish can be prepared with just the shiitaki mushrooms and Chinese Chives if you want a vegetarian dish. Oyster sauce is a common ingredient, but many recipes forego it altogether relying on either soy sauce or hoisin sauce for flavoring. English language recipes often substitute other kinds of noodles (Whole foods suggest angel-hair pasta!), but one perhaps should steer clear of really thin noodles, even if they are labeled "longevity noodles" (voice of experience talking here!). As Yi Mein noodles were out of stock, I used Pancit noodles which are similar in color and size.

Ingredients:

  • Oil for stir frying (peanut, corn or canola)
  • 1 pound of dark meat chicken cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons of fresh grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoons of crushed garlic
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxin cooking wine
  • 2 teaspoons of chili pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 package Yi Mein noodles (12 ounces dry) of 1 package of Pancit noodles
  • 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper (thinly sliced)
  • 1/2 pound snow peas (trimmed)
  • 1/2 pound Chinese chives, cut into 2-inch long pieces

Preparation:

  1. In a shallow bowl mix chicken, ginger, garlic and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. In a small bowl combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, chili flakes, white pepper and corn starch. Set aside.
  3. Cook noodles according to package directions, avoid over-cooking! Drain and set aside.
  4. Stir fry chicken in a wok until done and then place in a bowl.
  5. Add more oil to wok and stir fry shiitake mushrooms on high hear. Add a 1/4 cup of water which will speed things along and make the mushrooms delightfully tender.
  6. Add bell pepper, chives and snow peas and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes on high heat. (Note, it is impossible to overcook mushrooms!)
  7. Add cooked chicken and fully drained noodles and mix thoroughly with other ingredients.
  8. Stir the sauce you made thoroughly and then drizzle it all over the other ingredients.
  9. Thoroughly stir all the ingredients, cooking for an additional 2 - 3 minutes while you are stirring.

Here's wishing you a long life filled with good fortune!

Recipe and photo by T. Johnston-O'Neill
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