One of my favourite pastimes is grocery shopping, especially at the Asian supermarkets where I can spend a long time just looking through all the different sauces, condiments, snacks and instant noodles imported from every part of Asia one can think of. It pleases me to see that a growing number of local Australians (or non-Asians) have started becoming more adventurous in their grocery shopping. Just last weekend, we spotted a blonde-haired teenage girl stuffing her trolley with 24 packets of Korean Jjajangmyun! I hope she wasn't planning to cook everything and bring it for a Korean-themed potluck dinner.
I recently discovered a new variety of instant noodles called Wuhan Hot and Dry Noodles, manufactured by a Chinese company named "Gofar". I have never heard of nor tried actual Wuhan Hot and Dry Noodles before, and so I was curious to find out what was so special about it. The noodles come with 3 sachets of sauces - soy sauce, chilli sauce and sesame paste. There is also a sachet of dehydrated vegetables that you cook together with the noodles. The sauces are then mixed together with the cooked noodles with a little water, which makes a nice little gravy that sits at the bottom of the bowl under the noodles. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted (for instant noodles) because it had a nutty flavour from the sesame paste (tastes a little like peanut butter!) and a "gritty" chilli paste which added some heat and texture to the noodles.
And so, as I often do with new food discoveries, I decided to replicate these noodles using similar ingredients (see recipe below) and it turned out pretty well! The main ingredient is sesame paste (I bought it from the Asian supermarket, and I suppose you could use tahini too), chilli oil, soy sauce and scallions. The addition of ground Sichuan peppercorns gives it a slight smoky flavour that seems to make the dish taste more authentic, in my opinion.
If you google Wuhan Hot and Dry Noodles (which is literally translated from the Chinese name "Re Gan Mian"), there appears to be a little story surrounding the origins of these noodles.
In 1930s or so, there was a person from Wuhan who made a living by selling bean noodles and noodles in soup. One day, worried that the noodles left over would go bad, he fished out the cooked noodles, spread them over the chopping board, and accidentally pushed down the sauce boat with sesame oil. As a result, the noodles were covered with the sesame oil. The next day, he scalded the almost cooked noodles in boiled water for a while, fished them out into a bowl, and mixed them with shallot and other condiments. The noodles turned out to be extremely tasty and savory. In this way, the man invented the hot dry noodles now well-known all over China by accident. [Source: Cultural China]
Here is my version of Re Gan Mian:
Makes 1 serving
120g (4 oz) fresh Shanghai noodles (La Mien)
1 scallion/spring onion, finely chopped
1 cabbage leaf (optional)
3 inch carrot, julienned or diced (optional)
1 tsp sesame oil, extra
1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1/4 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns (or to taste)
1 tbsp Chinese sesame paste
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
3/4 tsp Chinese black vinegar (or to taste)
1/2 tsp sugar
A pinch of salt, to taste
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp chilli oil (or to taste)
1/3 cup hot water
1 tsp Tean's crispy prawn chilli (or substitute with XO sauce or other chilli paste if you prefer)
- Bring a large pot of water together with a 1/2 tsp salt to the boil. Blanch the cabbage leaf for 2 minutes or until tender. Remove and dice into short strips. Next, blanch the carrots (or you can microwave the carrots in a bowl with 1 tbsp hot water until cooked) in the same pot and remove with a strainer. Place in a bowl and set aside.
- Place noodles in the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes or until just cooked.
- In the meantime, combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and mix well until dissolved.
- Once noodles are cooked, remove them with a pair of tongs or strainer. Rinse the noodles with cold running tap water to remove excess starch. Dip noodles briefly in the same pot of hot water just to reheat the noodles. Remove the noodles and place them in a shallow serving bowl. Add 1 tsp sesame oil and toss to coat. Pour the sauce mixture over the noodles and sprinkle with Sichuan pepper. Toss for half a minute until the noodles are well-coated in the sauce. The sauce will gradually start to thicken. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, chopped scallions, cabbage and carrots. Serve immediately.