The nature and scope of Chinese cooking available to Americans in restaurants were radically transformed during the 1970s and 1980s. The relaxing of American immigration laws allowed for increased emigration from all parts of China, especially Hong Kong and Taiwan. These newcomers brought with them their regional cooking styles and preferences, which in many ways are quite different from the Chinese-American-Cantonese ways of doing things. And they are certainly different from the accommodating Chinese-American style that most Americans were familiar with. Spicy foods, rich braised soy sauce dishes, aromatic rice wine sauces, chilli pastes and new techniques are but some of the innovations. Americans can now find Sichuan, Fukien, Hunan and Beijing restaurants in the USA, along with the familiar Cantonese establishments. A happy result of this movement is that the Cantonese restaurants are now preparing the great authentic dishes of the classical Cantonese canon and demonstrating why in China itself Cantonese cooking has for centuries been accorded pride of place.
One non-Cantonese newcomer is the Guo Bu Li restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall place in Berkeley, California. Its clientele comprises mostly struggling students and knowing faculty members who enjoy the Taiwanese style of cookery that has made the place so popular. There is no concession to the Cantonese approach, and there is a clear northern and Beijing element in its recipes. In this dish, for example, the hot bean sauce is definitely of Beijing origin, and the addition of cucumbers and bean sprouts, with their crunchiness and contrasts, lightens what might otherwise be a heavy and unimaginative bowl of noodles. Some would consider it perhaps not so much a true Chinese dish as an example of ‘California cuisine’.
Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, toss in the garlic, ginger and onion and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Dump in the pork, stirring to break up any large pieces, and continue to stir-fry for 2 minutes, or until the meat loses its pink colour. Pour in the rest of the sauce ingredients, stirring all the while. Bring the mixture to the boil and cook over a high heat for 10 minutes. Then set the sauce aside.
In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch the cucumber shreds for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain well and arrange them on one side of a large serving platter. In the same water blanch the bean sprouts for 1 minute; remove with a slotted spoon, drain and arrange on the other side of the platter. Again in the same water, cook the noodles for 3 minutes; drain in a colander. Put the noodles in the centre of the platter (with the cucumbers and bean sprouts at the sides) and toss the noodles lightly with the sesame oil. Pour the hot bean sauce on top of the noodles. Scatter the spring onions on top. Just before serving, toss the cucumbers and bean sprouts with the noodles and sauce.
© 1998 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.