Savoury Bean Thread Noodles

Growing up Chinese-American, I was convinced very early in my life that Chinese mothers can quickly put together a delicious and satisfying dish with what seems to be a paltry amount of ingredients. In primary school, when I read the folktale ‘Stone Soup’, it reminded me of the magic my mother appeared to work in our kitchen.

Later I learned that Chinese cuisine has a number of dry ingredients that need just a bit of soaking to create a substantial amount of food, with which a savoury dish can be quickly concocted and stir-fried.

This is one of the many dishes my mother would make, especially when she was in a hurry. With a small amount of pork, she would create this mouth-watering dish that goes perfectly with rice.

Her secret ingredient was bean thread noodles, also popularly known as transparent or cellophane noodles. As with noodles in general, they expand prodigiously when added to water. They are delightfully light, finely white, almost transparent noodles. Because they are dried, and therefore keep indefinitely, there was always a supply of these noodles in our larder.

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  • 115 g (4 oz) dried bean thread noodles
  • 1 tablespoon groundnut oil
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 225 g (8 oz) minced pork
  • 240 ml (8 fl oz) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped spring onions, to garnish


Soak the noodles in a large bowl of warm water for 15 minutes. When they are soft, drain them and discard the water. Cut the noodles into 7.5 cm (3 in) lengths, using scissors or a knife.

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, add the garlic and stir-fry quickly for 15 seconds. Then chuck in the pork and stir-fry, breaking up the meat, for 3 minutes. Pour in the stock, rice wine, oyster sauce, soy sauces, salt and pepper and cook the mixture over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes. Now toss in the drained noodles and the sesame oil and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Ladle onto a platter, sprinkle the spring onions on top and serve at once with rice.