Growing up Chinese-American meant that I celebrated several extra holidays during the year. After the Christmas holidays, I could always look forward to the Chinese New Year, usually a month or two later. Indeed, as the scholars Vera and Francis Hsu write, ‘Ask any Chinese born and raised in China what she or he liked best in the days of their childhood and “Chinese New Year” is the most likely reply.’ So, within the Chinese-American community, it meant two weeks of hectic preparations followed by festive celebrations, including banquets, dinners and red packets of money for the children. Red is an auspicious colour in the Chinese tradition, always associated with happy occasions and good luck.
On the eve of Chinese New Year at home, we always dined on vegetarian noodles. In Chinese culture, vegetables are a symbol of purification, and the long noodles symbolize a long life. I was constantly admonished not to cut the noodles, for, if I did, it would surely bring bad luck. In any case, this noodle dish is delectable and easy to make; it’s a terrific side dish or snack.
Tianjin preserved cabbage is available in ceramic crocks or glass jars from Chinese grocers or supermarkets.
Soak the rice noodles in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain well and set aside.
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 preserved cabbage, garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 1 minute. Then pour in the rice wine and spoon in the chilli bean sauce, soy sauces, sugar and stock. Chuck in the noodles, mix well, reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes over a low heat. Stir in the sesame oil.
Transfer the noodles to a large bowl or platter. Scatter the spring onions and coriander over them and serve at once.
© 1998 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.