Soup noodles are the great wayfarer’s snack and street food of China—a meal in a bowl, combining the slippery fun of noodles and the warm nourishment of soup. Travelers record the soup noodles they had in this or that province, students nearly always live on soup noodles from a favorite stall, and my favorite Chinese detective hero,
Prepare the shrimp purée. If you are working in advance, seal airtight with a piece of plastic film pressed directly on the surface and refrigerate until use, overnight if desired. Bring to room temperature before frying.
Cook, drain, and water-chill the noodles. They will simmer an additional 2 minutes in the soup, so drain them when they are still a trifle underdone. Shake off excess water and toss gently with 2 teaspoons sesame oil and 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, using your hands to coat and separate each strand. Oiled, the noodles may be bagged airtight and refrigerated 1–2 days. Bring to room temperature before using.
Blanch the greens in plain boiling water to cover until deep green and tender-crisp. Probable times are snow peas 10 seconds, string beans 20 seconds, longbeans 30 seconds and broccoli 15–20 seconds. Test to be sure. Miniature cabbages, spinach, and watercress should be blanched only 5 seconds. When done, drain promptly and plunge immediately under cold water to stop the cooking. Lightly pat the firmer vegetables dry. Gently press the spinach and watercress between your palms to extract excess moisture. If you are working more than several hours in advance, set the vegetables aside on a plate, seal airtight, and refrigerate, overnight if desired. Bring to room temperature and drain off any liquids before using.
(For details on steaming and how to improvise a steamer.)
About an hour before serving, shape, deep-fry and drain the shrimp balls. However, remove the shrimp balls from the oil when they are only lightly golden, about 1½ minutes. Frying gives color and texture and will not cook them through.
Once drained, transfer the shrimp balls in one layer to a Pyrex pie plate or heatproof quiche plate at least 1 inch smaller in diameter than your steamer. Combine the stock with the soy and wine, then add enough to the plate to come ⅓ of the way up the shrimp balls. If your steamer is not big enough to hold the single plate, then steam the shrimp balls on two tiers or in two batches, and divide the stock mixture in half.
Bring the water for steaming to a gushing boil over high heat, put the shrimp balls in place, and reduce the heat to medium-high to maintain a strong, steady steam. Cover, and steam the shrimp balls for 15 minutes. Remove them carefully from the steamer, if you like first siphoning off the juices with a bulb-top baster. Do not lose a drop.
While the shrimp balls steam, put 4 large soup bowls or 6–8 rice bowls in a low oven to warm. Put the remaining stock in a non-aluminum pot large enough to accommodate the noodles and steaming juices. Cover the pot and set the heat to low.
When the shrimp balls are done, add the steaming juices to the stockpot and stir to blend. Bring the liquids to a simmer, then add the noodles, carrots, and ham. Poke the noodles under the liquid, stir gently to mix, then adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and simmer for 2 minutes. While the soup is simmering, divide the shrimp balls and greens among the bowls, clustering them to one side to leave room for the noodles and fluffing the spinach or watercress to loosen.
As soon as the 2 minutes are up, remove the pot from the heat. Taste the stock and adjust with pepper-salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Using chopsticks or tongs, portion the noodles among the bowls, nesting them in the empty comer between the shrimp balls and the greens. Then pour the soup gently on top.
Serve at once. This is an “eating soup,” and chopsticks and small Chinese ladles (or soup spoons if you like) are the traditional utensils with which to retrieve the goods and sip from the bowl.
Leftovers may be resteamed in a covered bowl until hot, but this soup is best freshly made.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.