A traditional way of making noodles

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Many Chinese cooks, particularly in the northern provinces, have kept alive the traditional method of making long noodles by swinging them by hand. Yan-Kit So (1992) gives the following description of making noodles by hand:

The noodle master who knows the Way follows five distinct procedures. First, he adds cold water to strong flour, makes it into a smooth dough and leaves it for several hours or overnight. Second, he throws the dough on a hard work-top many times in order to strengthen the gluten before he rolls it out into a tubular dough. Third, with each hand holding one end of the dough, he picks it up as high as his own shoulder level and starts to stretch and elongate it horizontally, yet without letting it break in the centre. He puts it down, folds it back to more or less the original length, then takes it up again to repeat the rhythmic ‘dancing’ of the dough. This he repeats many times until he knows it is strong and elastic enough for him to proceed to the next step. Fourth, away from the work-top, he stretches the dough even longer, so long that it falls to form a semi-circle. Just as the onlooker holds his breath lest the dough fall to the floor, the noodle master, with one hand and great dexterity, swiftly passes one end of the dough to the other hand and, in the course of doing so, causes the semi-circle to twist into a rope hanging in mid-air. With both hands, he stretches out the rope again and repeats the rope-twisting several times until he feels that the dough is at last inherently strong and outwardly smooth enough for the splitting, the ultimate step that turns the dough into strands of noodles. Fifth, he places the rope back on the work-top and begins the splitting procedure. Magically, holding the ends in a special way and folding them back and forth, he splits the dough, doubling the strands every time. From 1 to 2, then 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256; in eight splittings, he has a very impressive spread of individual noodles strands which he hangs across a thin bamboo pole to the thunderous applause of his audience. The action from dancing the dough to splitting it into noodle strands takes a consummate master about fifteen minutes, but it takes him about two years before he succeeds in harnessing the spontaneous energy to perform it.