Sunday, July 15, 2012

Old Friend Noodles

You have to love a food with a good back-story. Regardless of the story's historical veracity, it adds a fun context for a dish. The signature street food in Nanning, Guangxi—Old Friend Noodles (老友粉) (lao you fen)—happens to be a food with a fun little back-story to it. The story, as told to me by my friend Tiantian, goes something like this:
A long time ago, a man named Zhou owned a tea shop. Every day for many years an old man came to drink tea and soon became friends with Zhou. One day, the old man didn't come to the tea shop. Zhou went to the man's house and found him deathly ill. Wanting to do something for his ailing friend, Zhou went back to his tea house and whipped up a dish of rice noodles, bamboo shoots, garlic, fermented beans, chili, beef, and peppers. He ran back to the old man's house and fed him the noodle dish. Miraculously, the noodles cured the man of his illness and he lived or many more years. Zhou's dish became legendary in Nanning for its healing properties and is now a staple throughout the city.
I don't know if that story has any basis in reality or not, but I don't think that matters. It's a nice origin tale for a yummy dish. These days, the dish looks like this:

The rice noodles are long and slippery, like fettuccine. The noodles are soft when the dish is served, and they slither right down your throat with ease. As you can see here, they do tend to clump together, so you'll have to do some good old fashioned Chinese noodle slurping.

The soup base is oily and moderately spicy. To my mind, the bamboo is the most distinctive feature of this dish. The bamboo slices are a bit sour and add a firmer texture to the dish.

It's worth noting that locals do believe that the old friend noodles have some salubrious properties, possibly attributable to the spicy chili opening up your pores (although there are much spicier dishes available nearby if you're trying that theory out).

This dish shouldn't cost you more than about 10 yuan. It's available all over the city, but the best is in the fantastic night market on Zhongshan Lu. The bottom line? If you are looking for a warm, hearty meal with a neat history, this will fill the bill (and you).


Jarek said...

Old Friend noodles, the best in the world. I lived in Nanning for one year and eat them almost every week. I miss them so much.

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