(CNN) — It is practically Lunar New Yr, and Johnny Mui is lastly smiling.
After observing empty tables for the final two years due to the pandemic, the proprietor of New York’s Hop Lee restaurant says enterprise is slowly recovering.
Mui joined the 48-year-old Chinatown institution in 2005 as an worker — after dropping every part to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans — and took over in 2018.
“Every Lunar New Year, almost every table would order our longevity noodles,” he says. “Good looking and better tasting, they symbolize luck, too.”
What are longevity noodles?
This yr, Lunar New Yr falls on January 22, however celebrations happen over a number of days — collectively known as the Spring Competition. Conventional rituals, meals included, are full of symbolism.
Longevity noodles symbolize lengthy life. In response to custom, the chef cannot lower the noodle strands, and every strand must be eaten entire — no breaking it earlier than you eat it.
However that is the place the consensus ends.
A preferred dish in China, longevity noodles is likely to be thick, skinny, flat or crispy — however they’re at all times lengthy. In Hong Kong, the place the fried e-fu noodle is king, one manufacturing facility has ramped up manufacturing by 30% to fulfill the demand at Lunar New Yr.
At Hop Lee, longevity noodles are synonymous with yi mein, often known as e-fu noodles. These chewy and spongy Cantonese egg wheat strands are dried, deep-fried and consumed all yr lengthy, particularly on particular events like birthdays and through the Spring Competition.
Hop Lee’s lobster longevity noodles recipe has been handed down for many years. The yi mein noodles are braised with seasonings and shiitake mushrooms. The lobsters are stir-fried with fermented salted black beans, eggs, minced meats, ginger and scallions.
“Then we put the lobsters on top of the noodles, and the juice trickles down. It’s so delicious. Even my son loves it — he’d ask me to prepare the dish for his school parties,” says Mui.
“Our biang biang noodles are definitely among them,” says Wang.
Made with wheat flour and water, the dough is pulled and lower into lengthy, flat and large belt-like noodles.
“The most traditional way is actually to just put aromatics like scallions and garlic, along with freshly-ground red chili powder on top of the noodles, sear it with vegetable oil and dress it with soy sauce and black rice vinegar. We call these Spicy Hot-Oil Seared Hand-Ripped Noodles,” Wang tells CNN Journey.
Early Chinese language immigrants in the USA had been predominantly Cantonese, which explains why yi mein is commonly what many Chinese language People take into account longevity noodles.
However regional cuisines, like dishes from Xi’an, have been popping up and diversifying the choices in latest a long time.
“Yi mein are Cantonese noodles, so they are different from what we’d eat, but the symbolism of longevity is shared,” says Wang.
“The exact type of noodles varies, but the idea remains ‘long noodles for long life,’ and any long noodles serve that purpose.”
Johnny Mui, proprietor and supervisor of New York’s Hop Lee Restaurant, says lobster yi mein is their hottest Lunar New Yr dish.
“We are busiest before Lunar New Year because more parties and gatherings are going on at this time, and people eat e-fu noodles, or longevity noodles, on these occasions,” says Tang Pui-sum, second-generation director of the household enterprise.
As for why e-fu noodles are a well-liked selection for Cantonese, Tang says it comes right down to high quality.
“In the Guangdong region, people use e-fu noodles to treat their family and friends on special occasions because they are considered better — it takes more steps to make, and the ingredients are better. It’s also unique because e-fu noodles are deep-fried, which sets them apart from other noodles in northern China.”
The origins of longevity noodles
So now that the problem of what counts as a long life noodle is settled — quick reply: just about any noodle so long as it is, nicely, lengthy — an necessary query stays: who determined that consuming lengthy noodles can lengthen one’s life?
Most — if not all — blogs and web sites hint the historical past of longevity noodles again to Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (ruling from 141-87 BCE), who informed his ministers that he heard that if one had a protracted face, one would have a protracted life.
As he could not change the size of his face, the emperor determined to eat lengthy noodles as a result of the phrase for noodle sounds just like the phrase for face in Chinese language. The customized then unfold past the palace to the remainder of the nation.
Lengthy noodles symbolize lengthy life in Chinese language tradition.
We consulted two meals historians for his or her ideas on the folks story — they usually aren’t shopping for that story.
“The Han Dynasty was the time when the development of China’s noodle culture flourished,” says Zhao Rongguan, a number one scholar in China who has been writing about Chinese language meals historical past and tradition for the final 4 a long time.
“It was the era that laid the foundations and techniques of modern-day noodles. But to say that Emperor Wu was why we have longevity noodles, I’d say it’s ridiculous internet heresy.”
Chen Yuanpeng, a professor at Taiwan’s Nationwide Dong Hwa College who specializes within the historical past of Chinese language meals, determined to seek the advice of his colleagues too when requested by CNN Journey to share his tackle longevity noodles.
“I called Mr. Wang Renxiang (a Chinese archaeologist who specializes in food culture) and Mr. Naomichi Ishige (a Japanese food historian and anthropologist). Both are Chinese noodle experts; neither know how longevity noodles and the story came about,” says Chen.
Employees take away longevity noodles from racks after they’ve dried within the solar at a manufacturing facility in Thailand.
Brent Lewin/Bloomberg/Getty Pictures
The professor says he spent a number of days scouring outdated texts and books. Lastly, he discovered a scripture highlighting the dialog between Emperor Wu and his minister, Dong Fangshuo, in one of many historic Dunhuang bianwen texts — a sequence of melodic folktales written through the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907) to unfold the teachings of Buddhism.
“In the bianwen, the discussion about the length of the face between Emperor Wu and his minister ended without mentioning noodles at all. The correlation between noodles and long life was probably added and fabricated later,” Chen speculates.
“But we can’t dismiss the story — even if it probably was just a myth. It’s been shared so many times that many believe it; it has also become a part of the culture and history of longevity noodles, which has been documented for more than 1,000 years.”
The best way to eat longevity noodles
Even the methods longevity noodles are consumed fluctuate drastically relying on the placement.
They’re additionally eaten in different Asian international locations that commemorate Lunar New Yr, like Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia.
Throughout Lunar New Yr, South Koreans favor consuming japchae (Korean stir-fried glass noodles). Their longevity noodles, known as janchi-guksu, are reserved for weddings and birthdays.
Chinese language communities in Singapore and Malaysia typically use misua (wheat vermicelli) as longevity noodles — however “prosperity toss,” a mixture of colourful shredded greens and uncooked fish, is a extra common Lunar New Yr dish.
When consuming longevity noodles, one should take care to not chew or break the strand.
Visible China Group/Getty Pictures
Though Japan follows the Gregorian calendar as an alternative of the Lunar calendar, they, too, have a customized of consuming noodles for the brand new yr. Toshikoshi Soba, or year-crossing soba noodles, are eaten on New Yr’s Eve for good luck.
“In the northern side of China, some people still follow the old way of eating longevity noodles,” says Zhao.
“When the noodles arrive, the guests would stand up. They’ll pick up some noodles from the bowl, pull them up over their head theatrically with a pair of chopsticks, bring the noodles to their faces and slurp them in one go with a happy face. It’s a way to express their gratitude to the host.”
He provides that long-life noodles ought to have the size and tenacity to outlive a powerful chopstick pull.
Why are they so common in North America?
So now that we have established that types of longevity noodles fluctuate drastically and their again story is murky at greatest, absolutely everybody agrees on when they need to be eaten?
Nope. Whereas longevity noodles — irrespective of which kind — are a well-liked Lunar New Yr dish amongst Chinese language communities in North America, some argue they don’t seem to be even a conventional Spring Competition meals in China.
This should not come as a shock, given the sheer dimension of the nation and its many regional cuisines and traditions.
“I don’t think my family would have longevity noodles during Lunar New Year,” says Chen, whose household moved to Taiwan from Tianjin in northern China.
“But I did make a bowl of da lu mian (northern-style braised noodles with minced meat, mushrooms and an egg) as longevity noodles for my mother’s birthday last year. I have always only associated longevity noodles with birthdays but not Lunar New Year.”
Then again, Zhao asserts that noodles are nonetheless a well-liked Lunar New Yr customized, particularly in northern China.
“Longevity noodles are part of the traditional culture for Chinese celebrations … During the important Lunar New Year festival, we, of course, must have noodles,” he says.
“The traditional custom is to have dumplings on the first day and noodles on the second day (of the Lunar calendar). Then, we eat noodles on the 7th, 17th and 27th day (of the Lunar month), representing the big days for children, adults and the elderly, respectively.”
As for why many Chinese language People primarily affiliate the custom with Lunar New Yr, Zhao provides this principle: “When people drift away from their ancestral roots, they may not feel their identity for the rest of the year, but during festivals, the love for their culture would explode.
“Typically, the diploma of continuity and symbolism of 1’s tradition in a diaspora neighborhood would exceed that of the native.”