To be perfectly honest, I've been out-noodled. After nearly three weeks on the road with noodles for breakfast (standard Chinese hotel fare) noodles for lunch (favoured street food of Yunnan) and sometimes even noodles for dinner, I am kind of at my annual noodle limit, and it's only April. Normally, I love noodles, but that's when I'm eating them in addition to other foods. There's one noodle dish though, that I had been dying to try ever since I arrived in Yunnan, probably Yunnan's most famous dish. Once I ate Crossing the Bridge Noodles, I told my noodle-fatigued family, that will be it. Promise.
Crossing the Bridge Noodles, (Guò Qiáo Mĭxiàn 过桥米线), like so many famous Chinese dishes, has a story attached. Legend goes that an Imperial scholar, distracted while studying for an important exam, exiled himself to a pavilion on a small island. Every day, his wife would walk over the bridge to the island with his lunch, but it often got cold on the way. She discovered a simple solution to the problem - if she covered the broth with a layer of oil it retained the heat much better, and she could then add the noodles to the hot broth once she arrived. The dish is named in her honour.
Experiencing a meal of Crossing the Bridge noodles is as much theatre as it is sustenance. Having ordered and paid at the front door (13 yuan ($2) for noodles with the works), we take our seats in a giant and busy restaurant. The walls are lined with checkered pink and white tiles, and dozens of diners slurp noisily at every table. Around the outside of the dining room are assorted stations, where the white-coated waiters rush to and fro to bring the various components of the meal. There is the soup station, issuing forth bowl after bowl of hot soup through a hatch in the wall; the noodle station, where small bowls of rice noodles are stacked in precarious towers on a counter; and the meat and vegetable station, with piles of tiny platters of bok choy, shredded tofu, cooked chicken pieces, slices of pork, and scallions wait to be delivered.
The waiters, about twenty or so, rush back and forth with great speed, balancing huge trays and giant soup bowls as they weave between tables, yelling orders at one another all the while. Our waiter, a very young man in a very, very grubby white coat, brings a veritable tureen of boiling broth to begin with, one for each of us, made with chicken bones and pork and covered with a thin layer of oil. The soup is scalding hot, hot enough for the restaurant to have signs warning diners to 'Mind The Soup' on every wall, but no steam rises because the oil traps it within.
Next comes an enormous tray with six separate small dishes and bowls. A tiny, freshly cracked raw quail's egg. A platter of meats - slices of pork as thin as a petal, slivers of pink sausage, and chunks of cooked chicken. A saucer of scallions. A bowl of cold white rice noodles. A saucer of bok choy, 3 leaves. A dish of pickles.
He theatrically demonstrates the technique needed for a perfect bowl. First, the quail egg goes in, mixed quickly. Next, the meats, to allow time for them to be properly cooked by the broth. Thirdly, the greens go in, and the finely shredded tofu, followed by the scallions. Last, very last, go the noodles, swirled around until the strands separate. The pickles stay separately, added as desired or eaten on their own. There is a dish of ground dried chili, and bottle of vinegar and one of soy on the table too, to be added to personal taste.
This giant bowl of noodles is a highly satisfying meal, hearty, tasty, and filling. I'm enjoying it as much as the little girl at the next table too, by all accounts. She can hardly see over the bowl, but deftly lifts the noodles with her chopsticks and slurps them into her mouth in one long, continuous schlluuuurrrp. Highly recommended, even if you think you couldn't possibly enjoy one more noodle dish ever.
The Brothers Jiang
Jiang Shi Xiong Di
Dongfeng Donglu, near Beijing Lu
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Labels: noodles, street food, Yunnan