I forgot to eat again. Here I wrote about getting out and about in the last issue, and here it was cold again. Being stupidly optimistic, I only wore four layers and was beginning to shake. Then I remembered that at this time on a typical Saturday I usually left the office to get a bowl of lamian. It’s only 4 kuai for a bowl and when I drink all the broth I get this cold-beating warmth. I left and after a few stretches and bangs on the table, the guy served me up the goodness. It’s cool because at this time every week there is always a movie on TV. This week it was Alien, and Sigourney Weaver was running away from the beast with that little girl in her arms. I hadn’t seen the movie in a long time and it got me thinking. The guy was serving freshly made noodles. Why couldn’t he offer a few different varieties? Instead of doing just the normal type, he could branch out. He could do a garlic sauce with spinach. He could have one with mushrooms and cracked red pepper. One could be thicker, and one could be really thin. It would be great. In Lanzhou, do people really only eat one type of noodles? We’d just have to hire around five noodle pullers, some waiters, a cashier, a few prep guys and some others to clean. It would be lavish on the inside. There would be cool-looking rugs to sit on, and the clean kitchen would be open for everyone to see the guys making all sorts of noodles. Sauces would be on a kind of heated salad bar, and funky music would be on in the background. I would have to warn everyone to call in advance if they wanted a guaranteed seat. I was warm. The ideas were flowing.The broth was hot.
Once a guy who I used to work with asked me if I could find out how the lamian guys made their broth. I asked, wrote it down and told him, but he said he could never get it the same; he couldn’t get close. This month, I warn you all that you can’t. That guy came back a couple of years ago. He surprised me in our office and of course, the first thing he wanted to do was to have a bowl of his favorite noodles. Over a couple, and over a couple of hours, we shared stories from two different worlds. Had we been in some lavish restaurant, we might have been complaining about the price. He might have been disappointed that they’d run out of his lobster bisque. I could have been grouchy because we’d waited so long to get in. We would have argued over who paid the bill. I can’t remember who actually dropped the ten on that October night after the two of us hadn’t seen each other for so long. You’ve got to love the places that make you dream. The kind that let friends talk about what they want to talk about without reservation or fear of not being accepted. They’re neither clean nor dirty, not big or small, nor cheap nor expensive. Sometimes they’re not even places. Could it really be a simple broth that makes me feel so good? Maybe it’s not that simple after all. If I ever do open up that restaurant, I’ll make sure we wash the place with the stuff each and every night. Maybe I’ll try that recipe again.
By Tim Hoerle