Noodles from Nanning: There are certain combinations of flavors that just work.
Basil and tomato. Apples and cinnamon. Kombu, shitake, and dried fish.
Cilantro, lime, and chilis. Stuff that’s beloved worldwide for a good reason.
And today? We wanted to introduce you to another combination that we believe belongs in that same illustrious league: the Laoyou, or “ol’ buddy” flavor profile.
Hailing from the city of Nanning in the center of Guangxi, it’s most commonly seen in noodle or rice noodle soup form, and is a mix of garlic, douchi, a.k.a. Chinese fermented black beans, fermented chili sauce, and pickled bamboo shoots.
Together, they are more than the sum of their parts – it’s an aggressively delicious combination that not only works for noodles but is also something that you can totally get creative with.
Now, in Nanning, there’s definitely a bit of mythology surrounding the genesis of this flavor profile the only thing that people can seem to agree on is that it was serendipitously invented using relatively random ingredients from the cupboard.
Our favorite story revolves around a likely apocryphal teahouse – the story goes that the teahouse had a beloved regular – you know, the sort of customer that blurs that line between friends.
There was one week when the owner of the establishment noticed that his regular hadn’t come in for a few days, and inquired about his whereabouts.
Apparently, the customer was bedridden, battling a bad cold, and so the teahouse owner decided to go over and whip up
a hot soup for their old buddy using what he could find in his buddy’s pantry.
The specific mix of chili and pickled bamboo apparently made the sick customer completely sweat out his cold, and he was able to come out to the teahouse the next day.
Now, obviously, don’t hold us to any of claims of restorative properties, but what we can promise is that this soup is absolutely
delicious, and not overly difficult to boot.
Before we get into it though, let’s swing back to those primary components, because I can already hear some echoes of ‘but Chris! Steph!
I don’t think I can find pickled bamboo shoots!”.
Which, like a fair point. See, this is suansun – sour bamboo shoot – a mildly stinky shoot that gets both its sourness and its depth
And while we’d love to teach you how to make it one day, as far as I know, it’s just as impossible to get fresh bamboo shoot outside of China anyway.
That said, what is available outside of China is this stuff – packaged pickled bamboo shoots.
They’re a little more piquant and missing a bit of funk, but have the advantage of being super available on both Amazon and Wee, and they can totally work in a pinch.
The second ingredient we’re subbing today – what would be a Guangxi-style fermented chili sauce.
Now, luckily this stuff is basically just the standard mix of fermented chilis, garlic, and ginger so we’ll be swapping in the actually-internationally available Hunan duo jiao, a.k.a. chopped chilis.
And if you happen to find any Guizhou zaolajiao pickled chili?
That’d be even closer.
Last sourcing bit – douchi, fermented black soybeans.
Easy enough, these are super available pretty much everywhere under the name Yangjiang Preserved Beans – n’ ginger version is also ok.
Great ingredient, recommended having around.
So. High-level overview time. First, you’ll prep your bamboo shoots by giving them a squeeze, slice, and a quick toast.
Then you’ll mince up some garlic and do so together with the douchi, and – because we’re doing noodles today – separately boil your noodles to about al dente.
Then, we’ll prep a bit of meat – today, some lean pork together with a bit of liver, and give it a quick marinade.
After that, we’ll prep a simple little sauce for our soup, and then make said soup by frying the pork, our laoyou holy trinity, adding in the sauce together with some stock.
Then we’ll just finish it off with our liver and noodles, and that’s pretty much it.
So. Right, Bamboo shoots. Here we’re using this package – again, totally available on Amazon and probably your local Chinese supermarket – four sticks to a serving.
Give it a squeeze and a julienne, and then a quick toast.
This was just a dry wok over a medium-high flame quickly toasted until dry and ever so slightly charred or about two minutes.
Next up. Three cloves of garlic – just give that a quick mince, and chop it up together with a half tablespoon of those douchi black beans… and, set those aside.
Now, let’s talk about some noodles.
Today we’ll be using a bit of fresh alkaline egg noodles, which are a traditional choice for the dish – BUT don’t let this be a barrier for you to make the soup.
Another classic choice at noodle shops in Nanning is rice noodles, and Guangxi rice noodles are super similar to Vietnamese rice noodles, so some Pho noodles would also work great.
But really, use what’s convenient – Cantonese wonton noodles would also be great, ditto with Japanese ramen noodles and if push comes to shove, some instant ramen noodles certainly wouldn’t be bad.
Just cook your noodles of choice according to your package of choice – for us using fresh noodles this was just a quick 30-second dip in hot water together with another quick dip in cool water to stop the cooking process, we’ll be finishing these in our soup, so roughly al dente is perfect.
Then pork – just a bit, optional for any vegetarians in the room, 40 grams worth to a serving, cut into thin sheets then marinated with 1/8 tsp salt, ¼ tsp sugar, ½ tsp cornstarch, 1/8 tsp soy sauce, ¼ tsp liaojiu a.k.a. Shaoxing wine, mixed well then coated with about a ½ tsp oil.
Then for the pork liver, this was also 40 grams worth also cut into thin sheets, also mixed with the same marinade, and if pork liver’s difficult for you to find, feel free to just double the aforementioned pork quantity and marinade instead.
Then lastly? Sauce. Convenient enough to prep ahead, this was just one tablespoon of soy sauce, one tablespoon rice vinegar, one teaspoon oyster sauce, ¼ tsp sugar, and 1/8 tsp each salt and chicken bouillon powder, and a sprinkle of white pepper powder.
Mix well, set aside, and now we can make our soup.
So. To some sort of cooking vessel whose seasoning you won’t annihilate with a sour soup, toss in about a half tablespoon lard, or whatever, and over a medium flame toss in your pork.
Fry that til cooked, or about one minute, then remove.
Now go in with another half tablespoon lard – or whatever – and still over a medium flame add in your chopped garlic douchi mixture together with a half tablespoon of the fermented chopped chilis.
Quick mix, then in with the bamboo shoots.
Another quick mix, then in with your prepared sauce.
Fry all that together for about fifteen seconds, then pour in 600mL of stock – here we’re using pork stock, but chicken or vegetarian would also be great.
Now let that all come up to a boil, add back in your pork, and also toss in the liver – liver’s added at the very end so as not to overcook.
After a quick 15 sections, toss back in your noodles, cook it all together for about another thirty seconds, and out.
Sprinkle over a generous amount of sliced scallion and with your old buddy noodles are done.
So as we already talked about in the articles, you can do a lot of things with this soup base.
You can use so many different kinds of noodles, some shops wouldn’t even use stock, they would just use lard and fry up some minced pork at the beginning.
And some would even add tomatoes to it, which we aren’t a big fan of. The point is, this base is very versatile, you can do whatever you want with it, so just go have fun and play.
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