Tuesday, October 6, 2015

M.Y. China's Vegetarian Longevity Noodle Soup Is One (Noodle) For The Aged, If Not One For The Ages

I've been spinning my wheels on getting my new blog going, and today is National Noodle Day, so I feel I owe the cosmos a noodle report before another day goes by. The subject was easy enough to come by; I was just reminded, by a discussion in the essential new foodie forum, hungryonion.org, that a soup featuring yi gen mian, a noodle form I had yet to experience on this side of the Pacific, was on the menu at Martin Yan's M.Y. China. I'd forgotten that I knew this already, probably because the dish in question had "Vegetarian" in its name: Vegetarian Longevity Noodle Soup. It's described on M.Y. China's menu as having "wild seasonal mushrooms, braised tofu" and the tipoff is in its Chinese name, sù yī gēn tāng miàn.

Yi gen mian translates roughly "single strand noodle" and refers to a very long noodle made by continuously pulling from a thicker  noodle "rope" until it yields a single noodle long enough to fill a bowl (of whatever size) of soup.  There's a description and a short video of the process at a Singapore noodle shop in the excellent but sadly no longer active blog La Mian World.

In Chinese culture, noodles symbolize long life because they are, well, long, and consequently have a close association with birthdays. By the same logic, a very long noodle promises extra longevity mojo, a fact not wasted on me in the run-up to my 74th birthday later this month. It's always wise to hedge one's bets.

I ordered my Vegetarian Longevity Noodle Soup along with a side of pork and cabbage pot stickers (probably because I didn't want to me mistaken for a vegetarian) and a pot of pu'er tea. My noodles, or noodle, when they/it came were of a pale green color, for reasons not specified on the menu (the dreaded spinach, no doubt). It did appear to be one noodle; I found one end, but not the other. It was  udon-like in girth, but lacking in firmness,  like the dish described in the Singapore blog.  The broth was mild and of course vegetal, inhabited as it was by a menagerie of wild fungi, thin tiles of aged tofu, and a bit of carrot for color.

My pot stickers were tasty, if not exceptional, but the dipping sauce they came with provided an unexpected bonus. It was nicely spicy, and dumping the excess into my soup broth transformed something bland into something I was happy to drain from my bowl. (At M.Y. China you will not find condiments at the ready, and I did not think to bring my own chili sauce.)

The Vegetarian Longevity Noodle Soup was the least satisfying of the noodle dishes I have had at M.Y. China to date, in the consistency of the noodles as well as in the broth and toppings. It's their  least expensive dish, however, and perhaps something a vegetarian would write home about.

Where slurped: M.Y. China, Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market Street

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