(CNN) — It is practically Lunar New 12 months, and Johnny Mui is lastly smiling.
After gazing 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 shedding every part to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans — and took over in 2018.
“Each Lunar New 12 months, virtually each desk would order our longevity noodles,” he says. “Good wanting and higher tasting, they symbolize luck, too.”
What are longevity noodles?
This 12 months, Lunar New 12 months falls on January 22, however celebrations happen over a number of days — collectively known as the Spring Pageant. Conventional rituals, meals included, are stuffed with symbolism.
Longevity noodles symbolize lengthy life. Based on custom, the chef cannot minimize the noodle strands, and every strand must be eaten complete — no breaking it earlier than you eat it.
However that is the place the consensus ends.
A preferred dish in China, longevity noodles may 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 satisfy the demand at Lunar New 12 months.
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 12 months lengthy, particularly on particular events like birthdays and through the Spring Pageant.
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 prime of the noodles, and the juice trickles down. It is so scrumptious. Even my son loves it — he’d ask me to arrange the dish for his faculty events,” says Mui.
“Our biang biang noodles are undoubtedly amongst them,” says Wang.
Made with wheat flour and water, the dough is pulled and minimize into lengthy, flat and large belt-like noodles.
“Essentially the most conventional method is definitely to only put aromatics like scallions and garlic, together with freshly-ground purple chili powder on prime of the noodles, sear it with vegetable oil and gown it with soy sauce and black rice vinegar. We name these Spicy Scorching-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 Individuals take into account longevity noodles.
However regional cuisines, like dishes from Xi’an, have been popping up and diversifying the choices in latest many years.
“Yi mein are Cantonese noodles, so they’re totally different from what we would eat, however the symbolism of longevity is shared,” says Wang.
“The precise sort of noodles varies, however the concept stays ‘lengthy noodles for lengthy life,’ and any lengthy noodles serve that objective.”
Johnny Mui, proprietor and supervisor of New York’s Hop Lee Restaurant, says lobster yi mein is their hottest Lunar New 12 months dish.
“We’re busiest earlier than Lunar New 12 months as a result of extra events and gatherings are occurring at the moment, and other people eat e-fu noodles, or longevity noodles, on these events,” says Tang Pui-sum, second-generation director of the household enterprise.
As for why e-fu noodles are a well-liked alternative for Cantonese, Tang says it comes all the way down to high quality.
“Within the Guangdong area, individuals use e-fu noodles to deal with their household and associates on particular events as a result of they’re thought-about higher — it takes extra steps to make, and the components are higher. It is also distinctive as a result of e-fu noodles are deep-fried, which units them aside from different noodles in northern China.”
The origins of longevity noodles
So now that the difficulty of what counts as a long life noodle is settled — quick reply: just about any noodle so long as it is, effectively, lengthy — an vital query stays: who determined that consuming lengthy noodles can prolong 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 instructed 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 people story — they usually aren’t shopping for that story.
“The Han Dynasty was the time when the event of China’s noodle tradition 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 many years.
“It was the period that laid the foundations and strategies of modern-day noodles. However to say that Emperor Wu was why now we have longevity noodles, I might say it is ridiculous web 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 referred to as Mr. Wang Renxiang (a Chinese language archaeologist who focuses on meals tradition) and Mr. Naomichi Ishige (a Japanese meals historian and anthropologist). Each are Chinese language noodle consultants; neither know the way longevity noodles and the story took place,” says Chen.
Staff take away longevity noodles from racks after they’ve dried within the solar at a manufacturing facility in Thailand.
Brent Lewin/Bloomberg/Getty Photos
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.
“Within the bianwen, the dialogue in regards to the size of the face between Emperor Wu and his minister ended with out mentioning noodles in any respect. The correlation between noodles and lengthy life was in all probability added and fabricated later,” Chen speculates.
“However we won’t dismiss the story — even when it in all probability was only a delusion. It has been shared so many occasions that many imagine it; it has additionally change into part of the tradition and historical past of longevity noodles, which has been documented for greater than 1,000 years.”
The way to eat longevity noodles
Even the methods longevity noodles are consumed range significantly relying on the situation.
They’re additionally eaten in different Asian nations that commemorate Lunar New 12 months, like Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia.
Throughout Lunar New 12 months, South Koreans desire consuming japchae (Korean stir-fried glass noodles). Their longevity noodles, referred to as janchi-guksu, are reserved for weddings and birthdays.
Chinese language communities in Singapore and Malaysia usually use misua (wheat vermicelli) as longevity noodles — however “prosperity toss,” a mixture of colourful shredded greens and uncooked fish, is a extra fashionable Lunar New 12 months dish.
When consuming longevity noodles, one should take care to not chew or break the strand.
Visible China Group/Getty Photos
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 12 months. Toshikoshi Soba, or year-crossing soba noodles, are eaten on New 12 months’s Eve for good luck.
“Within the northern facet of China, some individuals nonetheless observe the outdated method of consuming longevity noodles,” says Zhao.
“When the noodles arrive, the company would arise. They’re going to choose up some noodles from the bowl, pull them up over their head theatrically with a pair of chopsticks, deliver the noodles to their faces and slurp them in a single go along with a cheerful face. It is a technique to categorical their gratitude to the host.”
He provides that long-life noodles ought to have the size and tenacity to outlive a robust chopstick pull.
Why are they so fashionable in North America?
So now that we have established that types of longevity noodles range significantly and their again story is murky at finest, certainly everybody agrees on when they need to be eaten?
Nope. Whereas longevity noodles — irrespective of which kind — are a well-liked Lunar New 12 months dish amongst Chinese language communities in North America, some argue they are not even a conventional Spring Pageant meals in China.
This should not come as a shock, given the sheer measurement of the nation and its many regional cuisines and traditions.
“I do not assume my household would have longevity noodles throughout Lunar New 12 months,” says Chen, whose household moved to Taiwan from Tianjin in northern China.
“However 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 mom’s birthday final 12 months. I’ve at all times solely related longevity noodles with birthdays however not Lunar New 12 months.”
Alternatively, Zhao asserts that noodles are nonetheless a well-liked Lunar New 12 months customized, particularly in northern China.
“Longevity noodles are a part of the standard tradition for Chinese language celebrations … Throughout the vital Lunar New 12 months competition, we, after all, will need to have noodles,” he says.
“The standard customized is to have dumplings on the primary day and noodles on the second day (of the Lunar calendar). Then, we eat noodles on the seventh, seventeenth and twenty seventh day (of the Lunar month), representing the massive days for youngsters, adults and the aged, respectively.”
As for why many Chinese language Individuals primarily affiliate the custom with Lunar New 12 months, Zhao presents this principle: “When individuals drift away from their ancestral roots, they could not really feel their id for the remainder of the 12 months, however throughout festivals, the love for his or her tradition would explode.
“Typically, the diploma of continuity and symbolism of 1’s tradition in a diaspora group would exceed that of the native.”