August of 2012 found me pulled between three different cultures… Moving away from Japan after living there for five years, spending transition in Los Angeles after growing up there for thirty plus years, and re-planting myself in Taiwan for an upcoming two years.
We all have to settle into our lives in different ways. If you’re lucky, you get to do so quickly and painlessly, or at least as quick and and painless as possible. Which brings me to the topic of food. Whether it’s “comfort food” and home cooking or exotic food and fusion cuisine, being able to worry about food is something so NORMAL that before you know it you realize that, meal by meal, you have made a home.
When arrived at my new apartment in Taiwan, the kitchen was, frankly, disappointing. Smaller than any kitchen I was expecting (and living in Asia, I was expecting pretty small) the place only had ONE outlet, the place where another would be was a light switch. It wasn’t even a grounded three-pronged outlet! (Okay, technically the kitchen had two outlets, but the other was behind the refrigerator.) So at the top of the “To Buy” list was an extension cord, along with coffee maker, microwave, rice cooker, pots and pans, utensils, and on and on until I hit the end of the paper.
The first week I was limited to fresh food and boiling water– and yet, if I couldn’t cook in my apartment, then it wouldn’t feel like I really had ownership of the place. Time to break out one of my favorite dishes from Japan, Hiyashi Chukamen, or Eastern Noodles (a.k.a. Chilled Chinese Noodles). Tasty food that would also allow me to gather some basic staples for my new place and would not be too demanding for my still-somewhat-limited kitchen.
2 portions of chukamen (Chinese egg noodles)
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2.5 tbsp soy sauce
0.5 tbsp sugar
0.5 tbsp sesame oil
0.5 tbsp dijon or spicy mustard*
Ham, thinly sliced into matchsticks
2 Eggs, boiled and sliced*
Red pickled ginger (“benishoga”)*
1. Prepare ahead of time the boiled egg and sliced garnish.
2. Prepare the noodles according to the instructions. When rinsing, use very cold water/ice water to completely chill the noodles.
3. Serve the noodles on individual plates, topping with equal portions of garnish.
4. Combine the dressing ingredients and mix well. Pour immediately over the prepared plates.
By keeping the dressing in a separate container, this makes a great lunch for the next day!
Hiyashi Chukamen is a popular Japanese summer dish. I would often get this on the go at convenient stores around Tokyo, but once summer was over, they would no longer serve it! I found a recipe so I could have it all year long, and I further justify it by claiming a bit more healthiness in this alternative.
Noodles: Other ramen noodles or angel hair pasta can be substituted, but egg pasta is better.
Benishoga: Should be available in Asian markets, but thinly sliced fresh ginger may be used.
Sprouts: I loved the veggie-ness of the pea sprouts, and alfalfa sprouts make a good alternative. The original recipe calls for bean sprouts.
Egg: The traditional recipe calls for eggs scrambled and fried in thin sheets, sliced similarly to the ham deli- sliced.
Mustard: The traditional recipe calls for mustard to be optional and served on the side, but I like a bit of spice with my food, so I mix it into the dressing.
CREDITS: Image by jetalone (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons