Monday, January 3, 2011

An Unanswered Question

Does anybody actually eat those little bagged noodles that they give you when you order Chinese takeout?

Seriously. I want to know.

I never liked Chinese food when I was a kid, in large part because I grew up in the 1970s in America, a time and a place where “Chinese food” meant chop suey out of a can. Nobody likes chop suey out of a can, least of all the Chinese, who I imagine have much the same reaction to being told that this is their cuisine that Mexicans have when confronted with Taco Bell. It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I found myself sitting down to a meal that might conceivably have been served somewhere in China – an Americanized version, no doubt, cooked for tourists, but at least something within shouting distance of authentic – and discovered that this was great stuff. It had actual flavor.

And spices.

The local Chinese takeout here in Our Little Town actually has a button on their cash register labeled “burn your mouth.” If you ask for that, you get food where you are able to detect spiciness. I don’t blame them for this – they have to serve their market, and this is what you have to do in Wisconsin if you want anything with more zip than ketchup. At least I know the trick now.

Since that fateful evening back in high school I have spent a fair amount of time and money eating food purchased from Chinese restaurants in any number of states and at least one foreign country (not China), and while it has varied enormously in quality and price, one thing has remained constant.

Every time I buy some to take home with me, I get a crinkly little bag of fried noodles to throw away.

Sometimes I wonder if they just have piles of them in the back of the kitchen, produced as some kind of byproduct of the cooking process, and they have to pawn them off on customers or else they will build up and drown the cooks. It’s the most plausible theory I can come up with. They can’t seriously expect anyone to eat them.

I know. I’ve tried.

The noodles really don’t have any taste to them that I could ever find – chewing on them is like eating crunchy air, only greasier – and this rather misses the whole point of eating things once you’ve gotten beyond avoiding starvation. There must be some other function that they serve. But what?

Every so often I think I should just tell them not to bother throwing the noodles into my bag so I can save the effort of transporting them home, but I worry that this will upset some delicate Chinese Restaurant Balance in the universe and throw everything out of whack, which will lead to all of the General Tso Chicken in existence spontaneously transforming into canned chop suey.

And nobody wants that.


Janiece said...

I will shamefacedly admit to eating the noodles, but only with Chop Suey. Although our Chinese joint doesn't serve the skinny ones - they serve the flat wanton variety.

Incidentally, the very best Chinese I ever had? A restaurant in Dubai. The Hot and Sour Soup literally made my nose run and gave me the sweats. Delicious!

Eric said...

I love those greasy fried noodles. They're like the Chinese-American reimagining of potato chips.

But while I will happily eat them by themselves, I was under the impression they were meant to go in soup. Which is what I usually do with them.

David said...

Well, I'm glad somebody's eating the things, anyway. :) I never thought to try them in the soup.

Janiece, I need to go get some of that Hot and Sour Soup!

Beth said...


Apparently, I came for the Constitution and decided to stay. You'll either thank Jack for this or kick his tail the next time you meet up. Remains to be seen, that. Personally? I want to know why it took him so long to introduce you to the rest of us.

Anyway, those noodles are for the soup. Put them in, let them sit about 3 minutes and it makes the otherwise almost too salty broth palatable (or is it only Floridian Chinese restaurants that can't get the salt adjusted correctly).

David said...

Hi Beth -

Well, I'm glad you stayed. Be welcome on my blog.

Now that both you and Eric have pointed out the soup thing, I will definitely have to give it a try.