Since moving to Paris, we’ve been lamenting the lack of good Asian food. Chinatown has some little pots of gold, but it’s a long way across town – not exactly ideal for a quick easy bite. This is where our new favourite little places have come in. Les Pâtes Vivantes (9ème & 6ème) and Happy Nouilles (3ème) are the much-appreciated holes in the wall that we poke our heads into when we want to eat with chopsticks, but don’t want to do it ourselves. The nice thing about them is that it’s something we don’t normally get at home – hand-pulled noodles. Good Chinese food in Australia generally has a pretty Cantonese vibe about it, I imagine partly due to our proximity to that part of the Chinese world, and partly due to our access to beautiful fresh produce. Cantonese food is characterised by quite simple dishes that allow the flavour of the main ingredient to shine due to that region’s history as a shipping destination. Everything coming through was fresh and good quality. The climate also lends itself very nicely to growing rice.
Noodles are more of a northern thing. Not rainy enough to really overflow the pantry with sacks of rice, but pretty good for growing wheat. Les Pâtes Vivantes style themselves as more of a “restaurant” – a range of dishes, many of them unique to the establishment. Their beef with green chillies over noodles is particularly tasty, and their Szechuan beef noodle soup is the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten – also brain-meltingly delicious. Happy Nouilles is more like the kinds of Chinese food places I know and love. A few standards, a few of their own takes on standards, and brain-disruptingly delicious soup.
In the name of “I’m not going to be living in this town forever” and “when I leave may we never speak of it again,” I’m trying to learn as much as I can, especially how to make the stuff I enjoy. Noodles, I will bend your deliciousness to my will.
I’ve had a go at hand-stretched noodles before, but they didn’t really fly. They tasted good, but it was a run through the pasta maker that noodled them up in the end. This time, science. And when I say science, I mean “blindly believe a pile of things on the web and give them a try” followed by my two favourite processes – trial, and error.
I found this guy’s website. He’s already done a pile of the early research and got quantities and proportions locked down.
I also read a pile of stuff on an ingredient called kansui – apparently an alkaline salt that’s used to break down the gluten that gives dough the stretch factor. I looked high and low in 3 Asian grocers where everything was labelled in French (hello double language barrier) and I had no mobile reception, forcing me to look really shifty by running in and out of the store to Google things I found on the shelf. I also read that egg white was a passable substitute for kansui.
Half an hour of kneading later….
Out comes the pasta machine.
Can’t win ’em all.
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