Cold noodles are the best Chinese snacks that can span geographical space and break cultural boundaries.
Whether it’s the sweet and palatable buckwheat cold noodles in the northeast, the beautiful and exquisite chicken noodle in the south of the Yangtze River, the hot and bright sweet water in Sichuan, or the sour and hot thick water in Shaanxi and Gansu. Whenever the words “cool” and “noodles” appear together, they can trigger all kinds of associations in the minds of diners about eating big, strong, and tasty.
The table is full of delicacies that I don’t like and flipping out for cold noodles.
In the Chinese food pedigree, cold noodles are definitely a different kind.
Most Chinese food is hot food. “Eat while it’s hot” is the most common persuasion script on the Chinese table. On the contrary, the European and American diet does not pursue hot food. Raw and cold food, including vegetable salad, cold apple soup, raw ham, caviar, pudding, etc., almost runs through the western table.
Strangely, European and American people seldom eat cold noodles when it comes to simple noodles. Whether it’s Italian green sauce or white sauce noodles; Spanish and Portuguese style seafood stewed noodles; French style baked noodles with cheese; Türkiye and Indian style chow mein are hot food. Even the least fastidious American should take a spoonful of heated tomato paste and pour it on the noodles.
And those who really eat noodles cold, such as Japanese Wudong noodles in bamboo baskets and buckwheat noodles; South Korean and North Korean beef cold noodles; Mongolian yogurt cold skin; Vietnamese style barbecue lemon powder; Thai style cold noodles with lime. They are all food produced around the Chinese cultural circle.
These cold noodles are eaten with chopsticks, not knives and forks.
From the perspective of the geographical pattern, East Asia, which has created a cold noodle culture, maybe a livable area with the largest temperature difference between winter and summer and the most distinct four seasons in the world. Every winter, the Central Siberian Plateau and the Mongolian Plateau compress the cold air of the Arctic Ocean into the high-pressure cold air that rapidly moves southward, making the temperature of the entire East Asian continent significantly lower than that of the global regions at the same latitude; In summer, the summer monsoon and warm ocean current from the Pacific Ocean move northward all the way, making the high latitude areas hot and hot above 30 ℃.
This environment makes the Chinese diet highly sensitive to seasonal changes. It has become one of the lowest logic of Chinese food to keep warm or cool by means of food temperature.
Starch food, with its good heat and cold storage effect, has become one of the best carriers of Chinese food changing in season. Many foods, including Liangpi（凉皮）, Liangfen（凉粉）, Liangshrimp（凉虾）, Mutianyu（面鱼儿）, Sihuahua（丝娃娃）, Bozai Cake（钵仔糕）, and Shapi（撒撇）, are all examples of starch for cooling and relieving heat.
Cold noodles are the best among them.
The process of making cold noodles is not as simple as most people think. Especially in the era when there is no refrigeration technology and only natural air cooling is available, there is an obstacle in the production of pasta: starch aging.
The so-called “aging” is a change in physics: the heated starch molecules change from a high-energy disorder state to a low-energy order state with the passage of time and evaporation of water. It is reflected in the taste, that is, it becomes dry and hard, blocked, lax, and has no chewing power. The northern people call it “lump”, while in the south, people call noodles in this state “swollen”, “burnt” or “sticky”.
This is probably the reason why noodles should be eaten hot in European and American diets: perhaps in a long historical period, no effective solution to starch aging has emerged in the West.
However, as early as in the “Six Canons of the Tang Dynasty” written in the eighth century AD, there appeared a kind of food called “Lengtao”（冷淘）. Obviously, this is a high-grade food.
Later, Du Fu described in detail the practice of “cold panning” in his poem, “picking green and high locust leaves and paying for the Chinese kitchen. When new noodles come to the market, the juice and dregs are applied together… The green and fresh dishes are all according to the chopsticks, and the fragrant rice and the sprouted reed are both fragrant.”
Collect the tender leaves of the locust tree, blanch them with boiling water, mash and filter out the green juice, and then mix them with flour to make noodles. After cooking, put them into the water for soaking and bleaching. The most wonderful thing is to match the green and green “Lengtao” with fresh and tender asparagus.
In addition to dyeing, this method of adding plant juice to flour plays a more important role in improving the texture of flour molecules with natural polysaccharide macromolecules in locust leaf juice and improving its water control ability. In addition to the appetizing color, the noodles made in this way can also maintain a longer elastic tooth feeling and a smooth taste.
In the middle of the 20th century, it became popular in the West to add a certain proportion of guar gum, xanthan gum, carrageenan, and other hydrophilic colloids in gluten-free baked bread to prolong the retention time of bread taste. Its internal logic is the same as that of “Leng Tao” in the Tang Dynasty.
Obviously, the Chinese people’s superb skills in dealing with cold faces have been preserved. In the Song Dynasty, cold chrysanthemum soup appeared, which was made by boiling the juice of chrysanthemum seedlings and mixing it with flour. More recently, the “Cold Noodle Washing Method” recorded in the Yunlin Tang Diet System Collection of the Yuan Dynasty was to use mandarin fish, perch, shrimp meat, etc. as “toppings”.
Today, whether buckwheat is used for cold noodles in Northeast China or water surface “water leaves” are used for cold noodles in Sichuan and Chongqing, they are all noodles that are not prone to starch aging and are more suitable for cold noodles found by Chinese people in long-term practice. The “fan cold noodles”, which are popular in the Jiangnan area and use electric fans to cool noodles, are also a means to combat starch aging in a shorter time.
From a single linear development to more and more diversified blooming. The development path of Chinese cold noodles is clear here.
In the middle of the 16th century, with the trade along the southeast coast, two kinds of plants originating in America were introduced into China. Peanuts and peppers. They have profoundly changed the eating habits of the Chinese people and made the pedigree of Chinese cold noodles more complete and brilliant.
In fact, as early as the Song Dynasty, it was discovered that wrapping freshly cooked noodles with vegetable oil with a low freezing point can also effectively prevent the evaporation of water inside the noodles and delay the process of starch aging, which is similar to “cold washing”.
Today’s hot and dry noodles in Wuhan, mixed Sichuan noodles in Hangzhou, mixed noodles with scallions in Shanghai, and Biang biang noodles in Xi’an are all based on this cooking logic.
Among the vegetable oils at that time, sesame oil was the most fragrant and popular. In the Yuan Dynasty drama “The leopard monk returns to the secular life”, people in Dadu of the Yuan Dynasty have already eaten noodles with sesame paste.
Today, the sesame sauce cold noodles that make old Beijing people drool when they think of them have taken shape more than 600 years ago.
But pure sesame paste often has a light burnt bitter taste, which is too sharp and overbearing for people with sensitive taste buds. The introduction of peanuts gives sesame butter a greater possibility – after adding a certain proportion of peanut butter, the oily taste has not changed, but the scorching bitter taste will be significantly reduced, and the overall taste is soft; Moreover, the sesame yield is low and the price is high. After the peanuts with low prices and high yields are added, they are more friendly to the poor people in the north.
The famous Erba sauce was born, and today’s old Beijing sesame paste cold noodles have finally become famous.
Almost the same time that peanuts have deeply affected cold noodles in North China, hot peppers have also taken root in northwest China. In the Hexi Corridor of Shaanxi and Gansu and the Guanzhong Plain, there has always been a tradition of eating fermented vegetables with noodles. Ankang, Shaanxi Province, is known as “removing acid”, Tianshui, Gansu Province, is known as “inserting grout”, Qingyang is known as “nest grout”, and Lanzhou is known as “squeezing grout”. Their ancestors can be traced back to “Zu” in Zhou Li.
As a kind of fermented food, the slurry contains the fresh taste of borage, alfalfa, shepherd’s purse, and other plants, as well as lactic acid and acetic acid brought by bacteria. Especially in summer, drinking a bowl will make people feel cool and refreshed. It is the most popular summer food in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces to make soup with cold noodles.
In order to pursue the drinking value, traditional slurry water does not or rarely contains salt, which has a limited inhibitory effect on miscellaneous bacteria. When matched with noodles, it will inevitably make acidic substances volatilize, and the soup will appear astringent, bitter, fishy, and other unpleasant smells.
At this time, the pepper appeared just right. A spoonful of chili oil stirred by hot oil is poured on the cold noodles with starch water to cover up the miscellaneous flavor and highlight the hot and sour taste, making the sour noodles more popular and the most perfect summer combination in northwest China.