It's not often that a bowl of noodles causes me to rethink the upper limits of what it means for something to be a noodle, but this bowl of knife peel noodles from Uncle Zhou's in Elmhurst did just that.
I like knife-peel noodles that are thick and chewy, but also frilly at the edges, like a ribbon teased out with a blade. That is also more or less the standard shape for a knife-peel noodle (accounting for in-house differences in length and width.)
But I was flummoxed by the knife peel noodles at Uncle Zhou's ($5.00). They came piled in a bowl with stir-fried tomato and egg, the juices of the tomatoes pooling to form a sauce. Slivers of cucumber covered the surface, and maybe it was that carpet of green on top that lulled me into thinking I'd be eating any old bowl.
But these noodles were thick—no, not thick—corpulent, and very doughy. All I could think about when I ate them was what it'd be like if you picked all the fattest caterpillars from tree branches and dewy leaves, early in the morning, and put them into a bowl. There was just such heft to their shape and size.
Another thing: I realized, by virtue of eating them, how we can't help but bring our own hungers and our desires to the table when we eat, which is why we're bound to like and dislike different things.
I, for one, very much liked the corpulent nature of these noodles. But I think you'd have to love dough, as I do, to really dig them. Maybe someone who was a die-hard rice lover would look at these noodles and think that there was something wrong with the inclination to stuff yourself full of what will always be, deep-down, something a little raw-and-flour-y-tasting. It can't be helped, especially with a noodle so thick as the knife-peeled ones at Uncle Zhou's, and so maybe it's just not for everyone.
I ate noodle after noodle, wishing only that there was more of the tomato sauce to go with them. (Tomato and egg is a such homey Chinese classic—one of my favorites that I have written about it before,here.) What we had of the tomato sauce was tart and not too salty. Wood ear mushrooms were a nice touch as well.
My friend and I polished off the soupy sauce in the first few bites, and were left with just the shaves of dough sitting in the bowl for the rest of the meal. We ate strand after strand, and soon I regretted not having stopped earlier. By the time we got up to walk to the subway, my stomach was a leaden mess. I really did feel like I was waddling instead of walking, and when I returned home my digestive discomfort had not even ebbed a little.
Why, oh why, didn't I just put down my chopsticks, I thought? (Well, because I really love dough, and I have no self-control, I answered to myself.)
Then I was on the phone with my mother.
"This is what you need to do," she said. "Get up, and rub the portion of your belly above your belly button, fifty times clockwise with your right hand. Then, do the same thing fifty time counter-clockwise with your left hand, underneath your belly button."
Silence on my end.
"Are you following?" she said. "And if you really want to make the pain stop, stand on your tip-toes while you're rubbing your stomach."
"That's not going to work, mom," I said. "That's just silly."
"Why is it silly?" she said. "It works for me all the time."
Now this of course, gave me even more pause for reflection. Not only that such quack-ministrations would actually work, but that my mother has overeaten with such regularity that she has a post-gluttony game plan.
"So are you doing it?" she said.
Of course, I always listen to my mother, so here I was standing in my room like a fool, rubbing my distended gut clockwise and counter-clockwise.
And what do you know? It actually worked. I now have my very own post-gluttony game plan (PGGP) for when I meet my next bowl of extra-doughy, corpulent noodles.
About the author: Born in Shanghai and raised in New Mexico, Chichi Wang currently resides in Manhattan, where she divides her time between writing, cooking, and tracking down the best noodles in the city. Visit her blog, Mostly Tripe.