Last week I ate lot of white to yellowish foods, like bananas, oatmeal, white bread, and congee. The blander, the better.
The highlight of my week of hue-less, toothless eating was without question the noodles I consumed at Arirang, a noodle shop in Koreatown.
Now Arirang is on the third floor of one of the many glitzy buildings in that block, though as soon as you walk up the staircase you see bucolic paintings of Korean village scenes painted on the walls, a contrast made weirder still by the annoying pop music that's usually going in the background. (One thing I have taken to carrying around with me, at all times, is a pair of foam earplugs, because I just don't want anything getting in the way of what would otherwise be a perfect noodle experience.)
At Arirang they offer a few soups for their noodles, and two noodle choices. My favorite soups are the chicken ($9.99) and anchovy($9.99). The chicken soup tastes like they crammed ten chickens into a pot and turned it into a chicken smoothie. It is a thick broth, sippable but with a porridge-like texture. The anchovy broth is much thinner and light on the tongue, with just the faintest flavor of anchovy, fishy and a little sweet. Yet both broths make you feel as though you were drinking a tonic, which is just what I needed last week. I needed a bowl of noodles that would not upend the disturbed machinations of my stomach.
The trigger was something actually quite formative in my life as a New Yorker. I saw a mouse. That day for lunch I'd eaten a piece of fatty fish smothered in some turmeric-ginger-type mixture, skeleton and all, and tossed the bones into a trashcan by my desk in my bedroom. Then, for dinner, I had some pork neck bones, and tossed the scraps into the trashcan too. Usually, I take the trash out at the end of the day, but that day, I forgot.
Then in the evening I settled into bed with whatever stack of books I have going at the moment, intending to fall asleep drooling over them, like I do every night. It is a very nice routine. But that night, a few pages into Finnegan's Wake, I heard a rustling noise coming from over by desk, and looked up. My trashcan was moving.
I screamed and squealed and flailed in my sheets; the mouse lept out of the trashcan, over my purse, and behind the bookshelf. My roommate rushed into my room and found me blubbering and pointing.
I was near tears. We went into the kitchen and he set about baiting some traps, and then he went into my room to put them down. A few minutes later, we were still in the kitchen, talking, when we heard a loud snap in my room. My roommate went in, took out the dead mouse, and I spent a sleepless night, alone and terrified and cowering in bed.
Let it be noted, I did not have to dispose of the mice, or in any way be responsible for the traps. Yet I was, and am, helplessly disgusted, and have really not enjoyed a meal since then, with the exception of those noodles at Arirang. Probably, as I write these words now at my desk, there are dozens more mice behind the walls, procreating away.
Now, I don't know exactly why I lost my appetite, but the best guess I can venture is that the mouse rifling through my food was a conditioning stimulus, and it triggered a whole slew of terrible associations in my mind with food. For days, all I could think about was death and filth. How meat is really just rotting flesh, just like the mouse that died in my bedroom became rotting flesh. That the line between rotting flesh and flesh we eat for food is a tenuous one, and turns on a sort of transformation. We take dead flesh and butcher it into those cuts we recognize as meat, and somewhere along the line, it all becomes perfectly acceptable. Seeing the mouse brought this to the forefront of my mind in a way I'd not thought about in years, not since the time I'd spent in a butcher shop.
And so I clung, continue to cling, to a regimen of bland and straightforwards foods.
Now the noodles at Arirang are not bland, but they are definitely one-tonal. Never was a one-tonal bowl of noodles more soothing, served up in a shiny metal bowl so large you feel as though you could wade in and soak in its warmth.
The broths are topped with feathery-thin slices of scallions; chicken noodles came with thin slivers of white chicken meat. And there's not a bone or a bit of fish in sight in the anchovy soup, only those wonderful noodles sitting in a broth with julienned slivers of zucchini and carrot.
Though you can opt for either the dough flakes or the long noodles, I always get the combination. I think of dough flakes as cousins to sleek Chinese knife-peeled noodles. Both are irregularly shaped, but dough flakes are so amorphous as to appear like something a child would fashion if given a block of dough. And even though the long noodles at Arirang are not nearly as interesting as the flakes, I like to get both, if only so I can appreciate the flakes even more by way of contrast.
The bowls of noodles were so large that I had plenty of leftovers, and so on subsequent days I reheated bowl after bowl of chicken or anchovy noodle soup, for comfort food that kept on giving.
32 West 32nd Street, 3rd Floor, New York NY 10001 (map)
Original location in Flushing at 137-38 Northern Blvd, Flushing NY 11354 (map)
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.