The Chinese, the Italians and the Arabs all used to claim having invented the noodle. Then, in 2005 in Lajia in the Chinese province of Qinghai, archeologists unearthed “an upturned earthenware bowl filled with brownish-yellow, fine clay. When they lifted the inverted container, the noodles were found sitting proud on the cone of sediment left behind.” The quote is from a report entitled “Oldest noodles unearthed in China” — published in October 12, 2005 by BBC News. The relic was 4,000 years old. Until someone digs up an older relic elsewhere, I think it’s safe to say that the Chinese invented the noodle.
History says that long before European explorers lost their way in the Pacific and landed in our islands, the pre-Hispanic Filipinos have been trading with the Chinese. And noodles found their way into the country, the beginning of a culinary love affair that would prove strong and steadfast over centuries of multiple colonizations. Today, the Filipinos are a noodle-loving people, from Pancit Malabon to the ubiquitous noodle soup we call mami that has been tweaked in so many ways that it has become as much Filipino as it is Chinese.
Despite the fact that many of the noodle dishes we find in our cuisine have Chinese origins, noodle dishes in the various regions of China are far more diverse than we can ever imagine. TV host Anthony Bourdain once quipped that he can spend the rest of his life doing TV food shows in China and not run of places to visit. I think I can spend the rest of my life traveling all over China and never run out of new dishes and ingredients to discover.
One of these little known noodle dishes — little known in the Philippines, at least — is called Ma Yi Shang Shu. The literal translation is “ants climbing (up) a tree”, a description that can make anyone quiver and shiver in disgust, and which probably explains why it isn’t popular in the Philippines at all. Or, perhaps, we have renamed it and it’s really a favorite among many. But just where did this noodle dish get its name? In her book Savoring China, culinary historian Jacki Passmore says a poet once observed the flecks of pork on a strand of glass noodle and gave the dish its name. Whether that’s fact or fiction, I know not. I only know that the dish is delicious and a welcome change from our usual sotanghon soup and the annatto-colored sauteed chicken and sotanghon.
This recipe serves 4 to 6.
500 g. of coarsely ground pork
2 tbsps. of grated ginger
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 to 6 tbsps. of light soy sauce
4 to 6 tbsps. of sweet rice wine
½ c. of thinly sliced onion leeks and ½ c. of thinly sliced onion leaves, or 1 c. of thinly sliced onion leeks or onion leaves
½ c. of dried black fungus (taingang daga)
½ c. of dried black mushroom slices or 2 to 3 whole mushrooms
250 g. of mung bean noodles (sotanghon)
4 tbsps. of peanut oil
2 tbsps. of red chili sauce (the oily table condiment one usually finds in Chinese restaurants)
In a bowl, mix together the pork, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, rice wine and chili sauce.
Place the noodles in a pot and pour enough hot water to cover. Let stand five minutes then drain well.
Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour in hot water. Soak until soft, drain then chop finely. If using whole black mushrooms, discard the stalks before chopping.
Heat the peanut oil in a wok. Over high heat, cook the pork mixture and mushrooms until almost dry. Add the noodles and greens and toss until well blended.