Noodle capital of the world
By Wang Ru
Updated: 2008-03-06 07:19

I was born in Taiyuan, capital city of Shanxi province. It has a 2,500-year history and used to be called "the city of dragons".

When people find out where I come from they ask me: "Does your family own a coalmine?"

I'm not sure whether I should feel proud of my city's rich resource, but I do think it is more charming than billions of tons of black gold would suggest.

For example, there is our cuisine, especially noodles.

It is said Marco Polo returned to Italy in the 13th century and introduced his fellow Italians to what would become a staple of their diet, Chinese noodles.

Though there is no documentary evidence to confirm this, it is a fact that noodles have been eaten in China for thousands of years and Shanxi was first.

Wheat dough has been made into various forms by Shanxi people, such as la mian (hand-pulled noodles), che mian (stretched noodles), and mao er duo (noodles shaped like cat's ear).

Though rice is now a staple part of the diet, to save time, bowls of noodles served with a rich sauce, soups or noodles served with sliced vegetables are still a welcome part of the local cuisine.

Among the various noodles, dao xiao mian (knife-shaved noodle) is a must-eat. It is a traditional dish for Shanxi people. Making shaved noodles is as much a feast for the eyes as the mouth.

A chef stands in front of a big pot of boiling water, a lump of noodle dough in one hand and a thin, arc-shaped knife in the other. He shaves off bits of dough into the boiling water. A top chef can shave 200 bits a minute.

A tale about the origin of shaved noodles is popular among locals. At the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), the government confiscated all weapons - even knives for cooking. Ten households were allowed to share just one knife.

Then, one day, an old woman was preparing noodles for lunch and her husband went to borrow the knife from their neighbor, but found it was being used. On his way home the man picked up a thin piece of iron.

"How can we use it to cut noodles?" his wife complained. Her husband replied: "If we can't cut it, let's shave it."

Since then the tradition of making shaved noodles has been carried on in Shanxi.

Nearly every restaurant in Taiyuan serves Shanxi noodles and they usually cost less than 10 yuan ($1.40).

In the city center, Taiyuan Noodle Restaurant on Yingze Dajie is highly recommended.

Every summer, the annual Shanxi International Noodle Cultural Festival is held in the city center. Shanxi noodles are famous throughout the world.

(China Daily 03/06/2008 page19)