Wuhan, China, has been hardest hit with racist stereotyping since the Covid outbreak and has been making international headlines, but many of us have forgotten the traditional Wuhan delicacy, which happens to be plant-based.
There are serious and substantiated concerns regarding the current novel coronavirus and its spread, but it has awakened prejudices, racist vitriol, and stereotyping against people of mainland Chinese or Asian descent.
This not only contributes nothing to help quell the disease epidemic, it comes with the threat of overshadowing long-standing cultural traditions that all of us can appreciate. In particular, Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus, has come under attack internationally and from other cities and provinces in mainland China.
The internet is awash with criticism and misleading claims about the apparent thirst for consuming wild animals in Wuhan peoples’ diets, stemming from the reports that the disease emerged from a seafood market in Wuhan that also sold a number of live animals.
While the novel coronavirus has thrust the danger and cruelty of the wild animal trade into the limelight, the demand for wild animals isn’t limited to Wuhan, nor is it confined within the borders of China alone. In fact, the supply chain extends throughout the world, stretching from Asia, Africa and elsewhere, including the United States. It is a global problem that the world must tackle if we are to prevent future disease epidemics, not to mention the animal welfare and wildlife conservation issues that stem from the trade.
Hot dry noodles: the addictive vegan dish from Wuhan
As a Hong Kong-based journalist hailing from Wuhan reminded us in a heartfelt open letter, it’s time to take stock and reflect on some of the traditions her hometown is known for, including the beloved local dish “Hot Dry Noodles”–which happens to be accidentally vegan and so delicious.
Re gan mian, which translates to hot and dry noodles, is the traditional dish of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in central China. Also known as the “Wuhan noodle”, this dish has had a long-standing history in Chinese food culture for almost 100 years and is unique because, unlike many Asian noodle dishes, the noodles aren’t served in soup. Instead, the dish is served “dry” with the vegan-friendly alkaline noodles coated in a rich, thick and creamy sesame sauce and topped with fresh spring onions. While the main seasoning is sesame paste, sometimes, the noodles are also topped with pickled spicy radish, which also originates from Hubei province.
And true to Wuhan cuisine, which shares with its nearby Sichuanese counterpart, the dish makes extensive use of chilies. Chilies are deeply embedded within both Wuhan and Sichuan food cultures because the regions face a humid climate, which can be balanced out with hot and spicy foods in traditional Chinese medicinal beliefs. While preparing the seasoning and sauce of hot dry noodles, Wuhanese people typically use chili oil and fresh coriander to bring out both the delicious taste of sesame and give a kick of heat.
This dish is so significant in Wuhan food culture that it is a popular breakfast food in the city, often sold in street carts and restaurants across towns as early as 5 am, all throughout the day until the evening, where the famous dish appears at night markets as a late-night snack.
Make your own hot dry noodles
“Wuhan noodles” calls for alkaline noodles, the most common type of ramen noodle available in most supermarkets across Asia, which are made out of wheat flour and kansui (alkaline water) to give its salty taste and springy quality. If they happen to be unavailable, they can be easily substituted for spaghetti (cooked al dente) for a similar texture and taste, or gluten-free versions to suit individual dietary preferences.
For the seasoning and sauce, hot dry noodles typically contain five spice powder, a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorns, sesame paste, sesame oil, light and dark soy sauce and salt. Once the sauce is mixed in to coat the cooked noodles, top the dish with a sprinkle of chopped green onions, pickled radish, chili oil and coriander.
Lead image courtesy of Sohu.