Men Mian, Memory of the north (Haopeng Xue)

Among thousands of different kinds of noodles I have heard about or tasted in life, whether it is western pasta, Japanese udon or Cantonese style egg noodles, the taste of Men Mian lingering on my taste buds would never fade away. 

Men Mian is completely different from any other noodles that I have tasted before. It does not require water to boil, but rather uses the heat from the water vapor that was created within a large steel pot. Men Mian is a common type of noodle that is very popular in Inner Mongolia and Henan province. According to the legend, it originated in Qin dynasty when General Meng Tian is leading a group of workers to build the Great Wall. Because they do not have enough time, and the emperor is pushing the construction date, they had to find a way to cook all the food at once to save time while keeping their body energy. Therefore, they learned from the local residents to put green beans, pork belly, potatoes and noodles all into a large pot at the same time and close the lid. The vapor pressure gradually build up inside the pot and cook the ingredients rapidly. It will only take twenty minutes for the Men Mien to be ready to serve on the table. Due to its convenience, Men Mian became one of the major dishes in our family table when my mother did not have much time to prepare a fancy dinner. 

I did not give much credit to Men Mian much credit until I grew sick of America food when I came to America for high school. Yearning for the smell and taste of hometown food, I decided to make Men Mian by myself instead of going to the school dining hall for pasta. This task seemed so easy at first, but after trying to remember the cooking process for hours, I still could not figure out which ingredients should go into the pot first and for how long. Finally, I called my mom and wrote down every ingredients I will need to buy and every steps to cook the perfect Men Mian. 

On the following weekends, I took a Uber to the nearest Asian supermarket and tried to look for those ingredients. Most of the ingredients are easy to find such as soy sauce, green beans, pork belly and potatoes. However, one thing that my mother emphasized on buying is pure pork fatty oil. Back in my home town, the butcher shop likes to save chunks of pork fat and fry it to extract the oil. After that, the oil can be stored in a large glass jar for sale. It works the same way as butter but has a much better taste and smell due to its high purity. However, after asking the shopping assistant, she suggested me to go to another bigger Chinese supermarket, which is two hours drive away. My stubbornness rendered me to go further, and I asked my RA to give me a ride. On my way to this market, I prayed for finding the jar of pork oil and even planed to extract the oil by myself if no where else is selling it. Finally, after looking through all the aisles and the each grocery sections, I saw my last saving straw—a bottle of cloudy white pork oil, the very last one on the shelf. I can’t help screaming and laughing joyfully like a kid receiving his or her Christmas gift. 

On our way back to the dorm, I went through all the procedures in my brain for hundred times, and my mouth began to salivate as if I was already slurping Men Mian down my throat. As soon as I got back to the kitchen, I turned on the stove and started to heat the pot. Then, I poured some oil and scooped a large chunk of pork fat to add to the pot. Right away, the aroma of the pig fat spread all around the room. I added the sliced pork and vegetables and stirred for about five minutes. Finally, I added garlic, scallion, soy sauce and hand made noodles into the pot with a bowl of water and closed the lid. The water vapor pushing up the lid 

contained the smell of all the ingredients braised together. It is very important to not to open the lid too soon due to lack of patience. At exactly ten minutes, when I removed the lid and saw the familiar color of dark red noodles, I knew it was ready. Quickly taking a bite of the noodles with pork, I immediately felt home. I thought for one second that I was sitting at my house’s dining table and chatting joyfully with my parents. My first Men Mian was a great success.

Five years have passed since then. I have made Men Mian by myself for dozens of time and still have not grew tired of it. My mother had taught me other ways of making different kinds of noodles and dishes, such as braised pork belly and tradition vegetable stew. However, Men Mian was always there with me, since it is the most convenient noodle to cook and has the best taste among all the dishes. And I know I will continue to making Men Mian throughout my college and future career.

I choose to imitate the article “Ping An Mien, a Chinese Family Noodle Story”, written by Susannah Chen in 2014. This article grabbed my attention closely because I once had the same struggle like the author, because I did not learn how to cook back in China. Since both the author and I came from the same culture, China, I understand how Ping An Mian and other types of noodle can be a meaningful representation of best wishes from family members. On contrary to cooking method simplicity and easy production, noodles can contain powerful idea of love and longing for somebody who is far away. Similar to the memoir that I imitated, my journal also reflects how noodles can be used as a bridge that connect people that are apart from their homes and families. By cooking and consuming the noodles by myself, I can bring back some memories deep down in my heart and feel instantly at home. Despite the fact that there are many Chinese restaurants in Atlanta, none of them serve Men Mian on their menus. Therefore, the only way to revitalize my taste buds for home, is to cook by myself. The overall tone of this memoir is light hearted and nostalgic. I am able to vividly feel the care that the author is trying to show for her husband and how much her mother wanted her to inherit this tradition of making Ping An Mian. Both the author and I embedded cultural DNA in our pieces. For the Ping An Noodle, the noodles were assigned as the representation of Safety, which are much valued by many older generations toward their children. For my memoir, noodles were regarded as a symbol of my memory with my families and my childhood of living in Inner Mongolia.

One Reply to “Men Mian, Memory of the north (Haopeng Xue)”

  1. Haopeng, your creative essay is very good. However, you lost some points on the reflection that follows. You did address the prompt questions, but your answers are very general. You could use some support from course materials and other outside sources. On the whole, we enjoyed having you in this class!

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