Noodles are known to have been consumed by the Chinese as early as 200 B.C and occupy an important position in Chinese food. There are several kinds of noodles in Chinese cuisine, egg noodles or mien, rice noodles, mung bean noodles and wheat noodles. In the northern regions of China, wheat noodle is eaten more than rice as the staple food. Rice noodles are more commonly consumed in southern China. Noodles eaten by Chinese come in varying widths and thicknesses and usually long because it symbolizes long life to the Chinese, which is why noodles commonly served at birthday celebrations are called longevity noodles.
If you can buy fresh noodles, there is no need to make your own, but once you have made them, you will continue to do so. All noodles mentioned in this section can be bought in any Chinese grocery stores. But every kind of noodle you are likely to need can be bought from any shop specializing in oriental supplies. Some varieties like rice noodles will have to be bought as the making at home is hardly practicable. Rice noodles, being very thin and delicate require scarcely any cooking. Failing fresh noodles, dried noodles can be bought from any of the stores and most grocers. The dough of home-made noodles can also be used for steamed dumplings.
Crispy noodles are specialties of the Chinese kitchen. They are all well worth the care and dexterity they require.
Noodles may be hand-swung, machine-cut, regular-dried, or fine-dried. A good Chinese cook knows how to swing noodles by hand. Unfortunately noodle-swinging is a difficult art. Noodles available in the west are usually egg noodles of which dried eggs noodles are the only kind easily obtained in the west.
The noodle recipes in Chinese cuisine can conveniently be divided into soup noodles, pot noodles, hot-gravy noodles, cold-gravy noodles, steamed noodles and stir-fried noodles.
The normal way of treating noodles is to boil them first. When they are further stir-fried with other ingredients, then it is ' chow mien' or 'chow mein' in English. The common dry and brittle kind of 'chow mein' found in Chinese restaurants in the west is very little known in China. It is found in some places in Canton and Hong Kong and mostly for foreigners to eat. In China chow mein is made with soft noodles.
When purchasing fresh noodles, make sure they really are fresh; they should be soft without being limp, sticky, or brittle. Fresh egg noodles will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator and for 1 month in the freezer. Dried noodles can be kept almost indefinitely in a cool, dry, dark place.