Remember when you drove obscene distances for that perfect pho? Those amazing meatballs? That fantastic butter chicken? Yeah, me too. There was something challenging about "discovering" the perfect food of the moment on Yelp, trekking crazy distances to try it, oh and posting 18 pictures of said food item from various angles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Bonus points if the food vendor had crazy operating hours or weird requirements in order to get fed. Oh you're only open Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.? No problem, I'll be there. Wait, I have to sing karaoke to get an cream sandwich? Of course I'll sing 80's Madonna in my off key voice for a scoop of mint n' chip scoop sandwiched between two warm chocolate chip cookies.
It embarrasses me to admit that the Hubster and I were once so ridiculous, we huddled in a giant parking lot, in the bitter cold, with millions of other Yuppies waiting in hour long lines for random food items from a bevy of food trucks. Why? Oh yeah, for the best chicken tikka burrito. And probably because in that delusional realm, it was cool. Ah, to be young again.
Needless to say those days are long gone. Last week I ate a salad for lunch simply because the salad place was the closest and had the shortest line. Me. Salad. You know, the green leafy things in a bowl, with other bits n' bobs randomly thrown on top, drizzled with something. Oh, and it cost $12. That's $12 old me would've spent on fries. Lots of fries. That's how you know things have changed.
But amidst all the changes to be more efficient and maybe even a bit healthier, the one I miss the most is our regular visits to our favorite hole-in-wall Chinese restaurant. The one where the hot and sour soup is fiery, the scallion pancakes are perfectly crispy along the edges, and the service is pretty much nonexistent. Back in our cooler days, the Hubster and I would don our favorite hipster hats, trek down an hour and a half from the city to a tiny nondescript suburb to the restaurant with the blinking electric sign in the window, push our way through the crowds of elderly folk chatting it up in a giant cloud of cigarette smoke, seat ourselves, and proceed to stare at the giant plastic covered menu that we'd all but memorized by now.
And every time, we'd go through the same ritual of trying to be adventurous. "Want to try something new?" I'd ask. "Sure, what do you want to try?" he'd say. "Um, maybe this?" and I'd vaguely point to something that looked interesting. "Or we could just go with our standards?" he'd suggest. And so, we'd frantically shout our order at a passing waiter who would nod noncommittally as he walked away without a backward glance. And inevitably, just as we began to doubt whether he'd heard our order, the food would come. Steaming hot and all at once because you can't be bothered with courses when groups of hipster vultures are eyeing your table, waiting for you to leave. And it's not like courses would've have mattered anyway. We knew full well we'd start with the pan fried noodles with the crispy edges and addictive sauce.
It's ironic that we now live much closer to our favorite hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant but going there with a two year old and his unpredictable temperament just seems like so much more work. So, we DIY the noodles at home. And if you're worried that you need a perfectly stocked fridge, fear not! These pan fried noodles are perfect for whatever you might have lounging in your fridge. Broccoli? Carrots? Peppers? Mushrooms? Chicken? Shrimp? All of the above? Sure, that works. None of the above? That also works because we've definitely made a giant plate of crispy noodles, topped it with sauce lacking all protein and veggies, and it's still been awesome. And while this dish is intended to be made with egg noodles, on particularly dire days, I've used the noodles from two or three 25 cent packets of ramen and no one's been the wiser!
Now if only we could just get that blinking electric sign with the burned out letters from outside the Chinese restaurant, the hole-in-the-wall experience would be complete!
1/2 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. chili paste
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tbs. soy sauce
2 tbs. cornstarch
Any protein and/or mixed veggies
Salt and Pepper
16 ounces dried egg noodles
In a pot, boil noodles until just cooked and drain. You don't want to overcook the noodles because they'll cook a bit more during the pan frying process. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and add the cooked noodles. Spread the noodles out and press down a bit with a spatula. Let the noodles cook undisturbed for a few minutes. Gently slide your frying spatula under the noodles. When the noodles are ready, you'll be able to lift it as a giant noodle cake. If the noodles are still soft and separate, pull the spatula out and let the noodles cook undisturbed for another few minutes. When ready, remove the noodle cake on to a plate. It should look golden and crispy. Add another tablespoon of oil to skillet and when hot, put the noodle cake back on the skillet to crisp up the other side.
While the noodles are crisping up, make your sauce. In a separate pan, saute onions and garlic. When translucent, add your protein and veggies and stir fry until protein is no longer pink. Then add the chicken stock, soy sauce, vinegar, and chili paste and simmer. While the sauce is cooking, mix the cornstarch with two tablespoons of water to create a slurry. Add the slurry, one tablespoon at a time, to the sauce, whisking the entire time. Stop after you've added one tablespoon of the slurry and check the sauce's thickness. Does it coat the back of a spoon? If yes, you're good to go. If not, add another tablespoon of the slurry and continue until the sauce is the right thickness. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove the pan fried noodles on to a plate, top with sauce mixture. Enjoy! And to think, you didn't even have to leave your house!