While the quality of food is what generally determines where you choose to dine, who doesn’t appreciate a touch of theatre with the experience, too?
With this in mind, Li Jiang, the South East Asian restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal hotel has hired itself a chef who truly excels in the visually dramatic art of hand-pulling noodles. This is the kind of activity that if any normal person gave it a try, the end result would be humiliating failure and an unpalatable mess.
But with deft-fingered expertise, the Chinese chef Miami Wei pounds, twists, kneads and pulls the dough until it becomes perfectly formed strands of noodles – delivered fresh and made-to-order.
Miami hails from the Shandong province in eastern China, an area that’s renowned as a culinary -centre.
“It was only natural that I took an interest in cooking early on in my life,” the 27-year-old explains.
“I learnt the art of noodle-pulling from an acclaimed Chinese noodle master called Yan and spent the next few years working in various restaurants honing my skills.”
After three months spent practising every day under the intense tutelage of Yan, he eventually picked up the skills.
“I remember asking lots of questions while in the kitchen with chef Yan and reading books on the history of noodles at home after work,” he says.
He moved to Dubai to work in the hotel industry in 2007, heading to Abu Dhabi in October to join Li Jiang.
“Noodle-pulling is an art and it takes passion and lots of practice to become good at it,” he contends. “It’s not something you can do half-heartedly. You give it all you’ve got. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to rigorously follow the recipe and procedures, step by step.”
Good-quality ingredients are a must and he uses only the finest high-gluten flour, eggs, salt and soda.
This makes the handmade variety far superior to those bought in a shop.
“Pre-made noodles that you find in a supermarket have preservatives and additives to extend their shelf life, whereas homemade noodles are fresh and all-natural,” he says.
First, the dough needs to be manipulated so that all its starch molecules are lined up.
Once this has occurred, Miami pulls the dough apart with his fingers again and again, drawing out ever thinner and longer strands.
Eventually there are hundreds of fine threads of dough, which will then be separated to become the noodles.
“Once you know how to do it and practise a lot, it is not as hard as it looks,” claims Miami.
According to archaeological evidence, noodles were invented in China around 4,000 years ago. Since then, they have become one of the staples of Chinese cuisine.
“They are so versatile and accessible,” says Miami. “In my native province of Shan Dong, for example, noodles are a traditional summer meal, something a family will make for lunch.
“This is not to say that noodles are reserved for quick daily meals, it’s actually a traditional main course for every birthday celebration back home.” But Miami says noodles have become ubiquitous throughout China because of their versatility in cookery.
“It’s the broth you serve the noodles with that makes the difference,” he explains. “It can be chicken-based or laksa or hot and sour broth and there is a lot of room for experiment there.”
• Li Jiang restaurant is open Sunday to Friday from 7pm to midnight. For more information visit www.ritzcarlton.com
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