Filipino Noodles from a Downtown Shipping Container

I’ve eaten a lot of noodles in my day but up until last week, had never tried any Filipino varieties. Despite Toronto’s large Filipino community, the archipelago’s cuisine – a combination of Chinese, Malay, Spanish and American influences – hasn’t really gained widespread popularity. While there are many places to get Filipino food, they’re mostly scattered outside the downtown area and are mostly take-out places where you choose your meal from a hot table. It appears that trend is gradually changing though. A few months ago, Lamesa Filipino Kitchen opened on Queen Street West, serving contemporary renditions of traditional Fiipino dishes in a trendy dining room. I haven’t been but my friend Laura had their prix-fixe and says you have to try the pork belly. And there’s also Kanto by Tita Flips, a food stand at Dundas and Bathurst serving made-to-order Filipino street food.

Kanto is one of several international food stands at Market 707, an outdoor marketplace at the Scadding Court Community Centre comprised entirely out of refurbished shipping containers. It’s a pretty cool project. In an effort to revive the bleak corner of its central downtown intersection, the community centre set up a row of shipping containers, spruced them up with some paint and electricity, and now offers the spaces to burgeoning entrepreneurs for very low rent. Currently, most of the businesses that have taken up shop there are food vendors and so there are also some tables and chairs set up along the wide sidewalk for customers to eat their meals. I get pretty excited every time I go there as there are lots and lots of good options – Central American pupusas, Korean bulgogi, European crepes, Ontario grilled cheese, Japanese curry, Chinese dim sum, West Indian roti, South American ceviche, and even North African camel burgers (yes, like Alice – try it, it’s good). If you know me, you know that so many appealing food options are usually a double-edged sword as I have a really hard time deciding what to order – restaurants with 15-page long menus are a bit of a nightmare for me, and I adore dining companions that are into sharing. There’s only one noodle dish currently on offer at Market 707 though, so on my first visit, the decision was pretty simple.

There’s an unsurprisingly large variety of Filipino noodle dishes and Kanto serves up one of the most popular among them, pancit palabok, literally noodles with garnishing. It’s often made with thin rice noodles/vermicelli, one of the most common types of noodle in Filipino cuisine. However, it can also be made with cornstarch noodles, which is what Kanto uses for their version. Apparently unique to the Philippines, I had never heard of cornstarch noodles before and was curious to try them. They’re similar in texture to glass noodles/mung bean noodles, although slightly thicker, and a bit firmer and springier. For pancit palabok, they’re simply soaked in water and then quickly boiled. The noodles themselves don’t have much flavour so the success of the dish really rests on its toppings. The main and most complex feature of pancit palabok is the shrimp gravy that’s poured over the noodles. It typically consists of a rich shrimp stock – made by boiling down shrimp heads and shells – mixed with the extract of annatto seeds, a mild flavoured seed with an intense yellow-orange pigment. The two liquids are simmered together with some seasoning, including fish sauce, and then thickened with cornstarch or flour. The resulting gravy is then tossed up with the noodles, along with some pieces of tofu and slices of chicken. The final step of the dish is its garnishing. I’m sure there are some variations but, as served up at Kanto, it typically includes slices of hard-boiled egg, fried shrimp, green onion, chicharron (pork crackling), fried garlic pieces (my favourite part – yum), and a slice of citrus (calamansi, lemon or lime) to squirt on top. It’s warm and comforting, and full of complementary textures and flavours. And at Kanto by Tita Flips, it’s just $5 a plate. I’m happy this place is downtown so I can slowly work my way through their menu. The  Japanese curry place is lookin’ pretty good as well, though I might have to suggest they start serving some udon.

Make Me: Cold Sesame Noodles

It seems I’m a bit obsessed with cold noodles these days. When it’s this hot outside, the last thing I feel like doing is cooking and spending a lot of time in the kitchen. The Chinese noodle dish liang mian/ma jiang mian, cold sesame sauce noodles, is perfect for preparing during the summer since it requires minimal cooking and is best served chilled or at room temperature. You just boil some noodles, slosh on some sauce and the whole thing comes together in about 20 minutes. It’s also really, really delicious. Jonathan, my wonderful test-tasting boyfriend, is a big fan.

One bite of this dish and I’m instantly transported back to Taiwan. While you can get fresh ma jiang mian at many road side noodle stands there, my memories are actually of the 7/11 version. In Taiwan, and in many Asian countries, 7/11s are everywhere, dotting nearly every other street corner (it’s actually a Japanese company dontchaknow). They are literally convenience stores – not only can you find all sorts of goods there, from potato chips to stationery to face wash, and a baffling variety of beverage options including alcohol, but you can even pay your bills and parking tickets there. Quite unlike the Canadian stores, however, where the meal offerings are limited to taquitos and some questionable looking hot dogs, Asian 7/11s sell an astounding assortment of fresh and actually tasty food – sandwiches, rice balls, curries, burgers, fried chicken, noodles. It’s quite a common option for hungry foreigners who aren’t up for tackling language barriers at a local restaurant. It seems like almost everyone eats there though as it’s quick, cheap and tasty. My friends and I used to eat their liang mian once in awhile and I remember it being pretty good.

Liang mian is also an extremely popular dish in the Sichuan region of mainland China, quite similar to the liang pi that I wrote about in a previous post, except that it uses wheat noodles rather than those jelly-like noodle skins. The dish also reminds me of my undergrad days in Montreal and the $2 chow mein slathered in peanut sauce that we used to get on St. Laurent on our late night walks home. For the record, I never really liked those noodles as the sauce was just straight up melted peanut butter, but who can argue with $2 at 3 am. Anyways, the recipe I made at home (below) is much tastier and probably costs less than $2 a serving.

There are about a million variations of liang mian. All of them typically include noodles – wheat, egg or buckwheat – tossed in a base sauce of sesame paste, vinegar, sugar and soy sauce, the measurements of which depend on the recipe and the cook’s taste preferences. The Sichuanese version also usually includes peanut butter, chili oil and crushed sichuan peppercorns in the sauce while the Taiwanese version does not. Some of the recipes call for minced garlic or ginger to be added. There is also great variety among toppings and garnishes, which may include shreds of cucumber, carrot, chicken and/or omelet, chopped scallions and toasted sesame seeds. Despite my memories of the 7/11 version of these noodles, I tend to prefer them spicy and so opted for a Sichuan style recipe from my favourite food blog, Rasamalaysia. I’ve made a ton of different recipes from this site, even non-noodles ones, and they’ve all been good. The recipe reproduced below is nearly the same as the one from Rasamalaysia, with some very minor variations.

A few quick tips about the recipe:

The base of the sauce is an Asian sesame paste (there are both Japanese and Chinese brands), which can be a bit tricky to find. I’ve bought it at T&T as well as the P.A.T. on Bloor and you can probably find it in most Asian grocery stores. If you’re unable or unwilling to find it though, some people, including Rasamalaysia, have suggested substituting it with the more common tahini – a Middle Eastern sesame paste – mixed with a bit of sesame oil. While tahini is made with hulled sesame seeds, the Asian paste uses the whole seed, lending it a more robust sesame flavour. I haven’t tried the tahini substitution myself and purists would probably turn their nose, but I’m sure it still tastes good.

Japanese sesame paste. There’s no English on the jar but there was an English label at the grocery store to help me identify it.

The sauce of liang mian plays on a balance of salty, sweet, sour and spicy. Precise measurements are not super important as it depends on your taste buds. You can make it as per the recipe below, and then play around with the ingredients a bit until you reach a flavour balance that suits you. I favour salty and am averse to overly sweet so I modified the original recipe a bit by using unsweetened peanut butter. I used seasoned rice vinegar because that’s what I had at home, but found it a bit too sweet rather than a punchy sour/acid and will probably try black vinegar next time. The recipe also calls for sweet soy sauce, which I happened to have, but you can use regular soy sauce and add a couple pinches of sugar to taste.

I used buckwheat (soba) noodles and think their flavour and texture goes really well with the sauce, but wheat or egg noodles would work well too. Whichever you choose, make sure to not over-cook them as the springy noodle texture is an important component of this, and almost every, noodle dish.

So here’s the recipe. Let me know if you make them at home and how it turns out.

Recipe for Cold Sesame Noodles

Ingredients

8 oz. buckwheat (soba) noodles (or fresh egg or wheat noodles)

2 small cucumbers

1 small carrot

Chopped scallions

Toasted sesame seeds

Sesame Sauce

2 1/2 tablespoons sesame paste (or 2 tablespoons tahini + 1 tablespoon sesame oil)

1 tablespoon unsweetened peanut butter

1 1/2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce (or regular soy sauce + a couple pinches of sugar, but just soy sauce will taste fine too)

2 teaspoons vinegar (rice, black or balsamic)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon chili oil (or more or less )

salt and sugar to taste

Method

  1. Boil the noodles in salted water according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse in cold running water. Shake out all the excess water and set aside.
  2. Slice the cucumbers lengthwise, into two halves. De-seed each half using a small spoon. Slice cucumber into long, thin strands. Cut the strands into approx. 2 inch lengths.
  3. Peel the carrot (I actually used baby carrots which don’t require peeling and are easy to slice up). Slice into long, thin strands. Cut the strands into approx. 2 inch lengths.
  4. Mix all the sesame sauce ingredients together in a bowl. Taste and adjust according to your preference.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, spoon generous amounts of the sauce onto the noodles. Add the cucumber, carrot and scallions and mix it all together. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes (or if you can’t wait, just serve at room temperature).
  6. Portion the noodles into individual bowls. Garnish with some more cucumber, carrot and scallions (and some more sauce if you want). Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Eat!

Noodles in Motion: Ramen Knitting 101

Amid my internet noodle research over the past couple weeks, I’ve inevitably come across many funny, cute and/or strange noodle-related videos. I’m going to share them here, in a series called Noodles in Motion.

Here’s a youtube video called “Ramen Knitting 101”. People are knitting anything and everything these days, including noodle yarn with chopstick needles. My only comment on this: why?


Cold Korean Noodles in the Hot Hot Heat

I feel pretty lucky to live in Toronto’s Koreatown (the one around Christie and Bloor – there is also another one around Yonge and Finch). Not only does it have a great Korean grocery store with all the necessities, and then some, for my predominantly Asian pantry (to be clear, it pales in comparison to T&T, especially the newly renovated Promenade branch i.e. my favourite place in Toronto, period – but it’s great for downtown standards) but it also means that I’m surrounded by an abundance of delicious and affordable Korean restaurants. Sometime in June, once the temperatures started reaching into the mid-20s and above, I started noticing many of the restaurants in the neighbourhood putting up signs in their window for ‘cold noodles’ or naengmyun/naengmyeon. Seasonal cold noodles dishes for the hot summer months are common among various Asian cuisines – for example, Thai yum woon sen, Vietnamese bun thit nuong, Japanese zaru soba, and Chinese liang mian. Korean Naengmyun, however, takes the cold factor to the next level.

Having never tried them before, and being constantly taunted by the signs in the window, I was very curious about these noodles. Also, our friend Matt, who used to live in the area and loves noodles perhaps as much as I do, kept telling me how awesome they are. Amid the sweaty, sweltering heat wave of the past couple weeks (and no air conditioning in our apartment!), we finally made plans to go check them out. Matt took us to Sunrise House, a little family-run place that’s made a reputation among its competitors for having some great banchan (various complimentary side dishes such as kimchi and bean sprouts that are served with your meal).

Sunrise House – 661 Bloor Street West, at Manning

Yummy banchan – bean sprouts, seaweed, kimchi, potatoes, sweet potato noodles and spicy cucumbers

Naengmyun, literally cold noodles, refers to a dish of cold buckwheat noodles, commonly prepared in one of two ways. The first is bibim naengmyeon, literally ‘mixed cold noodles’ (similar in name to the infamous Korean dish bibim bap, literally mixed rice). In this dish, the cold buckwheat noodles are smothered in a sauce of chogochujang – a mixture of gochujang (the thick, spicy red chili paste that’s ubiquitous in Korean cuisine), vinegar and sugar – and tossed together in the bowl with some vegetables. Sounds alright, maybe too sweet for my taste.
The real showstopper is the second style of preparation: mool naengmyun, literally water cold noodles. The buckwheat noodles are boiled and then chilled, which halts the cooking process and results in a wonderfully chewy, springy noodle texture. They are then placed in a metal  bowl, to retain their cool temperature, and covered with a chilled beef broth (in some preparations, it may also be chicken or kimchi broth, or a combination of the three). The real kicker, though, is the handful of crushed iced that’s added to the bowl, creating this kind of slush noodle soup. It’s then topped with slices of boiled beef brisket, halves of hard-boiled egg, ribbons of pickled daikon radish, strips of fresh cucumber, and a generous shake of toasted sesame seeds. Some white vinegar and hot mustard paste is also served on the side, to add some tang and heat to the savoury broth, according to your personal taste. The whole dish is certainly unusual, and unbelievably refreshing. You actually feel a cooling sensation after slurping down the icy cold broth and noodles.

Mool naengmyun

Ice ice baby

Matt cutting the super-long noodles with the provided noodle shears, for ease of noodle slurping

Accompanying white vinegar and hot mustard paste – rock on

Interestingly, naengmyun originates from the Ibuk region of present-day North Korea and was initially a winter dish, its chilling preparation deriving from climatic circumstances rather than preference. Apparently the broth for naengmyun was originally prepared with dongchimi, a daikon and cabbage kimchi which is particularly watery. Dongchimi was traditionally stored outdoors and so on really cold nights it would freeze, resulting in the noodles’ icy broth. I can’t imagine wanting to eat this body-chilling dish in January, but it’s an awesome antidote to this scorching summer heat. And the buckwheat noodles are really, really good.

Night market noodling

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I borrowed my mom’s car and hauled our downtown-dwelling selves up to Highway 7 and Warden (indeed, life – and delicious food – exists north of Bloor) to hit up Night It Up, an annual weekend-long food event that seeks to import the night markets of Taiwan, Hong Kong and other asian cities to a parking lot in Markham. Having lived in Taiwan for about a year and half, and having spent a large portion of that time eating and shopping my way through its night markets, I’d say they did a pretty excellent job of emulating the real thing. A night market is, as the name suggests, an area where dozens upon dozens of vendors set up stalls at nighttime and sell a wide variety of local snack foods, alongside other vendors selling clothes, accessories and knick-knacks. It is, in my eyes, part of the unique fabric of Taiwan. Most, if not all, cities in Taiwan have night markets of varying sizes and it’s a place where all people, especially youth, go to hang out on any night of the week. You may have heard of the infamous Snake Alley Night Market in Taipei – a popular tourist destination that’s known for selling some less common items such as turtle blood and snake blood in a shot glass (for male virility, I believe), as well deer penis wine, and various turtle and snake parts to eat. Sometimes the killing of the snake or turtle is made into a crowd-attracting spectacle. However, snake Alley is unique, and not really representative of the typical night markets in Taiwan.

The Night It Up in Markham had some music performances, games, and contests but it was mostly food-focused – yay! While it would have been impossible to offer up the countless variety of snacks that are available in Taiwan’s night markets, they featured all the most popular, or “famous”, ones. Perhaps the most well known is chou doufu – literally, stinky tofu – which is a fermented tofu with a really strong odour. In Taiwan it’s often served deep-fried and topped with a spicy sweet chili sauce and pickled cabbage. When they fry it up, the tofu’s odour is magnified as the smoke from the fryer permeates the air. It’s pretty intense, and kind of smells like garbage and gym socks. Seriously. But it tastes delicious. I love the stuff. It’s not for everyone though. It’s kind of the same deal as with stinky cheese – an acquired taste, which requires first getting over the funky smell. They also had quite a few stalls selling Taiwanese fried chicken – battered cutlets that are fried to an extra-crispy golden brown and then generously dusted with the most delectable, savoury seasoning salt. I still don’t know what’s in that salt but man, is it addictive. We actually tried three different versions. There were also lots of other popular Taiwanese nigh market goodies, like oyster omelets, charcoal-grilled lamb skewers, watermelon juice (here, creatively served in an adorable baby watermelon, with little cocktail umbrella), skewered squid grilled in a sweet n’ salty sauce, takoyaki (Japanese squid balls) and on and on and on.

But let’s get down to business here – the noodles. Despite Taiwan having an abundance of amazing local noodle dishes – like beef noodle soup – they didn’t have any uniquely Taiwanese noodles at Night It Up. Thinking back, I don’t remember seeing so many noodles at the night markets in Taiwan, maybe because unlike meat on a stick or chicken in a bag, they’re not the most convenient thing to hold in hand and eat while walking through a crowd. I guess they’re typically served at restaurants and non-night market stalls. But fret not – I still got to eat some noodles that night.

The first kind, which I was really excited to see here, is a Chinese noodle dish called liáng pí.

While widely available across China (or at least in major cities – I used to buy it at the entrance of a shopping mall in Shanghai), it originates from the northwestern Shaanxi province, whose regional cuisine is characterized by strong, bold, savoury and sometimes sour flavours, and is often extremely spicy as well due to the influence of its neighbouring Sichuan province. Liang pi literally translates to cold skin. That’s not because it actually contains any skin but I’m guessing because the translucent-ish noodles kinda resemble skin? Their texture is quite unique and tricky to describe – smooth, slippery, and jelly-like, but a firm jelly. I’ve never actually seen these noodles being made from scratch but the wikipedia entry provides some insight into their texture: wheat or rice flour is mixed with water to make a dough; the dough is rinsed in a bowl with water to release the starch; the dough is discarded and the starchy white water is left to rest; a starch paste forms at the bottom of the bowl and any water which has risen to the top of the bowl is discarded; the starch paste is spread out into a round pan and the pan is steamed to cook the dough; the dough “pancake” that comes out is finally sliced into long strands that look like noodles. I guess liang pi aren’t technically noodles since they’re made from the starchy by-product of a dough rather than a dough itself – but they look, taste and slurp like a noodle.

While there are variations, liang pi are most often served cold (excellent for summer), swimming in a savoury, vinegary, spicy chili oil sauce that has not been mixed together or cooked rather simply involves spooning different ingredients on to the noodles, so that it may be easily adjusted to taste. At this particular stall, the sauce consisted of chicken broth, sesame paste mixed with soy sauce, and chili oil. I was surprised that there was no vinegar involved. There were also chilled cucumber and carrot shreds to top the noodles, as well as ground peanuts mixed with ground Sichuan peppercorns.

For my taste, this dish was absolutely delicious. I especially liked the ground peppercorns that had been mixed into the peanuts, which added an extra kick of heat on top of the chili oil. My only gripe is that the noodle dough had been cut into chunky cubes rather than strands so that you up ended with a big mouthful of dough to chew on and not enough sauce. They should have been cut into strands which have more surface area and therefore allow for a way better dough/sauce ratio.

If you’re interested in trying some liang pi in Toronto, I know that you can get them at Chinese Traditional Bun on Dundas, just west of Spadina. I’ve never actually ordered their liang pi before but I’ve really liked all of the noodle and dumpling dishes I’ve tried there (most notably their beef and onion pancake roll). They also serve a killer version of liang pi at Xian Famous Foods in New York. This tiny restaurant was first introduced to me by my amazing friend Polina while visiting her in New York back in the summer of 2008. I remember nearly exploding from excitement just looking at their menu, full of all kinds of Shaanxi-style hand-pulled noodle dishes. It’s a definite destination for noodle-lovers and every time I’ve been to New York since then, I’ve had to go eat there, as if by impulse. It’s a pretty popular spot – they’ve been featured on tv shows, including Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – and they live up to the hype. On that note, I just read a great article about them on Serious Eats and the writer explains all their dishes, and the story of the restaurant, really well. Drool. I want some now.

The only other noodles being served at Night It Up were from a stand called Sumo Noodle House. They had two noodle dishes: cold soba and seafood fried udon. Despite the heat, I opted for the latter simply because I have a deep love for fried noodles (probably my favourite kind of noodle preparation). Udon are a thick, round wheat-flour noodle from Japan that are widely available in supermarkets and Japanese restaurants in Toronto. As with all the vendors at the night market, these guys cooked the noodles to order, right in front of you. They started by quickly heating up some garlic in the pan, throwing in some shrimp and octopus, adding the noodles, and frying it all together with a sweet n’ salty unagi sauce (soy+mirin+sugar), so named not because it actually contains eel but because its regularly used in the Japanese grilled eel dish (of which, btw, I am a big fan). They then plated the noodles, sprinkled them with some black sesame seeds, and topped it all with shreds of nori (dried seaweed) and shredded marble cheese. Yep, cheese. To be honest, I was disappointed and a little grossed out when I first saw the cheese. So in the interest of research, I mixed it all together like the vendors suggested and dug in. And oh man, it was so good! The cheese had melted and combined with the unagi sauce to create this creamy comforting coating for the perfectly paired thick and chewy udon (sorry there’s no post-mixing it all together photo). I was surprised at how delicious it was and ate every last bit. Mmm. Then I remembered that Guu also puts shredded cheese in their version of bipimbap and I’ve liked that too. I think cheese is a trend in modern izakaya type food.

Unfortunately, a quick google search suggests that Sumo Noodle House is not an actual restaurant in Toronto – perhaps just a one time thing for the market. But there were so few ingredients involved that it should be pretty simple to make at home, and can be easily modified to suit vegetarians or non-seafood eaters. You can bet your udon I’ll be trying this at home.

If reading this post has made you hungry and/or sad that you missed the awesome once a year night market in Markham, there’s actually another night market going on this weekend, and downtown. It’s the T&T Waterfront Night Market, which will be running from Friday to Sunday night in the parking lot of the T&T supermarket on Cherry St. I think it’s organized by different people so it won’t necessarily have the exact same stuff as the Markham one, but it’ll probably be similar, albeit much smaller. There will definitely be stinky tofu. And probably some noodles.

Inaugural post – Japan and the Cupnoodle Museum!

I’ve been talking about writing this blog for a long time, and thinking about it for even longer. Well thanks to a recent trip to Tokyo and some extra time on my hands, it’s time to finally put my noodles where my mouth is.

Japan is infinitely inspiring and stimulating for noodle enthusiasts like myself. Whereas people in Toronto are all like, “huh? what? a whole blog JUST about noodles?”, people in Tokyo were all like “but which kind of noodle are you interested in?” In a land that is known for cultivating subcultures and fandom as well as taking great pride and care in its local cuisine, my trip to Japan kinda felt like a pilgrimage – a journey to one of the great noodle homelands where my devotion would be embraced and encouraged. As a case in point, where else would I be able to visit not one but TWO noodle museums?!

Cupnoodles Museum in Yokohama

Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama

The Cupnoodles Museum in Yokohama was, for me, the coolest place ever. It was opened by Nissin in 2011 to pay homage to the company’s infamous instant cup noodles – you know, that one that used to be displayed on a giant billboard in Times Square. It’s basically a 3-floor noodle shrine. The first floor is dedicated to teaching about the invention and history of istant noodles. First, there’s a room called the Instant Noodles History Cube – a 3D timeline chronicling, in plastic package form, the historical development of instant noodles, from the very first package of chicken flavoured noodles, created in Japan in 1958, to the endless variety (I think it was actually in the range of 3000) of instant noodles across the world in the present. Beyond its design appeal, the display was actually successful in making me think about the social significance of cup noodles – they’re portable and cheap and one can have a full belly by simply adding hot water. Although perhaps not the healthiest, cup noodles are an accessible meal to many people.

Instant Noodles History Cube

After the history cube, there was the Momofuku Theater, where visitors watch an animated film about Momofuku Ando, the Japanese inventor of instant noodles. I’m guessing New York’s Momofuku is named after this guy. On that note, I’m sure you heard that Momofuku is expanding its empire to Toronto this summer, right? I’ve never actually been to any of their restaurants – not even noodle bar! – so am really looking forward to trying it – if it will ever be possible to get a reservation there.

Anyways, the film was adorable (so kawaii!) and informative. It was all about Momofuku’s toils in developing instant noodles, which took him about 30 years or something. First he had to figure out how to dry and preserve noodles (answer: flash-fry), which led to the first ever package of chicken flavoured instant noodles (it was called chikin ramen). But then, after a visit to the US, he was inspired to package his noodles in a heat-retaining styrofoam cup so that eating noodles would be as simple as peeling back the lid and adding hot water. Apparently it took a really long time to figure out the whole noodles in cup thing (the block of noodles always ended up crooked in the cup and could not be sealed), but eventually he did it (the key was dropping the cup inversely onto the noodles). And the results were obviously massively successful. The movie, and the entire museum actually, was quite endearing in its emphasis on perseverance, innovation and creativity as the keys to success.

After the movie, there was a bunch of cute interactive exhibits about the whole invention process and some cool visual displays. Like these:

Modern noodle art! Hilarious and amazing – hilazing.

The next floor of the museum was My Cupnoodles Factory where you get to make your own personalized cup noodles. First, you design the styrofoam cup with coloured markers. Then you choose your soup base flavour as well as the ingredients to accompany your dried noodles. You watch them assemble it all in the factory, and then they package it in this adorable inflatable bubble bag with strap to wear around your shoulder. Unfortunately, by the time I had arrived at the museum that day, all the tickets to the factory were already sold out so I missed out on the chance to make my own noodles 😦 It looked like all the kiddies were having a really good time. So jealous. Further along on that floor there was also the Chicken Ramen Factory where you get to actually make ramen noodles from scratch – but apparently that’s booked up months in advance.

THEN, on the third floor of the museum, there was the Noodle Bazaar where vendors sell eight different types of noodles from around the world (apparently inspired by the kind of noodles Momofuku Ando encountered during his travels in search of the origins of ramen). Pinch me! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Noodle fantasy come true! The noodle offerings were as follows: Pasta alla amatriciana from Italy (wheat pasta with a guanciale, pecorino and tomato sauce); Lagman from Kazakhstan (wheat noodles with lamb in a soupy tomato, pepper and paprika sauce); Lanzhou style beef noodle soup from China; Naengmyeon from Korea (cold buckwheat noodles in a sweet and spicy red pepper-based sauce); Beef pho from Vietnam (rice noodles in a flavourful beef broth that has been seasoned with various ingredients such as star anise, cinnamon, ginger, garlic and coriander seed, and often garnished with basil, bean sprouts and lime); Tom yum goong from Thailand (rice noodles in a spicy and sour broth that’s usually made with lemongrass, lime, galangal, fish sauce and chilis); Laksa from Malaysia (usually rice noodles, although sometimes, as here, served with yellow egg noodles – mee – in a coconut milk-based curry broth with tofu puffs, bean sprouts and hard-boiled egg); and Mie Goreng from Indonesia (egg noodles fried with garlic, shallots, cabbage, chicken and shrimp).

In order to get yourself some noodles, you had to first purchase a ticket from a vending machine and then pass it to the vendor who would cook up your meal. Ordering through vending machines is actually quite common at noodle shops and curry houses in Japan. Thankfully, there was the option for a half-portion so that you could sample several different dishes. I opted for three – Laksa, Mie Goreng and Lagman, since I had never tried any of them before. Despite Toronto’s diverse and abundant food offerings, there are not many/easily accessible Singapore, Malay or Kazakh places around. However, part of the purpose of this blog for me is to seek them out, so stay tuned!

To be honest, none of the dishes at the noodle bazaar were particularly delicious. They all lacked flavour, depth and proper noodle texture (shame!) and seemed to be toned down versions of the original dish.I suppose I shouldn’t have expected too much from a kid-focused noodle wonderland (btw, I forgot to mention that further along on that floor there was actually a noodle theme park with interactive games where kids get to see noodle production from the perspective of the noodles – ha). Regardless, it was still fun to try them all out.

Inside the noodle bazaar

Laksa – you’re supposed to suck the guts from the prawn head

Mie Goreng

Lagman ticket vending machine

Lagman

And more lagman – I think there are some garlic scapes in there too

Finally, after filling yourself with noodles, the last stop at this noodle Graceland was, of course, the gift shop. Lots and lots and lots of noodle-themed memorabilia, and all sorts of things with the Cupnoodle Museum’s red and white graphic logo, which kinda looks like three exclamation marks but I think is actually borrowed from the design band on the Cupnoodles cups. I bought myself some noodle coasters, a box of fancy instant noodles, glittery ramen stickers (why not?) and a Cupnoodles Museum umbrella since it started to rain as I was leaving. Still a little bummed that it didn’t fit into my suitcase to bring home. Here’s a smattering of some of the other noodle-themed gifts on offer:

Noodle sticky tabs to mark pages in your book

Cupnoodle notebooks

And even Cupnoodle disposable chopsticks

And that was my trip to noodle land! Despite the mediocre noodles they serve, the museum itself was so much fun, really well designed and inspired some future noodle quests in Toronto.