Friday, December 20, 2013

Spicy noodles

For a toddler, Jack is an adventurous eater. Not always; there are days he seems to eat only bread products. But most days he's ready to have some bites, or a full meal, of whatever we're having. He tends to enjoy dishes with a lot of strong flavors. We can eat hot curried Indian food and he'll munch right along, or tangy cheeses, or bell peppers, and so on. Yesterday at dinner with some of Kate's coworkers he declared he wanted mussels and scarfed down a half pot of herb-marinated Scottish mussels; for good measure, he added some bites of venison stew and peppercorn steak.

Today for lunch he wanted "noodles," and grabbed a noodle bowl from our cupboard. Good choice, son.

The best noodle bowls I've found outside of China.
I fell in love with spicy noodle bowls on our trip to China in 2004. We were on an overnight train, not the kind with private bunks but instead long partitionless cars with three-level bunk beds open to all of the other riders in the car. Besides our handful of fellow Caucasian companions the passengers were all Chinese, and many of them had styrofoam bowls of steaming noodles. When a woman passed through with a cart of snacks, Kate and I picked our own bowls. The woman produced a kettle of hot water, poured it into our bowls, and closed the tops for a few minutes to let the dried noodles cook. She handed over chopsticks.

The first bite of noodles burned in temperature and spices. My eyes watered. I persisted. The spices lingered in the back of my throat. I gasped for breath. Holy sh*t, how do they eat this stuff? It was gloriously flavorful and painful at the same time. I was hooked.

After consuming more than my fair share of noodle bowls on our trip, I looked for similar products back in the States. No luck. There were noodle bowls, but none approached the kind of flavor and spices as we found in China.

When we came across a single brand (Nong Shim) of noodle bowls at our Morrison's grocery store here in Glasgow, I figured I'd give them a try. Success! They're not quite what I remember from China -- Nong Shim is a South Korean company -- but they're excellent. We ate some noodles earlier this week, and one bite was so spicy I had to drink an entire glass of milk just to soothe my throat.

Jackson eats his noodles on a plate. After they're cooked, we take his noodles out of the water and let them cool on the plate awhile before he can eat them. But he usually wants them out of our bowls, so we blow on forkfuls until they cool and he steals our noodles.

Today, before his request for noodles, Jackson had already had a first lunch of tuna fish and tomatoes. But it had been an unsettling morning for him. We had visited with one of his toddler buddies who's moving north to the highlands, and the boys watched the truck get loaded and then drive away. Jackson was perturbed that Charlie's flat had no toys -- "There's no toys here!", he kept repeating -- and didn't like hearing that Charlie would no longer be living there.

The boys got to sit in the truck before it left.
Then Jackson had to watch as Kate, who had stayed home for the morning, went off to work, which just isn't the routine he's accustomed to. The day hadn't gone the way Jackson anticipated.

When he grabbed the noodle bowl, I decided we'd eat a second lunch together. I think it was a kind of comfort food for him. This is a kid who generally refuses to eat macaroni and cheese, but will eat multiple helpings of lo mein or pad Thai.

Hot noodles.
So we ate noodles and listened to Christmas music, and then watched a bit of Peppa Pig. My anxious boy calmed and soothed until he was nearly asleep on my lap.

Sometimes, they taste better from your fingers than from the fork.
I put him down for a nap.

And ate another bowl.


  1. I haven't had instant noodles like that in years... reading this made me crave them again the other night.