Tag Archives: seasons

LightRefreshingCool: soba noodles with dipping sauce

Shanghai summer, electric with the endless buzz of cicadas, is in full swing. With the mercury hitting — and passing — 35C for days on end, hovering over a gas stove to make a hot meal begins to its appeal. Ice cream and fruit smoothies keep me cool, but what to do for an actual meal?

Enter soba noodles, which I’d prepared before in various ways. This very useful blog post I came across when googling how to cook soba noodles properly inspired me to do it the summertime Japanese way, served cold with dipping sauce.

I’ve made a few modifications from the above-linked recipe based on what I’ve got in the kitchen and to suit my own taste: plates instead of bamboo sieves (which look pretty but look like a pain to wash), peanut/sesame-based sauce rather than the traditional soba tsuyu, and whatever cool toppings I have on hand (or none at all).

The result is a quick-to-prepare and fun-to-eat meal that’s high on flavour and low on heat. And kinda addictive — I’ve had this three times in the past 4 days! The recipe below is my twist on the theme.

15-minute cold soba noodles with nutty dipping sauce

100g soba (buckwheat) noodles (荞麦面)

Dipping sauce
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsbp peanut butter or pure sesame paste (black or white)
1 tsp black rice vinegar (鎮江香醋)
1 tsp sesame oil
4-5 tbsp lukewarm water
1.5 tsp sugar
2 tsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp finely chopped green onion
Half a carrot, cut into matchsticks
Half a cucumber, cut into matchsticks
Other raw veggies or cold tofu

1. Sprinkle soba noodles in large pot of boiling water. Use chopsticks to immerse all noodles in water, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes or until cooked through (taste to test).
2. While noodles are cooking, prepare the toppings by cutting up the vegetables. If using carrot and/or cucumber, sprinkle lightly with salt and drizzle with a little sesame oil.
3. In a small bowl, mix all sauce ingredients together with a spoon. Peanut butter may remain in small clumps. Taste and adjust amounts to suit your preference. Place green onions in sauce.
4. Once noodles are cooked, drain into a colander, then rinse under a steady stream of cold water until noodles are cool to the touch. Wash the noodles actively by picking up bunches and swishing them around directly under the water until they are no longer gummy. Or follow these detailed steps. Because Chinese tap water isn’t safe for consumption, either do a final rinse with potable water, or pour (fresh) boiling water over the noodles as a last step.
5. Take small bunches of noodles and place them one by one on a plate or serving platter.
6. To eat, pick up a portion of noodles with chopsticks and dip briefly in sauce, then eat immediately. Serve with cold vegetables.

Serves 1. Increase amounts proportionally to suit additional diners. Each person should get their own bowl of dipping sauce, unless you don’t mind sharing :-)

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Weather conditions for today

Not relevant at all, but I had to share. I’ve become accustomed to “haze” in the weather forecast, but today was the first time I’d ever seen this:

Ugh, this stuff is supposed to happen in Beijing, not Shanghai…!

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Surviving winter

One of the factors that influenced my choice of Shanghai over Beijing was the latter’s supposedly unbearable, frigid winters. Well, it was only after I arrived, and the temperatures began to drop, did I learn how indoor heating is distributed in China. Basically, houses south of the Yangtze River are not built with central heating, while those north of the River are. It’s not because “southern” provinces all have the luxury of a subtropical Hong Kong-style winter (in fact, those living one mile north and more mile south of the river likely experience identical weather year round), but rather that, as one of my teachers put it, if everyone in China had central heating at home, there would be no energy left for the rest of the world. So from an environmental perspective, this arrangement sorta makes sense…

But from a practical, on-the-ground perspective, this arrangement really sucks. It means that we southerners have to stay bundled up indoors and rely on portable heaters and air-conditioning units that double as warm air dispensers:

Why does heat have to rise?

We have three of these in the apartment: one in each bedroom and one in the living room. On a single-digit-degree day, a setting of 24C on the remote makes the room just bearable. Unfortunately, there are also times when turning on the heater is not an option, whether due to neighbour complaints about dripping water or the electrical outlet losing power. Also, our kitchen and dining areas, which face north, are not equipped with a heating unit. Having endured one month without heat in a poorly insulated house in Philly last winter due to a crazy (Chinese) landlady, I should be used to sleeping in my overcoats, but I’m not. In fact, I’m more or less morbidly afraid of the cold.

Thankfully, I’ve found a few household additions that have greatly improved my quality of life during these heatless times.

I was this close to getting a pair of indoor rip-off UGGs, but settled for these instead.

Fleece housecoat. Wear over 3 layers for optimal effect.

I’ve also started wearing ridiculously high-waisted long-johns under my pajama pants, but we’ll skip the photo for that one.

And for the bathroom, probably most my worthwhile investment ever, at 4.9rmb (~0.7usd):

It makes a world of difference, trust me.

Lastly, a must-have for the outdoors, the face mask. I’d often wished for something like this the last few winters in the States, but never spotted them anywhere. More than a(n albeit crappy) protective shield against SARS and the flu, these things are great in the windy cold and, thankfully, are in fashion over here.

Best worn sans glasses.

When all is said and done, though, it’s really my hands that suffer most in a cold apartment. If anyone could tell me where to get a pair of these without forking outrageous (or any) dough for shipping, I would be eternally grateful.


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Owed to autumn

Autumn really didn’t get a fair shot in Shanghai this year. I fear I may have jinxed my high hopes for my favourite season in a mid-September journal entry:

In one of my classes this week we discussed our favourite season(s). Maybe because it was the season featured in the textbook, but there was much talk of spring, and what happens in spring (花开了,草长了,people fall in love, etc.). But spring to me is, though glorious, a gust of fresh air that is in too much of a hurry to turn humid, a tease, an undecided customer. It’s a kid who, every few days, knocks on your door but runs away before you can open it. By the time everyone’s agreed that it’s arrived, it has left again with barely a scribble in the guestbook. Autumn, on the other hand, and at least in the places I’ve lived in, is no-nonsense, mature, too old for pranks. When it comes you appreciate the gradual drop in temperature and takes enough time bidding farewell that you’re ready for what comes next. It begins the school year and reignites all the possibility that comes with it. Though the shrinking day makes me sad, it also makes me want to be productive while it lasts, and to write pointless emo entries like this.

Instead, I was shown yet another example of how one just cannot carry preconceived notions to China and expect to use them as currency. “Autumn” this year ended up fitting exactly the qualities I used to describe spring, which is to say, barely existent. We had a few beautiful days back in October, but other than that, it’s basically gone from humid and hot to wet and cold and windy in a matter of days. Autumn–with its changing colours, cool crisp air, and days that make you want to stay outside forever–never even got a chance.

Maybe it’s typical Shanghai, and I’m just grumpy because I was spoiled in Philly–which is gorgeous in the fall–these last five years, and nostalgia is getting the better of me. But according to Shanghaiist, the city is experiencing its earliest winter of the decade. Boo. We’ve had nothing but grey skies, wind, rain, and numb feet & hands for the past week. I can only seek comfort in the words of a favourite poem (holler at Keats) while holding out hope that this might mean spring will come early, be lovely, and play fair. (Yearite.)

[Edit 11/29: The past week ended up being really nice and warm and beautiful :D]

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