Hands down, my mom’s most universally appealing signature dish is her lo-mein noodles. If there’s a big, extended-family potluck, by popular demand, mom always brings her noodles. For family holidays, even if we have a traditional Easter brunch with egg casseroles and cinnamon rolls, we must have a pan of mom’s noodles. And best of all, when my siblings or I host big parties with a hearty cocktail buffet, we can rely on mom to whip up a huge platter of her noodles. Even if I hire a caterer, I still ask mom to make her noodles to round out the menu. When my dear friend from NYC visits over the holidays, we host an intimate cocktail party for her and her husband. She always anxiously asks, “Is your mom going to make her noodles?” Yup, even the finest restaurants in New York can’t match the Dragon Lady!
The best part of my mom’s noodles is that she always makes a huge mound. (My family gets really nervous if we don’t have piles of at least twice as much food as we need.) So if you’relucky, there’s usually enough left over for “the morning after.” If you’ve had a “rough”, late night, you are just a 90 second microwave-wait away from a warm plate of comfort food, Chinese-style.
But usually, the noodles won’t survive past the lingering party guests who need an after hours munchie. Late into the night, I have witnessed certain friends (who shall remain nameless) stagger to the picked-over buffet table, and start shoveling noodles into their mouths straight from the serving platter. It’s a scene that would not just make Emily Post roll in her grave; it would put her into convulsions. My elegantly presented noodle platter, amidst crystal candelabras and silver serving utensils, suddenly turns into a community pig trough. Mind you, many of our friends are straight-laced business professionals, but for some reason, they must feel especially at ease in our home. To be fair, perhaps the “welcome-shot” (or two) of Stoli Elite may have something to do with this behavior.
Years ago at a holiday party, one “over-served” guest (who’s not known for her tactfulness) was so intrigued by the delicious noodles that she staggered over to my mother and grilled her about the ingredients. In between the shoveling of huge forkfuls of noodles into her mouth, she tried to guess what exactly made the noodles taste sooooo delicious. Being a very weight-conscious individual, she asked with concern, “Are these fattening? Is there butter in these noodles?” Obviously she had never cooked a Chinese dish in her entire life. I think my mom looked at her like she had three heads. But she politely answered, “Traditionally, we do not use butter in Chinese cooking.” The conversation just went downhill from there. That answer prompted the gal to go off on another tangent. She proceeded to talk about how she heard that Chinese people drown their baby daughters in buckets of water, and asked my mom if that was true.
Mom kept a sweet smile on her face as best she could, and replied, “Well I have three daughters…and I never tried to drown any of them.” My mom later told me she thought that girl might have been just a little bit “tipsy” (as mom likes to put it). I’m not so sure that alcohol could be entirely blamed on this one, but in any case, this has turned out to be one of my favorite “lo-mein noodle stories”. Cheers!