Wonton noodles: an intro
Sheng High has recently launched a series of ‘Noodle Nights’, drawing on my experience living in Hong Kong and having gained some experience in a local wonton noodle shop there – it’s an integral part of Cantonese culture and, from humble beginnings, has risen to become one of the iconic foods of Hong Kong. I’d like to share a short intro to this wonderful noodle dish, its origins and what makes a good wonton noodle soup.
What Are They?
Wonton noodles are a ubiquitous soup noodle with dumplings found in mainland China which originated in the southern province of Guangdong (Canton). Whilst there are numerous dumpling noodle soups throughout China, the wonton noodle (雲吞面) is specific to Guangdong and Hong Kong.
The dish is called is ‘sai yung’ (细蓉) in Cantonese, a name - purportedly coined in the early 1900s by Cantonese literati – which alludes to the hisbiscus flower which is native to subtropical climes such as much as Guangdong. Using a famous Tang dynasty poem, the noodles blooming and the wontons rising in hot water is likened to the opening of the flower.
Traditionally, wontons were made with minced meat in a simple broth with ramen-like wheat / egg noodles and a soup, sold as a simple street food to satiate hungry bellies. As time went on, more ingredients were added and, in the post WW2 years when a large number of Cantonese emigrated to Hong Kong, they brought with them an ever more refined wonton noodles. It was during this post-war era that the humble wonton noodle was transformed into the delicate gem it is today.
What makes a good wonton noodle soup?
In Hong Kong, each element of the dish is important.
Firstly, the wontons (typically fresh prawns mixed with a little fatty pork) should not be too big so as to keep a certain ‘mouthfeel’. On first bite, there should also be a little bit of moisture which comes from the fat in the pork. The wontons themselves should be not too tight, but not too loose so as to fall apart when cooking.
Noodles – traditionally made using a large bamboo cane (see video), wonton noodle aficiondos will look for noodles which has a certain ‘al dente’ elasticity and a flavour free of the soapy, lye water which is a key ingredient in the noodle.
Soup Broth - this should be a bronze colour and is made from pork bones, chicken bones, vegetables and, most importantly, dried flounder which gives it a distinctive fragrant taste.
All of this is topped with Chinese garlic chives, rounding off a simple but exquisite dish that balances umami flavours with the crunch of the noodles, the bite of the wontons and the smooth fluid of the soup broth. Some shops also provide a red Chinese vinegar to go with the soup.
Sheng High is committed to bringing a taste of Cantonese wonton noodles to London and our recipe is our take on the more traditional recipe (using just meat) and our own soup broth to go with noodles which are imported from Hong Kong.
We look forward to seeing you at our next Noodle Night. Happy Eating!