The Cyberchefs Electronic Union

"CURRY NOODLE TIME;The Sam Woh Experience
Written by Eric Ehrmann @1996, Eric Ehrmann
Eric Ehrmann lives and writes in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was one of the original contributors to Rolling Stone Magazine. He has lectured at the University of Virginia, the Indiana University School of Journalism and the University of New Mexico.

After reading about chop suey on Chef Mars' website, I got to thinking about another Chinese dish, curry noodle soup, otherwise known when ordering as curry noodle.

I had my first taste of curry noodle in 1970. The aromatic vapor from the concoction engulfed my face, clearing the sinuses, helping a hangover too. It warmed the soul and had the attributes of a magical potion. I was 23, living in San Francisco and working at Rolling Stone magazine. I'd just read "Down in Out in Paris and London," George Orwell's account the fine folks who were drawn to the food arts. This book made me I look at dining establishments as theater, often theater of the absurd. Among patrons and cook staff one could see people harboring second and third-- sometimes dysfunctional-- personalities that hovered just below the surface, waiting to jump into the fray and set the dining drama moving in another direction.

SAM WOH noodle house on Washington just north of Grant Avenue in San Francisco's Chinatown was such a place. Mecca for curry noodle lovers. It was a two story joint, with kitchen on the ground floor. To get to the food you had to run a gauntlet of oriental cook staff who were to the cleaver what Machine Gun Kelly was to the Tommy Gun. Back then they didn't look favorably on stoned-out roundeyes traipsing in in the middle of the night. You'd pass through clouds of steam rising from big soup and noodle cauldrons, climb a flight and a half of steep stairs and find a stool at one of the tables in the long, narrow dining room. It was more like the galley on a Liberian registered tramp freighter. No armchair dining here.

The late night crowd was dotted with celebrities, gamblers, musicians, old beatniks, hippies and oriental faces with far away eyes who probably just floated out of an opium den. Nobody seemed to know who "SAM WOH" was. Ask an oriental and you'd get a blank stare.

Menus were posted on the walls in Chinese like Red Guard pronouncements. Anglos ordered by pointing to what another anglo was eating until they learned the system. It was a simple array. Broth with flat rice noodle, pork and vegetables; broth with thin semolina noodle with pork and vegetables, or boiled rice noodle with pork and vegetables on a plate. Fried broad flat rice noodle with pork and vegetables was also available. There was also a raw fish salad with spicy sauce and slices of fresh ginger. Some of the toothless old-timers scarfed down a thick rice gruel. These old boys always stationed themselves downstairs at a communal table near the door. Most appeared as down and out as anything Orwell ever wrote about.

SAM WOH was small but did volume business and everything was fresh; noodles were made from scratch; the barbecue pork came from a nearby butcher. Fish and veggies were from local markets.

The curry noodle has never been topped in my book. Dosanko and other japanese-style larmen houses in New York and on the Coast come close, their broth is too salty, the noodles too thin. SAM WOH excelled in taste and presentation, in an oversize bowl with a dollop of catsup in the center and a tablespoon of curry powder atop it, supported by oodles of broad rice noodles were Diced scallions floated around the catsup adding flavor and aroma. Adding a touch of soy sauce, the mix resembled spicy Indonesian "katjap." This was a unique taste for San Francisco eateries at that time.

But it was a despotic head waiter known as Edsel Ford Fung that made SAM WOH such a formidable Babylon-by-the-Bay institution. Edsel, big for an oriental chap at 6' 200 lbs. in his whitewall crew cut, long apron and omnipresent game-face scowl. If you walked in at prime time and didn't know Edsel you were in for some first-class abuse taking. He was the Pol Pot of noodledom and when it came to insults, he took no prisoners.

If there was a line and you weren't a regular, even if you were at the head of it, you'd have to wait. If you asked questions about the food, Edsel would point to menus tacked to the wall, all in chinese. He would slide your bowl across the table, not minding if some of it messed your pants or shirt along the way. He'd throw the chopsticks onto the table like they were a pair of dice. And to make matters worse, he'd laugh about it, right in your face.

Mao said everybody eats from the same pot of soup but Edsel let you know he was an ardent supporter of Generalissimo Chaing Kai-Shek. Probably never read Lao-Tze, but he sure believed in the divide and conquer theory. So much in fact that he would sometimes split parties of four at different tables in order to fill all the seats in the joint, one winding up as a solitaire amongst complete strangers. Then he'd get the orders confused, writing the wrong order note then sending it downstairs on the dumb waiter. People would have to eat what he gave them. Sometimes the line would go all the way down the stairs and when you got to the top of that he didn't know you, it was always "you wait!" and he'd move some regulars up for seating. And if somehow he was distracted and you got by him to seat yourself, he would make you get up, sit you someplace else, just to remind you who was running the show. It was a good show, as long as the soup stayed hot. When Edsel would see you were finished he'd send his flunky over with a broom to go through the motions of sweeping the floor, then he'd come by to "pre-bus" your table. Regulars got to linger if they had gossip to trade.

I was lucky. A friend who took me to SAM WOH for the first time operated an X-rated movie house on Sutter Street and provided Edsel with a weekly ration of free passes. In turn, Edsel doled out the passes to his Chinatown pals, increasing his status among certain elements of the community. Thanks to that friend I got first class treatment, avoiding the abusive right of passage. There was also Edsel's "special tea," made from ginseng extract, dispensed only to insiders, a signal that you were on his good side. If you asked for the "special tea", he would always say "out." He doled it out. And it could be quite a wake up call.

Herb Caen, the legendary columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle would lunch at SAM WOH, which made the despotic Edsel very happy. In his column Caen would quote Edsel on local politics and Chinatown gossip. Edsel's responses featured as many oxymorons as a Yogi Berra line. He would beam at regulars, showing them his name in that day's Chronicle. When a curious stranger would butt in, he would unleash a volley of expletives. It was ironic that the people he abused the most seemed to give him the largest tips. And they kept coming back for more abuse.

Edsel passed on to the great noodleland in the sky during the 80s. But for those who ate curry noodle and watched his show, his legend lives.

If interested in carry out service call (415)982-0596.

"Making the Perfect Chop Suey"
Written by Anonymous © 1996
Posted Nov. 14, 1996

Anonymous is executive chef at "Chez You Know Who" Somewhere on the West Coast

This perennial favorite is fast becoming extinct because home cooks find it difficult. We set out to correct this misconception. I explored every known technique for fry-stirred Chop Suey. Our goal was two-fold:"This perennial favorite is fast becoming extinct because home cooks find it difficult. We set out to correct this misconception. I explored every known technique for fry-stirred Chop Suey. Our goal was two-fold:
1) to duplicate the Proustian memory of the je ne sais quoi of 1950's red velvet Chinese restaurant Chop Suey, without compromising our high standards for complex flavor and textural contrasts;
2) to reduce kitchen toil to the minimum for working families. We considered four variables:
Which ingredients are indispensable to the perfect Chop Suey; technique; cooking times; and the exact proportions of seasoning. Other essential factors were the choice of utensil (gas or electric); and choice of the appropriate apron.
The Apron
Williams-Sonoma carries a high-quality designer model, quite alluring, but adding nothing to Chop Suey technique. We sent it back. DKNY's version was tempting, but the short length left hot oil splatter on our Chefwear baggies. Surprisingly, the K-Mart polyester model (red and black) suited us best and set the perfect mood for our Suey.
Select dull green, yet compact heads of Withering Mustard Choy; Warm and Fuzzy Melon, well-gnarled hands of ginger and an armful of bean sprouts (soy, never mung!). If you're lucky, there will be fresh water chestnuts. Select those with the thickest coat of mud for they are the sweetest. (See cOOK's back issue # 4, the article on de-mudding water chestnuts with a basic sun-dried water chestnut recipe and variations.)
At the seasoning and sauces aisle select a large jar of something with no English on the label whatsoever, and above all, no Nutrition Facts.
Cleaver technique is critical for a high quality Chop Suey. Pay attention to
The Chop
At 9:00 PM Hong Kong time (8 :00 AM EST) I tried chopping the vegetables with my Chinese cleaver, sharpened on Mongolian whet stones. Next I used my French chef's knife, and finally a Ginzo gadget - see Sources. Obviously, the latter produced the best cut, slightly ragged, with homestyle panache. In every case you must use short, rapid chops on a cut-off tree stump, where available; a Taiwanese nylon cutting board yielded almost as nice results, but wood contributed more authenticity.
Cooking Time
This is the most important factor for a perfect Chop Suey. We tried fry-stirring for five, fifteen, and sixty minutes, tasting and rinsing the palate with Mai Tai between batches. We all agreed that the shortest cooking time tasted best, but that one hour was necessary for complete dissolution of ingredients and satisfying mouthfeel, while yielding a high degree of widely accepted standards. We decided to give it a second round with a re-supply of Mai-Tai. The gang of four tasters included Dong Zhao Pengs personal chef on loan; a local Chinese take-out delivery cyclist; and two sous chefs from our restaurant (specializing in Pac/Rim nouvelle).
Common flavorings include ordinary chemically-brewed soy sauce with hydrolized vegetable protein (see sources); duck sauce, salt, garlic powder, sugar, and a pinch or two of crystalline, not lump, "good taste powder" (no-msg to you). To verify this we tried an organic, three-year old D.O.C.G. soy from Japan, but found it too aggressive, overpowering the flavor of the vegetables. Sugar is optional, but more authentic; use more when cooking for non-Chinese guests. A shot of Cold Duck cooking wine at the end improved flavor. However, it diluted the cornstarch slurry too much, so finally we omitted the extra wine and the chefs finished the bottle.
Sample Recipes
Basic Chop Suey Rhode Island Chop Suey Sandwich Thai-Style Chop Suey Salad with Grilled Asian Goat Cheese
Ginzo knife: The Home Shopping Channel, item #7/1882, offered nightly at 3:00 AM.
Ingredients: Soy sauce and duck sauce. Ask for extra freebee packets at your local Chinese take-out. Do not dilute.

"Chef's Collaborative 2000 Retreat"
Posted Oct., 1996

Written by Chef Gary Holleman, well known cookbook author, and recognized authority on the impact of technology in the food service industry. This interesting article is his personal diary recounting the "Chef's Collaborative 2000 Retreat" last year in Puerto Rico.

As Gary told me
"The word sustainable implies concern for the entire process of food choices in this case. Included is the ag. method, the transportation of food, the marketing, the preparation and even the diet of the person eating. So for instance, if a melon is grown organically but trucked 5000 miles from Chile to supply a chef in the "off" season, one might not consider it "sustainable." This of course doesn't mean that chefs shouldn't buy them but that careful consideration should be given. Some of the chefs would never consider buying a Chilean melon, others buy them all the time. Sustainable might also include not using varieties of fish that are over-fished. Or serving menues that are not healthy since they could not be sustainalble for the diner. Or is might include not buy from a farmer that uses slave-like migrant workers, because the lifestyle is not sustainable."

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