41.2 Shaking Noodles
The girl smiled. Honestly, her smiling expression was uglier than the average person’s crying face. “Every chef has their specialty. Mine is wheat foods. The epithet ‘Superb Wheat Foods’ is a bit of a boast, but after an honest self-review, I decided that the food I made was worth at least a gold coin.”
Nian Bing’s heart thumped1. He said, “I don’t know whether or not the young lady knows a senior called the Mysterious Chef. The other two pastries are quite well-known around the continent, but the secret of the golden aromatic roll isn’t known to many.”
The girl’s eyes sparkled with a hint of surprise. “To be able to tell the origins of my culinary skills with a single glance, who are you?”
Nian Bing smiled and answered, “I am just an ordinary chef. I have a friend who is a disciple of the Mysterious Chef, so I’m familiar with the Mysterious Chef’s style of cooking. So I was able to identify your culinary technique.”
The girl trembled from head to toe. “Could it be that you know Senior Brother Ming Yuan? But he is in Ice and Snow City!”
Xue Jing’s excited voice spoke from behind Nian Bing, “You are Uncle Ming Yuan’s junior sister?”
When the girl saw Xue Jing’s beauty, she could not help but lower her head out of shame caused by her inferiority. “Yes, I am Master’s closed-door disciple 2. Master said that Senior Brother has always been in Ice and Snow City.”
Xue Jing’s beautiful eyes shifted fluidly, seeming to be thinking over something. She then stepped forward and intimately grabbed the girl’s tender and delicate hands and said, “Come, let us talk while sitting. Since you call Uncle Ming Yuan your senior brother, it seems that I am one generation younger than you, hee hee.”
Seeing the two girls moving to sit and forgetting about him, Nian Bing could not help but wear a helpless smile. However, he was very curious about the girl who called herself Ming Yuan’s junior sister. From her achievements with wheat foods, it would seem that she was not any less well-versed in the culinary arts than Ming Yuan. Although Master had said that Nian Bing was talented, due to the fact that he had studied all sorts of culinary arts for almost eight years, he had very few specialties. But with the addition of his magic, he could become a top-class chef. Nian Bing understood that if he wanted to break through to higher levels of cooking, he definitely could not always rely on magic. He needed to spend more time improving his comprehension in order to level-up in all aspects of cooking.
When he made his way over to the table on the side, he heard Xue Jing ask the girl, “My name is Xue Jing. Uncle Ming Yuan is the head chef at our Pure Wind House. What is your name?”
The girl’s eyes showed her excitement. “My name is Ming Hui. You are from the Pure Wind House? My master said that if I have time I should go to the Pure Wind House to see Senior Brother. How is my senior brother doing; is he well?”
Xue Jing nodded and said, “Uncle Ming is doing very well. Right now, he does not even cook personally. However, I have never seen him make donkey rolls and fried ginger twists! Is he not able to?”
Ming Hui nodded and said, “Yes, Senior Brother cannot. These two pastries were something that Master developed and adopted when Master brought me out to travel. Master had not seen Senior Brother in many years. While we were out travelling, I gained much knowledge, like a popular nursery rhyme among the local children that praises the fried ginger twist. ‘Buy a bag, get another bag of Qi Lu fried dough. The dough is soaked in ginger juice, cannabis flowers, broken into pieces, and looks like an embroidered flower. A bag of them is like crystals, when you eat them they taste sweet and crispy.’3. It, along with the Qi Lu empire’s dough twist are called the two famous foods of Qi Lu.”
Hearing this, Nian Bing could not stop himself from asking, “Where is Senior Mysterious Chef? I would like to learn from him very much.”
Ming Hui smiled, her buck teeth protruding even more. “Master is not here. He left me here to work and set off on his own. He said that I had to train myself for many years. I also don’t know where he went.”
Nian Bing complimented sincerely, “Mistress Ming Hui, your culinary skills are extremely exquisite.”
Ming Hui was somewhat embarrassed. Her fair face was suffused with a red blush. She shook her head and replied, “It really isn’t like that. Master said that I was talented, but had a poor memory. I could not learn every different aspect of the culinary arts like Senior Brother. He said that if I tried that, I could become a good chef, but it would be very difficult for me to become one of the top culinary experts on the continent. Instead, it would be better for me to learn just a single aspect of the culinary arts. Then the hope for me becoming a peak chef would be much greater. So I chose wheat foods since they didn’t have much of a bloody scent, so I could become a top pastry4 chef.”
Only learn wheat foods? Nian Bing could not help but harbor some doubt. However, he recognized the Mysterious Chef’s practice. When Zha Ji was teaching him, he said that if it was not for his dual ice and fire magic, he would have wanted him to learn only a single kind of culinary art. In that way, he could become first in his field, before developing other areas. But due to his magic cooking, he could make countless variations of food and flavors, so Zha Ji decided that it was best for him to simultaneously develop all aspects of culinary arts. Through long years of practice and comprehension, he would be able to gradually raise the level of his culinary arts.”
With a slight smile, Nian Bing said, “You are already a top-level pastry chef. I think that even Senior Mysterious Chef could not make wheat foods as good as you at your age. I learned much from Master Ming’s culinary skills, but when it comes to wheat foods, except for the Golden Aromatic Ring, his other dishes may not be above yours.”
When Ming Hui heard Nian Bing’s praise, her blush deepened. “Elder Brother praises me wrongly. Actually, I owe many thanks to the Master for my achievements. Without his great care in raising me, I would not be here today. Master taught me for twelve years; I learned how to knead dough from him when I was five years old. When I was fourteen, I followed Master on a journey throughout the continent. Through three years of apprenticeship, Master captured the essence of the wheat foods from every place and fused them into my wheat food culinary arts so that I could be this successful. However, compared to a truly good chef, I am not much. After all, I am just a pastry chef.”
Nian Bing shook his head, saying, “No, Mistress Ming Hui you are wrong. Although you are just a pastry chef, if you could be the best in this aspect and become the number one pastry chef on the continent, then you definitely would not be less qualified than anyone else. Have confidence in yourself! As a good chef, modesty is necessary, but you don’t need to be self-deprecating. If you want other people to acknowledge you, then you must first acknowledge yourself. Do you get it?”
Ming Hui looked deeply into Nian Bing’s eyes for a long period of time. She suddenly smiled. “Your way of speaking is very friendly, similar to my master’s. If Master saw you, perhaps he would be very happy. We should definitely have some discussions.” When she said this, she turned to Xue Jing and asked, “Big Sister Xue, I heard from a travelling merchant several years ago that there was a really awesome chef that appeared in Ice and Snow City who was also a mage. He can fuse magic with culinary arts and make dishes with very special flavors. But I don’t know if this is true or not.”
Xue Jing looked at Nian Bing and said with a smile, “Of course it’s true. Moreover, that chef once worked at our Pure Wind House.” She and Nian Bing were not suspicious of Ming Hui at all. Other things could be faked, but her culinary skill was definitely real, especially her exquisite wheat foods.
Ming Hui asked in surprise, “Really? Are his culinary arts truly as wonderful as the travelling merchant described? I really want to try the results of magic and cooking being put together. Sadly, I cannot use magic. If not, then I would definitely have experimented a bit.”
Xue Jing’s smile gleamed brighter. “If you want to know whether or not his skills are as legendary as they say it’s pretty easy. You can just ask him personally.”
Ming Hui was stunned for a moment. “Ask for advice? But he is in Ice and Snow City. Don’t tell me I have to go to Ice and Snow City and ask for advice? I cannot leave this place.”
Xue Jing smiled. “If you wanted to ask him for advice then it is quite simple. You do not even have to leave your door to ask him that because he is right here.”
Ming Hui continued to be obtuse. She still did not understand what Xue Jing meant. She looked at Xue Jing, who in turn directed her gaze towards Nian Bing. Xue Jing said, “The Magic Chef of Ice and Fire that you have heard of is close; he’s right before your eyes!”
Ming Hui stared at Nian Bing with wide eyes. “Y-you are the legendary Magic Chef of Ice and Fire?”
Nian Bing smiled painfully and said, “I am not some sort of ancient curio. I really do not the want the word “legendary” used to describe me. However, I truly am the chef who uses magic in cooking that you have heard of. You can call me Nian Bing.”
Ming Hui could not disguise her expression. Just like when Nian Bing had seen Ming Yuan for the first time, when chefs of their caliber meet other chefs of at least equal skill, there would be a special feeling. It was like meeting a relative. “That’s great. I will definitely ask for some advice. Elder Brother Nian Bing, will you come with me into the kitchen?”
Nian Bing smiled. “I also want to learn the art of wheat foods from you. Honestly speaking, if it’s just wheat foods, I am definitely worse than you.”
Ming Hui took the initiative to grab Nian Bing’s hand, already forgetting the difference between men and women as she tugged him into the chicken. Because of Ming Hui’s appearance, Xue Jing was not jealous at all. She simply smiled as she followed behind them to the kitchen. As the inheritor of the Pure Wind House, how could she miss the exchange of pointers between two top-level chefs?
The kitchen of Supreme Wheat Foods was very large, but empty. Like Ming Hui had said, the only chef in here was her. She didn’t even have any subordinates. The most eye-catching thing in the kitchen was the gigantic kneading board.5 The left side was covered by a clean cloth. Without even looking, Nian Bing knew that beneath that cloth were every which kind of doughs.
“Ming Hui, what sort of wheat food are you most skilled in? Can I try a bit? I have still not eaten my fill from the refreshments.” Nian Bing smiled while stating his request.
Ming Hui said, “My number one specialty is beef noodle soup. Please let me know your thoughts, Elder Brother Nian Bing.” While speaking, she opened the door to the oven below and started boiling a pot of clear water.
Beef noodle soup sounded very simple, but Nian Bing knew that the beef noodle soup that Ming Hui makes could not be so simple. Just as he was thinking that, he saw Ming Hui take out a length of dough from underneath the cloth. The dough was cylindrical in shape, roughly about a sixth of a meter in length and as thick as a girl’s forearm. She looked at Nian Bing and asked, “I don’t know what kind of noodles Elder Brother would like to eat. Thick, thin, wide, or flat? Please choose one.”
Nian Bing smiled and said, “Thin noodles demands the most skill of a chef out of all the types of noodles, so I want thin noodles. They are also easier to digest. Noodle thickness is divided into two pillars, two threads, single thread, hair thread, and silk nest6. I want you to make noodles that are even finer than silk nest noodles, please.”
“Okay.” A simple, one word reply. Suddenly, Ming Hui’s expression changed. Her expression was something that Nian Bing knew well. It was the look of concentration and spirit in perfect harmony. Her eyes stared at the dough on the kneading board. With her two hands, she gently pushed forward, making the dough stretch out slowly. Nian Bing knew that she was getting a feel for the toughness of the dough. Different toughness would call for entirely different ways of making the noodles. Even if she kneaded the dough well, if it was made into noodles before it was completely ready, it would be very easy for her to slip up.
Xue Jing asked quietly, “Nian Bing, could it be that her beef noodle soup has some sort of special seasoning? A special recipe?”
Nian Bing shook his head and answered, “If she relied on a seasoning or secret recipe, then she could not call herself a top-class pastry chef. I think that she is making ordinary beef noodle soup. But just wait and see, it will definitely be different from the beef noodle soup that you usually eat. From her technique it is evident that she will use the pulled – noodle technique. This kind of technique will make the noodles as thin as possible. In the perfect state, when the noodle – pulling is completed, not a single strand of noodle will break. It will all be one piece. Therefore, top-notch pulled – noodles are called ‘single-stranded noodles,’ or ‘top-quality longevity noodles’.”
Just as Nian Bing was explaining this to Xue Jing, Ming Hui made her move. Both hands pinched each side of the dough and slowly pulled the dough apart. Her expression was still as focused as before, her gaze following the movement of the noodle. In this moment, it seemed as though the dough had fused with her body.
When she started, her movements were very slow. She stretched the dough to twice its original size, though the dough was still kept in its original cylindrical shape. Suddenly, both of her hands shook and the dough in her hands became longer in an instant, hitting the kneading board with a slap. After the dough had hit, her left hand passed the end of the dough to the right hand as fast as a lightning. Simultaneously, her left hand pushed through the bend in the dough and instantly pulled it longer, making one into two.
Ming Hui’s movements got faster such that it became fast enough to be too much for the eye to take in. The white dough in her hands seemed to be alive while it interweaved and folded. The original cylindrical shape of the dough soon became like silk threads. Nian Bing had been counting all the while. In just a short moment, that not too large piece of dough had actually turned into 4096 strands. Nian Bing had also learned how to pull noodles. He admitted to himself with a dough of that size he could at most make that many strands without breaking the dough. But Ming Hui did not stop her hand movements. She merely slowed down to her original speed. Both of her hands were shaking slightly, seeming as they never really grabbed onto the dough. However, her hands were trembling in a very rhythmic pattern. The 4096 strands of dough seemed to be shaking in her hands, like a hair softly swaying. Because of the extreme thinness of the noodle, it was hair-raising for Nian Bing and Xue Jing to watch the noodle touch the noodle as the noodle strands could snap at any moment.
- Dokidoki. kekeke ↩
- Last disciple ↩
- V hard to rhyme it, sorry. Or even sound remotely poetic ↩
- Note, I kinda use pastry here since it does exclusively involve wheat, but I can’t find a word in English that encompasses all wheat/flour foods. ↩
- Like a chopping board. ↩
- For reference, silk nests look like http://i3.meishichina.com/attachment/201205/30/707193_1338349772Jq6T.jpg, two pillars are about 5-7mm in diameter, and hair threads are .5-1mm in diameter. ↩