Ping An Mien

Ping An Mien

The passing down of family recipes may just be the best illustration of the impact that food has on society. Across all cultures, cherished family recipes are passed down from generation to generation. Sadly, I’ve always felt that my kitchen has been the exception. That is, until I remembered ping an mien.

Ping an mien means “peaceful noodles” in Chinese. In Chinese, ping an means peaceful, and when wishing someone bon voyage, one says, zhu ni yi lu ping an, or, “I wish you a peaceful journey.” Within my family, this dish is prepared on birthdays, or, fittingly, when one is leaving to go somewhere far away.

Since Andy’s departure back to New York was fast approaching, I decided that I wanted to do something special to send him off, so I asked my mother for specifics on making ping an mien. I returned home with a sheet full of Chinese words I couldn’t read, and headed to Clement Street, outer San Francisco’s answer to Chinatown.

The vast aisle of cooking wines (photo: Yelp)

Crumpled notes in hand, I dragged Andy to the Richmond New May Wah Supermarket, where I implored him to use his rusty Cantonese skills to ask about a number of things. First, the cooking wine: there was an entire aisle full of cooking wines (see above), and my mother had specified a certain kind. After that, the noodles: they were to be only the thinnest kind I could find, and had to be salted. Then, the biggest challenge: the chicken. My mother had specified a specific kind of chicken be used: It needed to be free-range, from Canada, and sold with the head still on. Normal chicken, with its flaccid, underused muscle tone and high fat content, would result in an oilier, less flavorful soup base.

An ongoing set of negotiations between Andy and a grocer (in Cantonese) and between me and the same grocer (in Mandarin) ensued. I walked out with what I believe to be the correct chicken, at the expensive price of $9.99, as my mother had forewarned. I truly don’t believe that I would have found the correct chicken if I hadn’t had the written Chinese description, Andy’s broken Cantonese and my own subpar Mandarin skills.

The whole uncooked free-range chicken from Canada

It wasn’t until I unpacked the chicken at home that I realized with horror that my mother’s vague instructions weren’t going to cut it (pun intended). I have had no formal butchering experience and generally buy chicken…well, not whole. Every time a bone cracked I winced; every time I saw the chicken’s long claws, I shivered. The gore factor was so high that I questioned whether I could actually eat this when I was finished making it. I found myself wondering what to do with the remaining chicken feet, neck and butt. Wailing, I nearly phoned my mother about it until I realized it was well past midnight back in Texas.

Chicken feet

After simmering the chicken in a pot, I added the cooking wine, some ginger, some salt and rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms. Within 20 minutes, the aroma of the drunken, gingery chicken broth begun to fill the house. In fact, the smell of the broth was so enticing that I found myself unable to fall asleep, yearning to slurp broth by the bowlful.

Boiling the chicken

The next morning, I reheated the pot, boiled the eggs and prepared the quick-cooking noodles. In each bowl, along with the broth, I included at least one piece of chicken, one shiitake mushroom, one bundle of noodles and an egg. It is customary for the person traveling to receive two eggs, and for everyone else to receive only one, and for good luck the traveler is required to take at least one bite out of every item in the soup.

Ping An Mien

“It looks so ethnic,” Andy said, laughing, when he first saw the end product, “but it is delicious.” Indeed, the complexity and depth of the chicken soup is unparalleled to any other, with the elements of shiitake, ginger and cooking wine all adding dimensions of flavor. It is the ultimate in chicken soup.

Over the phone later that night, I compared notes with my mother. Apparently I’d used the wrong noodles; I was supposed to use xian mien, a variation of the noodles I’d used that were even thinner, made in China (rather than Japan) and more heavily salted for added flavor.

Well, I thought, there’s always next time.

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17 Responses to “Ping An Mien”

  1. Wow! That’s very cool. I would have definitely been very freaked out by chopping up a whole chicken…
    What did you do with the leftover parts?

  2. This sounds like it actually was a culinary adventure!

  3. I love the pictures – especially that of the chicken! Not only am I convinced that you were horrified at having to cut it, I am absolute certain that it is the exact chicken I bought in Houston – it is selling for $11.99 here. How about that! Some things are actually cheaper in San Francisco.

    I am thrilled at your willingness to continue a family tradition, and I admire your determination to make the soup right. Your effort to attend to every little detail must have paid off, for the soup looks delicious and I am sure Andy appreciated it and enjoyed it. Good Job Honey.

  4. I am so glad to see someone next generation carry on this tradition. It does look delicious. I think it is also the thought that you want your love one to be save added more weight to the “Peaceful Noodles”.

  5. Awesome post. I love that you butchered your own chicken and made an old-school family recipe.

    I really need to start cooking Filipino food.

  6. Rosemarie Says:

    Being Italian, I thought that there could be nothing better than my grandmother’s home-made Italian Chicken Soup but I think your ‘Ping Am Mien’ sounds like it would give it some stiff competition! I know family recipes seem like a daunting task in our microwave world but they mean so much more than just a meal…it is the preservation of our roots! Thank you for caring enough to hold on to the precious traditions of your family…most of all, thank you for sharing your story!

  7. Not only this is a culinary adventure, it should be on food TV or Betty Crocker cook book. The fact is you didn’t give up for trying and to make sure you get everything for the soup; your caring and admiration are from your heart; these itself would make the journey “Ping An” for any recipient.

  8. Great story–thanks for sharing! I’ve always regret not paying attention to my mom when she would cook these yummy dishes… Too bad Pin An Mien is not available in restaurants. I could use some right now with the snowy weather in Seattle. 🙂

  9. Suzie — I laughed out loud and nearly aspirated my soda…. your description of the chicken dismemberment was hilarious. The soup looks delicious! Nice work, I am truly impressed. Unfortunately, you have already shared this with my mother, and I am afraid a trek to Chinatown is in store for me!
    xoxo,
    Lizzie

  10. Sus, you’re right…I love this post. From the charming story of the dish’s origins to picturing your discomfort at butchering the chicken to the beautiful end product. Love it! If I were there with you, you know I would have had *no* problem w/ the chicken and all it’s fun parts. It looks delicious!

    p.s. You could use the feet, neck, and butt to make a stock or gravy for some other time.

  11. Suzie burger! Or should I start calling you… suzie…SOUP?
    What a great story… and I will keep checking back to read more (it will keep me going on my grim days behind the desk of depression!).
    Now the question is… how can Ping an Mien become vegetarian…?? Darn.
    x

  12. Suzie! You made the soup right in my eyes! I gotta give you credit for wanting to get it done right though! And using a WHOLE chicken! I dont know if I myself can do that! The final product looks great though…I’m ready to run to my kitchen!! Happy trails to Andy on his travels, tell him I said hi, and I hope he can come back to just as great a meal he last left you with! Great job, I have to go prepare something to eat now!!
    PAUL

  13. This is by far your best ever. I can taste it by reading your words! Our only traditions in our families seem to be turkey at Christmas and Thanksgiving and BBQ on 4th of July. You far surpassed any of our recipes this year at Thanksgiving. We are very proud of you!!! Margie

  14. I have to say that at the beleaguered befuddlement of my nameless associates cavalier acts of BS-ocity to your disappointment of the hoc; I found myself, throughout service tonight, (on a cracked Friday night) wandering back to the computer to continue to check out blog after blog of yours to see if there was any truth to our friends defense.

    THIS one is my favorite because it touches a killer string inside of me. I love Asian cuisine and fundamentals and just seeing the whole chicken made my heart leap. I know it seems silly but 80% of my food literature on the shelves is about some sort of Asian cuisine. I’m enthralled.
    Good profound piece on my favorite food… kudos

  15. I have to say that at the beleaguered befuddlement of my nameless associates cavalier acts of BS-ocity to your disappointment of the hoc; I found myself, throughout service tonight, (on a cracked Friday night) wandering back to the computer to continue to check out blog after blog of yours to see if there was any truth to our friends defense.

    THIS one is my favorite because it touches a killer string inside of me. I love Asian cuisine and fundamentals and just seeing the whole chicken made my heart leap. I know it seems silly but 80% of my food literature on the shelves is about some sort of Asian cuisine. I’m enthralled.
    Good profound piece on my favorite food… kudos

  16. Boothby K Says:

    Sounds great – but what was the name of the wine? I got the Xian Mein noodles, chicken, ginger, shitakes, but if I am going to make this, the wine is critical! Thanks for such a great peice – full of history and emotion!

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