Growing up on Coney Island, Kat Lieu remembers waking up on Spring Festival to the sound of traditional Chinese music broadcasting from the local Chinese radio station, AM1480.
“My parents, sister, and I would head into Chinatown in New York City to watch the lion- and dragon-dancing, and visit my grandparents and other relatives to receive our lai see (red envelopes containing money).”
She learned all of the traditional Chinese New Year customs from her family. To
And to this day, Kat still avoids anything that could impact good fortune – like washing your hair, sweeping, or doing laundry – on the first few days of the 15-day festival, since such actions are believed to wash away good luck and wealth. She also embraces all of the good luck omens: “I’ve always loved how everyone dresses in red, wears new clothes and prepares certain Chinese dishes steeped in symbolism and history.”
From an early age, Kat recognized how integral food was to the Lunar New Year festivities – something she looked forward to almost as much as the cash gifts. “My mom would prepare treats like fried nian gao (glutinous rice cake) and lo bak go (turnip cake), and a togetherness tray packed with candied coconut, lotus seeds, and Ferrero Rochers,” she says.
As a bestselling cookbook author and the founder of the wildly popular online baking group Subtle Asian Baking, Kat has built a community celebrating the Asian diaspora through mouthwatering baked goods. Her recipes are a nod to Asian culture, whether it be through a technique, inspiration, or a beloved Asian ingredient, such as red bean, black sesame, matcha, or pandan.
Last year, for example, to commemorate the Year of the Tiger, Kat baked tiger-striped milk bread and adorable tiger-shaped buns. “As someone at home in both Asia and the US, I think change and creativity come from having to be flexible,” she says. “We make do with what we have, but our new experiences and traditions are still just as beautiful and unique.”
The latest dish Kat loves to prepare and eat over Chinese New Year is actually a classic she’s recently revisited. “Longevity noodles symbolize a long life, and growing up we would always have them during Lunar New Year and for birthdays,” Kat explains. “My grandparents would tell us to try and pick the longest strands of noodles, as they symbolize longevity. In writing my second cookbook, I’ve rediscovered this auspicious and delicious dish as a grown-up.”
Although Kat made the noodles for this recipe from scratch, she recommends using a store-bought variety. “It requires a bit of work, and preferably a pasta machine handy. The noodles also need to be deep-fried and boiled… so save yourself some time and just use pre-made,” she laughs.
Kat also cautions that dried shiitake mushrooms must soak in water first to rehydrate, so plan your time accordingly. This dish is usually a vegetarian dish; however, it is possible to add protein to the noodles, like stir-fried lobster, pork, or abalone.
The Recipe: Kat Lieu’s Chinese Longevity Noodles, or Yi Mein (伊面)
Yields: 4 Servings
The Dish: BOMSHBEE’s Tinge Clay Dinnerware
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- A dash of white pepper
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 to 3 tbsp cooking oil
- About 12 oz or 340g yi mein noodles (dry)
- 5-6 garlic cloves
- ½-inch piece of ginger, minced
- 6-8 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced
- 5-6 stalks of scallions, chopped into 3 to 4-inch segments (alternatively, use Chinese chives)
- Mix all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Boil the dry noodles for 1 to 2 minutes, until they’re cooked but still al dente and chewy. Strain the noodles. Tip: These noodles tend to be fragile, so be careful not to overcook them.
- Heat a wok or large frying pan until smoke point before adding the cooking oil. At medium to medium-high heat, add the garlic and ginger.
- Once the garlic turns golden, add the mushrooms. Using a spatula, keep stirring the ingredients so they don’t stick and burn.
- Once the mushrooms have a golden-brown coating, add the noodles and stir. When they are warm and coated with oil, add the sauce. Be gentle with the noodles while stirring them, as they can break easily.
- Finally, add the scallions or chives and cook for about 20 to 30 more seconds before removing from the heat. Optional: Those who love spice can add a few spoonfuls of chili crisp oil here.
- These noodles are best enjoyed piping hot. Happy Lunar New Year!
Have your heart set on making your own yi mein? Here’s how to do it:
- Make a noodle dough with 500g all-purpose flour, two eggs, 150g filtered water, and one tablespoon of miso.
- Knead until the dough is barely pliable and rest for 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into four even portions, then roll the dough according to your pasta maker’s instructions, snake-fold into layers, and slice thinly, linguine-width.
- Remember: You want these noodles to be long, as their length represents longevity.
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