Crossing the bridge noodles
"The dish relies on great chicken stock - so much so that restaurants guard their recipes like crown jewels." Tony Tan
I'm back to first recipes - the crossing the bridge noodles of the title of this post, plus Luke Nguyen and Feast magazine in this case. Because this very slim little booklet was a freebie with the late lamented Feast Magazine to which I used to subscribe before its demise through lack of profitability.
So first of all those noodles. This is a dish with one of those lovely origin stories, which Luke Nguyen tells in his introduction to the recipe.
"A scholar would go to a small island to study. His wife would bring him lunch but had to cross a bridge, so her soups were always cold. She decided to thinly slice the ingredients and assemble the soup when she arrived. The paper-thin ingredients cooked quickly in the hot broth. Legend says her husband did well in his exams."
A more mundane interpretation that Wikipedia posits - as well as the story version - is that the crossing the bridge bit refers to the transferring of the ingredients into the broth. For I think that mostly in China it is served with the broth in a bowl and the sliced ingredients by the side, so that the eaters can choose what to put in. To be honest I don't really understand why this soup is different from so many other South East Asian soups which do similar things. Maybe it's the broth. And it's often served for breakfast. Breakfast soup, not salad.
Luke Nguyen's recipe is online at the SBS website and you can watch him making it there as well. He makes it out in the countryside somewhere on a makeshift stove, as he is wont to do. The two versions - the website and the booklet - look a little different and they are indeed slightly different. It's probably one of those things that depends on what you have to hand on the day. But as Tony Tan says it's the broth that is the important thing, and Luke Nguyen stresses that too in the video. Video version on the left, booklet on the right.
Luke Nguyen is one of those chefs who has parlayed a successful career as chef - he owns the Red Lantern restaurant in Sydney's Surry Hills, into an even more successful media career - with TV shows galore, cookbooks such as the one that this little booklet samples, an APT partnership via which he guides tours to Vietnam and so on for them and many other guest appearances at festivals and shows such as MasterChef. It is interesting isn't it how one chef can do this and others can't? What is it that makes them a success I wonder? Luke Nguyen is a relatively unassuming personality - a bit like Adam Liaw really. Maybe it's because he is reassuring and friendly, even seeming a little bit unsure of himself. I only have one of his books - the one on France, but it is a very lovely book and I think I have tried a couple of things from it.
As to Feast - this is a picture of the 1st edition with, fortuitously, Luke Nguyen, looking much younger and without the signature glasses, on the cover.
I see that I have only bookmarked one recipe in my little booklet - one for Chargrilled fish with crisp mint. The reason I think is that like so many of the recipes in Feast itself, there are often ingredients listed that are hard to find as well as relentlessly authentic recipes that are not that tempting sometimes. Nevertheless I did enjoy reading it every month and learning about obscure, and not so obscure cuisines around the world. I was very sorry when it ceased publication. The food editor Phoebe Wood moved on to delicious.
Why do I still have this little booklet on my bookshelf if I'm not going to make anything from it ever? I don't know really. Sentimental reasons I think. Or am I growing into one of those old people who can't throw things out. Maybe if my grandchildren hang on to it it will be worth a lot of money eventually. Ephemera gets thrown away and therefore becomes valuable in time.
This is Tony Tan's version. You can find his recipe in Gourmet Traveller - another 'authentically' inclined magazine.