By Isabel Dwyer
Sometimes, all you need is a takeaway from Xi’an. And sometimes, you don’t have enough money in your account to order said takeaway. When the umami craving hits, I like to go for a simple vegetarian noodle dish like this udon one. It’s fast, cheap, and infinitely customisable.
For these nood’s, you’ll need a cabbage (I like the curly type), spring onions, garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, spinach and udon noodles. If you want to be savvy with your sauces, the Asian grocery stores in town are a necessity. Jasmine Asian Grocery and Asiatica are both located around the Lower Abbeygate Street area, and both stock amazing quality sauces in bulk for cheap. Plus, it’s never bad to support local and independent businesses. You can find your noodles and veggies here too. In a lot of Asian stores, vegetables are sold by weight which is hugely student-friendly; less waste, less moola. Other than that, Tesco on Headford Road is always a good bet for Asian ingredients.
Start by preparing your udon noodles according to their packet. The ready-to-eat ones that come in those vacuumed pouches are great but need to be softened in hot water first. You’re going to want to manipulate them around the water a little bit in order to free them from their freaky, cubic form. Just be gentle so as not to break them up. In a super hot pan, add some oil and some chopped or grated cabbage (about a quarter of a head per person). Sesame oil adds something really special to noodle dishes, so if you have it in that bread-crumbed hole in the wall that you call a press, grab it, but use carefully. It’s better to drizzle over the end product rather than cooking the ingredients in it, as it burns easily and changes flavour as a result.
But, back to the cabbage. Keep the heat on high and let it brown nicely. We’re looking for a sort of charred flavour here. To caramelise, add a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of soy sauce. Stir and allow it to break down. This provides a great base of flavour for the oncoming ingredients. At this point, add your chopped garlic. As always, go for as many cloves as you’re brave enough to handle. We wait until now to add the garlic in order to prevent burning, and to maintain it at that aromatic state. Now, add a handful or two of spinach and mix in. Gently stir in the noodles, plus a dollop of oyster sauce and equal amounts of soy sauce. Once combined, taste. If it needs more salt, add another dash of soy sauce. If it needs sweetness, add another pinch of sugar. Plate up in a bowl and top with lots of chopped spring onion.
Mushrooms, sesame seeds, bean sprouts, and fresh chilli are all examples of ways to jazz this recipe up according to your own personal tastes. To make it vegan, swap out the oyster sauce for a vegan hoisin sauce instead.
Who knows, maybe if you survive off of these noodles for a while, you might be able to save up enough money to visit the sacred ground that is Xi’an on Quay Street and buy yourself the real deal.