Chinese noodle makers find niche in Mission
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
The Mission District has reinvented its culinary identity many times — from a barrio of taquerias, to a cradle of Latin fusion, to a hotbed of newcomer darlings like Range that offer refined and global flavors, to Pizzeria Delfina.
But whether you associate this historic San Francisco neighborhood with carne asada burritos or clam pie, two modest Chinese noodle factories add another dimension to an area better known for its burritos than bowls of noodle soup.
Combined, these factories serve nearly 600 restaurants and food outlets in the Bay Area, so chances are you've already slurped Mission noodles.
Next door to the brilliant garb of the chic Fabuloid boutique and a short stroll from the flowing mojitos of Luna Park, is Hung Tu Noodle Co., at 18th and Mission streets.
Hung Tu's sign is barely visible — just stick-on letters pasted to plastic flaps that curtain a gated doorway. Teresa Ho, owner and manager, seems to have a streak of flour permanently affixed to the base of her nose, likely there since her shop opened 30 years ago. Inside the spacious, whitewashed, sunlit factory, virtually every surface — the small army of machines that knead, press and cut, the 50-year-old linoleum, and even the shop's six employees — is covered with a wintery dust.
Ho spins nearly 100,000 pounds of wheat noodles a month from her Mission shop — that's 1,000 cases or so — that are distributed throughout the greater Bay Area, Hawaii and Guam. Her fresh Chinese-style noodles can serve as the base for a simple noodle soup or stir-fry.
Lots of noodles
Varieties include wheat noodles; long, skinny egg noodles that she makes especially for Bi-Rite Market (which uses them in its $6.99-per-pound tangy Asian noodle salad); or the special spinach wheat noodles crafted on Fridays for Nirvana restaurant in the Castro.
Hung Tu noodles fuel the in-house eateries of South Bay tech giants Cisco Systems, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and Google, among others. Sports fans will know its noodles from the SBC Park skyboxes. The company also has counted the county jail, Japantown's Miyako Hotel and the Fairmont Hotel among its customers. And a small selection of the factory's egg roll and dumpling wrappers are served in countless preparations all over town.
Ho isn't the only noodle maker in the neighborhood. The small staff of Ken Wu Food Products Co., at 16th Street and South Van Ness Avenue, has been grinding the grains for 3,000 pounds of chow fun rice noodles daily for the past 20 years.
They're busy keeping the pantries of 50 local restaurants — many of them small places in Chinatown — stocked with the main ingredient of classic chow fun with beef and black bean sauce, and a host of other salty, savory preparations.
Down the street from flashy nightspots like Andalu, Cama and Tokyo Go Go, Ken Wu's wouldn't get a second glance from the well-coiffed Saturday night crowd. And indeed, there's not too much to see from the street.
A small sign hangs over a tattered metal gate. In the warmer months, its dark opening reveals a skinny hallway leading to a room of loud machinery, giant soaking tubs of rice, and an endless string of sticky wide and flat Chinese pasta.
David Liu has owned the business with his brother, Peter, since the beginning. Certainly he has weathered the evolving face of the gentrified community. "The neighborhood has more people now, and a lot of people hanging out on the corner," he says. But still, the rent is affordable, and he has no plans other than to continue making noodles.
Like Liu, Ho has outlasted the dot-com mania and the present-day restaurant renaissance, and she, too, has no plans to move or sell.
Right now, her business is strictly wholesale, but Ho also owns the building next door, and she plans to open a retail storefront as soon as San Francisco grants the permit to connect the two adjoining buildings with a single door.
With a tenant upstairs and a self-propelling bus
iness, she says nonchalantly, "I don't need the money, and I'm not sure if I'll ever sell."
How to cook fresh noodles
There are a million ways to prepare fresh wheat noodles, and just a few rules for cooking them.
If you're starting with raw noodles, boil them in plenty of salted water for 8 minutes. Test for doneness by looking at the inside of a noodle and making certain that it's cooked (it should appear solid, not floury) all the way through.
A wide selection is available at New May Wah, 707 & 719 Clement St., San Francisco; (415) 221-9826 , and Sunset Super Market, 2425 Irving St., San Francisco; (415) 682-3738.
If using pre-cooked noodles, separate the nests before adding them to the water. Boil just 15 seconds (or follow package directions) and drain immediately. Do not overcook.
Hung Tu's Teresa Ho likes to make noodle soup from barbecued duck or, she says, "I put in whatever I have in my refrigerator." Ken Wu owner David Liu says he doesn't eat noodles any more — because after 20 years, he says, sighing, "I work with them all day."
This recipe is extremely spicy.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 inch slice fresh ginger, minced
4 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
32 ounces chicken broth
3 potatoes, diced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, in half-inch chunks
4 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 pound cooked fresh noodles
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic, ginger, curry paste, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and allspice. Cook the paste, stirring often for about 6 or 7 minutes, until the color darkens and it becomes fragrant.
Slowly add the coconut milk, stirring the paste into the milk until it's completely dissolved. Add the chicken broth and cover, and turn the heat to high.
Once boiling, add the potatoes and green pepper, cover, and reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chicken and fish sauce and stir, and let simmer for an additional 3 minutes. Making certain that the noodles are well drained, add them to the curry broth and toss well. Cover and let simmer 3 minutes more. Serve in big bowls with broth.
PER SERVING: 260 calories, 13 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 15 g fat (8 g saturated), 33 mg cholesterol, 964 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
Karen Solomon is a freelance writer in San Francisco. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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