When I was growing up in the great state of California, our house never had air conditioning. Despite the shade that the humongous avocado tree in the backyard provided for the house, summer would be very, very hot.
I remember many hot nights of sleeping next to my sister on the large area rug under the dining table, in the one room that had a window air conditioning unit. It was also common to see my dad walking around the house without a shirt! (Is there a more economical way to cool oneself, anyway?)
As a remedy for these hot summer days, my mom would make liang2mian4, also known as 涼麵 or cold noodles, for dinner. Whereas we would rinse the noodles with cold water to speed up the cooling process, my mom’s job as a kid, assigned by her grandmother, would be to cool the noodles by fanning them!
If my mom’s job as a kid on 涼麵 days was to fan the noodles, my job was to make the sesame paste sauce. My mom would hand me the jar of zhi1ma2jiang4 (not to be confused with the game, mahjong) so I could scoop some into a bowl, asking “more?” until she said that it was enough. I learned how to adjust the ratio of sesame paste to water, adding more of one or the other until I got a nice consistency of ‘paste’: not too thin, not too thick.
I knew I wanted to make cold noodles because of the warm weather, and I knew that I had leftovers of romaine lettuce, red cabbage, and carrots from previous cooking days. The first thought that came to mind was the question of authenticity. I’m sure they don’t use cabbage and romaine in Taiwan. I remember romaine in cold noodles from Silk Road Express, a Chinese cafe on JHU’s campus! But other than that, I had never eaten it in cold noodles; after all, I’m quite sure romaine lettuce is not a frequently eaten vegetable in Taiwan.
I’ve been thinking about “authenticity” lately. I remember that we would more often than not, eat spaghetti noodles in our liang2mian4. Why? It
happened to be the noodles that we had in the house. Then I thought, if my mom used spaghetti, I should be able to use nontraditional vegetables if that’s all I got. Apparently, my mom was open to using substitutes in order to feed her ravenous husband and children without another trip to a store. Sounds logical, right? These is a place and time for substitutions, I have come to realize more and more.
Although my favorite cold noodles are still my mom’s version, I enjoyed today’s as well (so did Tim!). I’ll provide both versions. In my family, liang2mian4 was DIY, and I would encourage you to do the same.
I can tell you that sesame paste and tahini are very different, both in color and taste. My research tells me that Chinese-style sesame paste is made from unhulled sesame seeds, whereas tahini is made from hulled sesame seeds. The difference in color seems consistent with that claim. The sesame paste shown above is made from white sesame seeds and should not be confused with sesame paste made from black sesame seeds (used in Chinese desserts).