The guy manning the seafood counter at the local grocer’s, a chap in his early twenties, greeted me with a well-enunciated “Aap se milkar bahut khushi hui”, while I was sizing up the fresh jumbo shrimp on display. A little taken aback to hear such clear Hindi coming from a firangi (the slang for foreigner, used for Caucasians mostly), I mumbled a quick “Thank you, nice to meet you too. I would like a pound of these shrimp, please”. He still had this huge grin on his face, as if willing me to carry on a conversation with him. Little did he know that I sucked at Hindi. Oh, I can converse in Hindi in my head alright, thinking up alternate plots and scenarios while watching those famous Bollywood movies. But to actually put two sentences together and say them out loud takes too much effort.
I’ve always noticed that it bewilders people here when I tell them I do not speak a particular Indian language. “But I heard it when I went to India. You really don’t speak it? No one in your family? Why?”, the questions are sometimes endless. Explaining to them that there are innumerable languages spoken in India, each one so different from the other that it will boggle any sane person’s mind, is mostly futile. So I asked the chap where he picked up Hindi. He said, “YouTube”! Oh well, maybe I need to take Hindi lessons on YouTube. He asked me for tips to improve his Hindi. I told him to watch Bollywood movies. He can find them on YouTube. That should do it, right?
Back home from my impromptu Hindi lesson, I got thinking about what to do with the shrimp. They were nice and plump, fresh and deliciously smelly! I faintly entertained the idea of whipping up this shrimp biryani, but a quick look at the clock told me I didn’t have enough time. Stir fry should do it then!
Something got me thinking about a piping hot bowl of spicy noodles, Indo-Chinese style. You will find it served at almost every Indian restaurant, street food stall or elsewhere. We call it Hakka noodles, though it has as much to do with the original Hakka cuisine as I have with Hindi.
Like any stir fry, the recipe is pretty straight-forward, time-efficient and absolutely delicious. I began by pan-searing the shrimp. Then some eggs got softly scrambled. I then sauteed some onions, ginger and garlic. Then some julienned vegetables were cooked till tender-crisp, all of this done on high heat. When it comes to stir fry or Chinese cuisine, we in India somehow always stick to the tried and tested vegetable trio of carrots-green beans-cabbage. Of course, it has mostly to do with availability and familiarity. We don’t have fancy cans of exotic bamboo shoots or bean sprouts. Most of the local restaurateurs cannot afford the more expensive broccoli or mushrooms. So, carrots and beans are what mostly goes into noodles. It’s healthy, though.
While the vegetables are still crisp, you need to add the sauce and return the fried eggs and shrimp to the pan. A little bit of soy sauce, some rice vinegar and a generous helping of chili-garlic sauce should do it. In case you don’t want to bother making your own chili-garlic sauce, you can always use the store-bought version. Look for Chinese brands and not sriracha. Though technically similar, I’ve found that they do differ in taste and composition.
Oh, and before you begin, you must actually cook your noodles of choice, drizzle some sesame oil over them, and set aside. I love using those flat noodles because somehow the sauce seems to stick better to them. Or maybe not. Just use what you like. I would suggest wheat or egg noodles rather than the delicate rice noodles though. And once the stir fry comes together (in a matter of mere seconds), quickly fold in the noodles and toss everything together. Serve piping hot with a side of chili-infused vinegar and more chili sauce for drizzling on top of your noodles.
Put on a Bollywood movie and enjoy the fruit of your rather simple labor. How’s that for a satisfying meal?!!
SHRIMP HAKKA NOODLES (Serves 5-6)
You will need:
- Oil – 3 tbsp, divided (use sesame oil preferably)
- Shrimp – 1 lb, around 30 large ones
- Red chili flakes – 1/2 tsp
- Eggs – 3, large
- Whole dried red chilies – 2
- Green onions or scallions – 6 stalks, chopped
- Ginger – 2 tsp, finely chopped
- Garlic – 2 cloves, finely chopped
- Carrots – 2 medium-sized, julienned
- Green beans – 8-10, julienned
- Soy sauce – 1/4 cup
- Rice vinegar – 1 tbsp
- Chili garlic sauce – 1-2 tbsp (as per heat desired)
- Sugar – 1 tsp
- Black pepper powder – 1/2 tsp
- Noodles – 10 oz
- Begin by peeling and deveining the shrimp if they aren’t already cleaned. Sprinkle red chili flakes and a fat pinch of salt on the shrimp. Mix to coat well. Set aside.
- Mix the stir fry sauce before you begin. Mix together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili sauce, sugar and black pepper in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning, but most probably, you won’t need any additional salt at all. Keep aside.
- Cook noodles as per package instructions, drain and set aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp to pan in a single layer. Cook on each side for a minute till shrimp turns opaque. Remove to a plate and set aside.
- Add another tablespoon of oil to the same skillet. Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl and add to skillet. Scramble eggs and cook till soft. Remove to a plate and set aside.
- Clean the skillet by rubbing lightly with a folded paper towel. Increase heat and add the last tablespoon of oil. Add the dried red chilies, white parts of the onions, ginger and garlic. Saute till fragrant. Then add the vegetables and cook till tender-crisp, tossing them all the while.
- Add the sauce,cooked shrimp and eggs and stir till sauce is bubbling. Now add the cooked noodles and toss together to coat.
- Garnish with the chopped green parts of the onions and serve Hakka noodles hot with a side of hot chili sauce or a small bowl of chili-vinegar. To make this, simply take vinegar (rice or white vinegar) in a small bowl and add a pinch of red chili flakes and a chopped Thai green chili in it. Allow to infuse for a few minutes before serving.
- Replace the shrimp in this recipe with any protein of your choice, like thin strips of chicken, beef, etc.
- You can also use any vegetables in this recipe like shredded cabbage, broccoli, sugar snap peas, bamboo shoots, etc.
Do give this shrimp hakka noodles a try sometime. It makes for a great weeknight meal, but even your guests will love them when you are hosting an Asian themed dinner party. Plus, it’s so easy to make as well.
So, tell me, have any fun albeit slightly weird shopping experiences lately?
What about noodles? What’s your favorite way to eat them? Do share in the comments.
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