February 23, 2008

The Memory of the Old Noodle House

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:45 pm by The Data Sleuth

I lived in an old neighborhood in the Old Town part of Shanghai for 19 years. There was an Islamic noodle house across the street from where I lived. The neighborhood had a large population of Muslims. I have many Muslim friends throughout my childhood and teenager years. We even had an Islamic Temple and it is just two blocks away from my house. The temple was called Xiao Tao Yuan Islamic Temple, Xiao Tao Yuan means “Small Peach Garden” in Chinese. Because of the temple, we called the noodle house “Xiao Tao Yuan Noodle House”

We did not know if the noodle house was owned by this temple. Ten years ago there was even an Muslim food store across the street of the temple, but it was closed. Anyway, the noodle house was a great hang out place for Muslims and Chinese in this neighborhood. The house was not big and could only hold 10 tables. It was always crowded. The noodle house provided take out service too. All you have to do is just bring your own bowl or plastic container. Cook would pour warm and hot noodles into your container of choice. You told the cashier how many noodles you want, usually in traditional Chinese weight measurement of “Liang”, 1 Liang equals to 0.05Kg. Usually people would ask for 2 Liang or 3 Liang of noodles, and server would give them what they want.

Back then, my breakfast could have several combinations. I could have milk and a small loaf of bread, or beef noodle or rice with some veggies. I did not drink milk everyday because milk was still expensive at that time. Beef noodle with curry was my favorite in the winter because it warmed me up. It was also very cheap. With 3 Chinese RMB (equal to 0.4 US dollars) we can buy 3 Liang of beef noodles. 2 Liang of noodle was 3 RMB. When I was around 10 I could only have 2 Liang, but as soon as I went to junior high school I started to eat 3 Liang of noodles. That was a lot for a teen. Sometimes even an adult cannot handle that much of noodle. My Mom always joked that this beef noodles buffed me up from a slender little girl into an athletic muscular woman.

For quite a long time the noodle cook was an old woman. We did not know her name but she looked like a Muslim. She was generous to me, every time we went to buy noodle she would say to me :”Eat as much as you can, you are at a growing-up stage and you need nutritions”. So I did. She gave us lots of beef and noodles, probably more than what we asked. I always joked that beef noodle to me was like spinach to Popeye. I just got powered up and became energetic.

We did not move out of the neighborhood until the freshman year of my college. I had this classmate from my department. He was from Yemen. So I took him around my neighborhood on a holiday. I took him to the noodle house for the beef noodles. He loved it. I also asked him about those Arabic characters written under its Chinese name sign of the restaurant. He said it just said “Islamic Noodle House”, not like the restaurants nowadays having fancy and weird signs. This one was so simple and straightforward.

After I got into college, we still had noodle during the weekend. At that time the old lady got retired and replaced by a young man. He did not give us as much noodle as the old lady did. My Mom complained. I thought their business might not be as good as before. As lots of people moved out of this neighborhood over the years. And some regular customers passed away.

In 2006 when I went back to China, the noodle house was still there while most of constructions nearby was pulled down. Some real estate company bought the whole neighborhood including my old townhouse. They wanted to build an upper scale apartment residency in this place. They cannot touch the noodle house because the cleric in the church asking the government to protect it. But last year they cannot protect the noodle house any more. So It was gone too, with all my memory of the restaurant.

Through the years I have been to many noodle houses around China and the US. I still like to order curry beef noodles but they never taste as good as my old noodle house. Maybe because it has all my childhood memory in it, which you cannot find in other restaurants.



  1. I loved reading this story. I hope that you will keep sharing all of your memories with us – your life experience in China is unique and fascinating.

    It is always so sad when places we loved as a youth go away. Because I am getting so much older, I have lost many of those places now. One of my earliest memories is of a favorite ice-cream parlor 6 blocks from my home (it was across the street from Mei-Jen’s condo in Salt Lake – so you will know the area). I was 6 years old at the time. My mother would give me 1.50 and allow me to walk down the street holding the hands of my little sister (age 3) and my little brother (age 2) so we could each buy a 50 cent cone. We would usually take our time coming back home. We would stop and play in the condo fountain, and gather up chestnuts that had fallen onto the sidewalk and try to crack them open. I believed that ice-cream was the best in the world, but perhaps I loved it even more because of what it represented; the fact that I was “grown up” and could be trusted as responsible and independent (all 6 years of age that I was!). I mentioned to my mother the other day how incredible and brave she was to let me go off like that all alone as young as I was, leading a 3 and 2 year old down the street! She admitted that she would always follow us at a distance without me ever knowing and hide behind the bushes to watch and make sure that we were safe!

  2. methodistchick said,

    Thank you so much for writing such lovely stories. I will put a link to your site on mine so that people wanting to know all about China can visit here. You are such a lovely person. I’m so happy for you doing such a great job in school and work! Keep the stories coming!


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