I knew it wasn't a good idea, but did it anyway.
A few weeks back, I was given a box of packs of an "instant" variety of the local iconic noodle dish, Luosifen (螺蛳粉 luó sī fěn, pronounced roughly as Low Si Fun but with a different tone on each syllable.)
I like this dish. Typically, it is sold in small restaurants which are no bigger than shacks. A few years ago, the dish was featured on the highly successful Chinese television Series, "A Bite of China" and factories started making these ersatz "instant" versions.
For the real version, the stock/broth/soup base is based on the local river snails (螺蛳 luó sī). These are boiled, along with pork bones, for anywhere between 3 and 10 hours. Additional ingredients include black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, salt, pepper, bay leaf, licorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. No one really weighs or measures anything. Each shop ‘knows’ how much of anything is needed. There may be other ingredients, too.
Once the broth is ready, rice noodles made from ‘old rice’ are added. The ‘old rice’ gives the noodles a firmer, more chewy texture than other rice noodles such as those used in Guilin Mifen (桂林米粉 guì lín mǐ fěn), for example. Alongside the noodles, fried dried beancurd sticks, pickled bamboo shoots, black wood ear fungus, lettuce, peanuts and preserved cow peas are also added. A hefty slug of chilli oil is necessary for authenticity. You may add more chilli, pickles etc to taste. Then you are ready to rock.
To prepare instant luosifen, you boil the wrong noodles then add water and a bunch of gloop from plastic bags.
This is what I had:
This bag contained nine smaller bags. Here I've translated that they are:
The ingredients list is as follows:
Rice noodle bag: dry rice noodles (rice, edible corn starch, water)
Sauce bag: fresh snail meat, vegetable oil, edible salt, spice, rock sugar, monosodium glutamate (MSG), chicken powder, bone soup, rice wine, cassia bark.
Small vegetable bag: sour bamboo shoots, black wood ear fungus, mustard, dried radish, capers, vinegar, salt, paprika, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate)
Fuzhu bag: dried bean milk skin, sodium metabisulfite, edible oil
Peanut Pack: Peanut, Edible Oil
Spicy oil bag: cooking oil, chilli, spice
I love me some sodium metabisulfite.
The instructions told me to boil the noodles for 10 to 12 minutes (I choose the lower end of the spectrum), then drain and set aside.
I was then instructed to boil 350 ml of water and add the soup mix. Stir until well mixed, add the cooked noodles and the rest of the ingredients to taste. In the interests of exactitude I added everything.
I was convinced the 350ml of water was misguided but was determined to follow their recipe. Although the finished product looked right, it tasted awful. Massively over-salted, over MSG-ed and tasting of raw chilli. While a good luosifen does pack a clout, it is also full of complex and subtle tastes. This was just a hit to the head with a blunt instrument.
I'd say I was disappointed, but I wasn't expecting any miracles. My problem now is I have another 11 packs of this. I'll need to find some people I don't like to pass them on to.