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Crying Into My Noodles

I have a favorite noodle restaurant.
This summer, I ate there every day for lunch. Joshua ordered the same the same thing every day: cold noodles. I tried many different dishes. Mostly what I saw people eating that day, I would point and get one too. Tofu with pork over rice, egg and tomato over rice, vegetables cooked in a clay pot over high heat, pulled chicken over noodles and chicken broth, vegetables served with rice, seasoned meat and pickled vegetables with chewy noodles, seasoned meat and no broth over thin noodles, eggs hard boiled in tea. The possibilities were delicious.
I went there so often, they would recite my own order to me, “no MSG, no spicy sauce, no spicy meat.” It was our greeting. And my children were so accustomed to eating there, they could order their own lunches. I brought friends to this restaurant, I craved it. They had mango soda that the kids liked to drink, too. And right beside the restaurant was a yogurt shop where we would always go afterwards for a flavored yogurt dessert.IMG_2911
Then, one day, the noodle restaurant closed. They moved out all of the furniture, scraped the noodle names off the walls, and locked the door.
So, for lunch I had a sandwich, and the next day another sandwich, and pretty soon it had been a month of eating cold lunches.
This week, to my great delight, a friend of mine told me the noodle restaurant had re opened, newly renovated. Immediately, I took Hannah and we went to check it out.
I didn’t recognize anybody. There were all new people working there. And it wasn’t as busy as it had been. Only a half dozen people were seated, bent over their noodle bowls, slurping. Although the lack of a crowd should have been a warning to me, I went ahead and ordered a bowl of cold noodles for Joshua, and then one of my favorites. They were out. So I tried another of my favorites. Don’t have that anymore. So I ordered three bowls of cold noodles, paid (the price had gone up), and took my receipt to the cook’s counter. I gave my usual order, “Cold noodles, no MSG, no spicy sauce, and no spicy meat”.
She handed me a bowl of hot noodles. Hot “cold noodles”? I asked if she had any shredded chicken to sprinkle on the top the way I liked it. She found a bit and put it on top.
Well, it is hot, but other than that, should be fine, I thought, and I handed her my receipts for the other two orders of cold noodles. “I want two more just like that,” I said, and sat down to wait. After a while, I stood up and asked about my order of “cold noodles”. They had not begun. “We are out of meat,” they confessed, “but we do have this,” pointing to what looked like congealed pig blood. “What?” I asked. They held up a bowl of unseasoned, uncooked ground pork. “Yes, that will work.” And I sat down again to wait.
When it was ready, the meat looked uncooked and unappetizing. When I lifted it to my nose, I couldn’t stand the smell. Meat that had been sitting out all day and undercooked. I could not take even one bite. When they announced the second bowl was ready, I stood to get it and brought it to our table, only to look down and see that in the meat there was a gnat. And that was it. My favorite noodle restaurant was no more.
Without sounding silly, how can I express how sad I was at that moment? How can I explain the weight of something that seems so trivial? But this place had become something I had come to rely upon. A staple of my day. A reliable thing. Pulled out from under me. I mourned my noodle shop and its friendly noodle makers.

I handed the bowl of noodles with the gnat back to the noodle lady and pointed to the unwanted visitor. “No matter,” she excused her work. I pushed it back over the counter toward her and walked away. But what happened next was altogether surprising. When I thought things couldn’t get any worse: running out of ingredients, making orders completely wrong, using ingredients that had gone bad, serving bugs in the food as “no matter,” and charging me more than I was used to for this disaster of a meal, things took an unexpected turn.
The noodle lady held out a fresh bowl of cooked noodles. She asked if I wanted a meat broth ladled into it.
“Sure,” I said, thinking it could not possibly be worse than what she had already served me today. And the bowl that she handed me was a kind of noodle I had never had before. Hannah curiously nibbled at the white vegetable and knuckly meat in my bowl.
“Mommy, this is really good!” I tasted it too. It was good. It was new. It was their way.
“It reminds me of what they cook at my kindergarten class,” Hannah remembered the local flavors at her former kindergarten.
She got up and announced, “I am going to ask what this is named!” She came back and said, “Xing tang mien.”
It is funny, our neighbor has given our wiggly daughter the nickname, “noodle.” Hannah’s optimism may lead us back to this noodle restaurant. Her willingness to try new things might give me the courage to brave the unknown of new restaurants. Whether at this restaurant or another, I am sure my noodling partner and I will find a tasty place to frequent.