Simple Fare

Old Suzhou Noodles 老苏州面馆 @ Tongli

Suzhou has a long tradition of eating noodles. The daily ritual of eating noodles in Suzhou is as important (and complicated) as drinking tea and listening to local music.

Once you walk into shop, you can see the menu on the wall – everything available on that day is described on plastic tablets hanging on a board. The system is very efficient because whatever is sold out will be taken off the display board. Special of the day is handwritten on a whiteboard using temporary markers on the counter.

Menu on the wall

First you pick the noodles and soup base, there are three types of noodles and two soup base. The red soup is made from the braising liquid and the white soup is made from pork bone stock. You may choose one single topping or as many as you want.

Round bowls for square table

The decor of the place is really simple – square tables with benches around. I realised that since Covid-19 hit China, all these eateries have improved tremendously on their hygiene.

Open kitchen

And once you have finished ordering, you can observe your meal being prepared in the open kitchen window.

Suzhou Noodles “奥灶面”

Urban legend has it that the Emperor Qianlong (this guy appeared in many of my blogs) on one of his trip to Suzhou was so attracted to the fragrance coming from a dirty kitchen, he approached the lady manning the stove for a taste of the noodles she was cooking. After tasting the noodles and the soup, he declared that it was the best he had tasted and gave it the name “奥灶面” meaning literally “noodles from a dirty stove”. Of course when an emperor gave it such a name, nobody can say it sounded awful. Luckily, it really tastes so much better than its name.

A good bowl of Suzhou noodles depends on five different aspects 面、露、汤、浇、青 – the noodle, the sauces, the soup, the toppings and the final touch of scallions. Every restaurant has its unique sauce and soup that gives the noodle its distinct flavour. This shop is famous for its red soup, i.e. braised meat sauce with fish, eel and pork soup.

Noodles with fried yellow croaker

Ordering the noodles for the uninitiated can be a daunting task as it is laden with codes – from the doneness of the noodles (硬面、烂面) to the amount of soup (紧汤、宽汤、拌面) to the amount of scallions (重青、免青). So just like your skinny frappacinno decaf with whipped cream, you can do al dente noodle with normal red soup and lots of scallions and fried red croaker topping.

Toppings for noodles “over the bridge”

The topping for the noodles is called 浇头 (“drizzled on top”) and you can choose to have them drizzled on the noodles before serving, or served separately called 过桥 (“over the bridge”). And we ordered quite a variety of toppings to share. The specialty of the shop included the braised pork belly and beef brisket in red sauce. The fried yellow croaker was a special of the day and was seasonally available. And because it was autumn, they prepared a special stewed mutton topping as well.

Every now and then, you would want to go into one of these eatery and just have a simple meal. And the simpler the meal, the harder it is to find something memorable. This is one of those shops. Overall, it is a simple good eat, the execution is nothing fancy, but the experience and sincerity of the shop owners can be felt in every bowl of noodles.

Old Suzhou Noodles 老苏州面馆 (同理)
苏州 吴江区 江苏省环湖西路245
Tel : 13656251501

Date Visited : Nov 2020

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