Most people have the impression that Hunan food equals to sweet spicy Chinese food with orange or brownish sauce around (such as General Tsao’s Chicken… ); the real Hunan people ( such as my wife) often feel insulted and have to complain that American-Chinese food has ruined the reputation of Hunan food.
Then, show me what is real Hunan food… (you are probably asking.)
Thanks to the diverse food scenes in the bay area, there are actually a few Hunan restaurants carrying decent authentic flavors. Noodle Talk is one of them; this place is all about the Hunan style rice noodle. Rice noodle to Hunan people, just as Pho to Vietnamese people, is part of their everyday life. My wife told me how she grow up in a typical Hunan city where local people start their daily life with a bowl of rice noodle as breakfast; of course, based on her description, the rice noodle in her hometown is the best of the world – the broth that has been simmered for hours, the beef that so tender you can tear it apart using chopsticks, the special sourness from the fermented green bean and pepper…. I guess nothing can really compete with the taste of comfort food from a colorful childhood memory! Luckily enough, now we spotted this little place in Sunnyvale, that my wife doesn’t need to fly back to China to get her noodle fix.
We always order the same two noodles from the menu: the sour bean and minced pork noodle soup and the stir-fried rice noodle bowl with beef and wild chili. As a French who has high standard about the taste, I have to say, the flavors are quite amazing. The broth of the noodle soup was made from beef bone soup mixed with more than twenty Chinese herbs and have been simmered for over 24 hours. It is so rich and tasty, that I can easily finish a big bowl.
The toppings are probably the most highlighted part of all the food components, not matter it is the topping in the noodle soup or in the stir-fried noodle bowl, you can always taste some unique Hunan style ingredients: the fermented sour beans, the pickled red peppers, the very thin celery stems, and a hint of ginger and raw garlic slice. You got all the flavors from these ingredients: acidity, natural sweetness and a nice spiciness combined from ginger, garlic and peeper. Once all these ingredients mixed with either minced pork or stir-fried beef stripes, you can feel the multi-layered flavors are competing on your tongue, and make you just want to eat more and more.
Of course, I cannot forget mentioning the noodles here. This place serves the traditional northern-Hunan style rice noodle, which is a bigger version of the cylinder-type Vietnamese vermicelli noodle but with a more chewy texture. I like this type of rice noodle more than the wide and flat version ( the Chang-Sha style) just because I personally love the contrast of the dense texture of noodles with the tenderness of the meat.
The biggest reward overall, is that I can say now I know what the real Hunan flavor is, and I have already fell in love with it!