We're developing a happy habit of booking cooking classes when we holiday outside Australia. Before I even got to researching our options in China, former Beijing resident and long-time friend Steph helpfully recommended The Hutong. These guys run a staggering range of tours, events and classes with a mission to share culture and knowledge. If I were in Beijing for longer, I reckon I'd book a new class every month: there's baozi, xiao long bao, Chinese gourmet pancakes, dumplings, Cantonese, Sichuan and Yunnan menus, dimsum and restaurant essentials!
Our limited time in the city helped narrow our options, and I convinced Michael and Craig to join me in a class for hand-pulled noodles (300 yuan ~ AU$60 per person for 2.5 hours). With a note added to the booking form, the Hutong team accommodated our lowest common dietary denominator (vegan) without any fuss. While they typically offer 10-12 places per class, the team still committed to hosting just the three of us when no-one else happened to sign up for the same session. It was a treat to have our own personalised vegan session with lots of attention to hone our technique.
These noodles are as simple as they come: plain wheat flour, a pinch of salt, and scant tablespoons of water until the dough just feels right. The key here is warm hands and patient work, bringing the dough together into a clean, slightly sticky ball and kneading it for 20 minutes until it's really, really smooth.
After a little rest (while we prepared a sauce for the noodles), we sliced the dough into fingers, then rolled each one into a thick noodle using the palms of our hands. A liberal coating of vegetable oil prevents the noodles from drying out or sticking to each other.
After another sauce diversion, the real fun began! Pulling the noodles calls for fast, light and confident hands to stretch the dough without excessively pinching the edges. We had plenty of pinches, breakages and laughs as we prepared our first uneven batch.
None were too misshapen to eat, though, with our instructor Sophia welcoming every one of our attempts into the pot of boiling water. A judicious chopstick helped keep the noodles separated as they cooked.
With our tomato and eggplant sauce all sorted, a smashed cucumber salad and some cold sodas magically appeared and we sat down to eat. Even noodles pulled by our clumsy hands are good! The Hutong team have convinced us that this is worth another go at home, and that we should share our new, burgeoning skill with friends.
The Hutong1 Jiudaowan Zhongxiang, Beixinqiao, Dongcheng District, Beijing
cooking classes 300 yuan ~ AU$60 per person