At the current moment, I’m only 27 years old. I’m a fledgling teacher who’s in his third year of teaching English. I’m recently married and my wife and I are considering having kids. We don’t know if we’re going to stay in NJ, or if we’re going to move elsewhere in the nation. Kids are on the horizon (after our honeymoon), and my parents are getting much older, potentially leaving behind an empire of low-income housing in Philadelphia and New York. There’s so much potential in terms of where my life will go in the future, but there’s one thing that’s for sure for me.
It’s a dream that I’ve had since I sort of “woke up” from my very complacent and content living. I thought of it randomly one day in 2007, while I was aimlessly writing out whatever came to my mind during the downtime between classes at community college. When I’m much older, or when I’ve got myself into a nice and comfortable situation (a big IF, mind you), what do I want to do to let the time go by?
I love noodles. I love noodle soup. When I was young and all my sisters still lived at home, every Saturday we would be greeted to my mom’s comfort food: Banh Canh Ga.
Simple chicken stock with chewy thick rice noodle, combined with shredded chicken. The way my mom makes it does not make it some massive culinary adventure. It was simple, it was delicious, and that’s all that mattered to me. This is, probably, the one dish my mom can make every single day and I’d be okay eating it. It’s this magical dish that makes me salivate even as I think of how I want to write this post. I’m not too knowledgeable of all the jargon used to determine flavor, texture, taste, and all things culinary, but this noodle soup just hits me right in the heart every time I have it.
When I got older, and I moved to Ohio, I needed to learn some dishes to cook (because I felt my body becoming physically ill from eating way too much take-out and fast food). This dish was one of the first dishes my mom gave me on my adventure away from home. I grew up eating this noodle soup, and for that I am forever grateful to it. Any season. Any day. Any situation. Banh Canh was always there to satiate my hunger.
That was the beginning of my culinary development. I’d gone from completely useless to technically capable from that point on. That was the launch pad for my love for cooking.
So I Want to Run a Noodle Shop
This isn’t some massive ambitious money-making scheme. There isn’t some sort of desire to push on the culinary education of noodle soups to the xenophobic palette of Americans. I don’t want to win any awards. I don’t want to shake up the food scene. I don’t want to “put ________ on the map”. I just think it’d be a fun, cool, and interesting way to pass the time when I’m old. I can imagine myself, an old man with a head full of gray-and-white, tending to the shop.
I think I’ve got the skills and collective knowledge (obviously borrowed from my mother, my mother-in-law, and all the other chefs/cooks/really-good-at-cooking-stuff people in my family) to produce a delicious bowl of noodle soup. It’d be easy to prepare for, and extremely easy to eat.
So here’s how the shop would run for customers:
Pick your stock.
Customers would choose one from three stocks: beef, chicken, or vegetable stocks. Each of these stocks will be kept warm in the back of the shop, and I’d sell it until it empties. Each broth will have its own (obvious) flavor, so customers can choose their preference.
Pick your noodle.
Rice noodles. Egg noodles. Glass noodles. Macaroni even. So many different kinds of noodles are out there in the world, and I definitely don’t know them all. I’ll have a variety of noodles prepared (and rotated seasonally or just based on availability and interest) that customers can choose from. This will be the starch.
Pick your additions.
The fillers are the things that you toss into the soup to add some extra flavor, protein, aromatics, garnish, whatever! Fill up your noodle soup with whatever you want aside from the broth and noodles. Add in some shredded chicken, some duck, an egg, scallions, lettuce, mushrooms, fish cakes… anything that a customer would want in their noodle soup to help it feel more filling and enjoyable, I’ll make sure I have as much of it prepared as possible.
Slurp it all up!
As a sort of added bonus, because I know my mom sometimes gets so bored that she cooks to no end, there’s always a “seasonal” broth or dish that customers can choose from. My mom may make egg rolls one day, or spring rolls, or decide to cook some Pho; there will always be a “special dish” for sale for customers to tackle if they want something outside of the usual. There’s no obligation on my mother to make food to sell, and it spices things up with variety that even I won’t be able to predict.
The Look of the Shop
When it comes to the storefront, I don’t want anything big. I’m looking to have a small shack the size of a small apartment with bar seating only. I’m hoping that the shack will seat a maximum of 15 people at a time. I want the customers to be able to socialize with one another (strangers talking to each other, how strange!). So you can probably tell: it’s very small and quaint. Wood exterior, with a very rustic look (not ultra-modern with LED lighting and sharp boxy edges). Nothing about the shop will scream luxury or contemporary–most importantly, I am not looking to attracting the “foodie” crowd.
Just so I can say that this post isn’t just day-dreaming, here’s a small little mental exercise for myself: what will I need?
- Refrigerator to store ingredients
- Small refrigerator to store drinks
- Four big broth pot gas ranges
- !NO CASH REGISTER! I am not looking to get held up and robbed–everything will be card only
- Cabinets and shelves above the bar for bowls
- Dishwashing machine
- TV (when I’m old and running this place, I plan on catching up on all the wonderful films I’d yet to see)
There’s obviously more I need, but these are the essentials that I need to make sure that the shop has.
The Mood of Old Man Tang’s Noodle Shack
Just like how my relationship is with my mother’s Banh Canh, I want the dishes of Old Man Tang’s to be that to the customers. Fulfilling, consistently good, and comforting food that you will come to grow up with. It will not change. It will not “try hard” in terms of constantly reinventing itself. You’ll find OMT’s to be that small shop you go to after a long day at work, to have a nice quiet meal by yourself, to hang out and watch the game when you’re all alone at home. That’s the feeling I want my shop to give off. It won’t look fancy, and it will be a good-looking shop to my eyes (probably not to others). There will be small trinkets that are littered throughout there–gifts from my wife, from the customers, or anything that I find in my adventures in life that I feel like showcasing at the noodle shack. You also can go there if you want someone to talk to, because I’ll always be there.
For the kids who come by, I’ll give them a free bowl when report card season is around and they’ve gotten themselves straight A’s. This would be a sort of nod to my teaching roots. Heck, depending on how well the business can stay afloat, I’d be more than willing to give people freebies for all the accolades they achieve in life. This is a prestige reserved for the regulars of OMT’s.
The Legacy of the Dream
It’s always fun to daydream about making it big, but I know for sure that I do not want OMT’s to grow massively. These thoughts can surely change based on circumstance, I’m sure, but I feel that turning OMT’s into a franchise or to open multiple storefronts might compromise the communal and local ambiance and intention of the store.
To help me make ends meet and so that I’m not busting my butt too much, I’ll make it a key note to hire young help every year. Just a few part-timers (probably high schoolers or college students) to learn the process, to learn how to cook the broths and serve the customers. Part time jobs that are typical for kids these days seem to be working at the mall, and even then I feel like they miss out on an enriching experience achieved through working hard. Perhaps then the future of Old Man Tang’s may spawn from one of the helpers I hire. Who knows.
So uh, that’s it for now. This is just a dream that I have, and I do hope that I can make it happen someday. No grand epiphany. No direction in terms of evaluating the state of my life nor an analysis of culture, politics–nothing compelling this time around. Thanks for reading, folks. 🙂