Hing Kee crafts handmade noodles

July 15, 2011 (CHICAGO)

It is both ingenious marketing, and yet passionate adherence to an ancient technique. The onlookers may gawk through the front window at Hing Kee in the Chinatown Square Mall, but what they're witnessing is a rare effort among Chinese restaurants.

"You need a very strong, and muscles to do that because it's about like more than 10 pounds," said Hing Kee, owner Michelle Leung.

Liu Chang Ming has been pulling, forming and hand-cutting noodles for nearly 30 years. He learned his trade in Kaifeng City in the Hunan Province, and for the past few months, has been spending his days up at the front of the restaurant, going through the motions of a procedure that is, by now, fully etched into his muscle memory.

He begins with a simple dough, made from flour and water, and a bit of salt. He kneads it, promoting the gluten that binds the molecules together, through a ritual of pulling, twisting and braiding.

A small piece of the dough is cut off, rolled into a tube the length of a skewer and the thickness of a golf ball. Then, in a mind-bending, eye-rubbing, "how does he do that" flash, he methodically pulls, twists and multiplies the strands, dusting them with flour to keep them separated. Once they get to the proper length and thickness -- all done by sight, mind you -- Ming cuts them off directly into the water, in one long continuous strand. After they cook for just a couple of minutes, they're strained and dumped into a rich broth with crunchy bok choy and a choice of proteins, like the excellent barbequed duck.

"And also he can make different shape. Like now the most popular one is the long one and he can make the triangle and rectangle, any shape he could make," Leung said.

He'll also use his dough scraper to shave off jagged noodles, directly from the mound of dough into the boiling water. Customers certainly appreciate the extra effort, and the fact the noodles here are made-to-order -- part of that commitment means nothing is artificial or heavily salted to preserve it.

"Yeah because this is all-natural. We don't add anything else into it, just some salt and some oil and water," Leung said.

You would think something as labor-intensive as the handmade noodles would come at a cost, but surprisingly, most dishes at Hing Kee are less than $8, so it's also a great deal.

Hing Kee
2140 S Archer Ave

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