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Chinese culinary skill: swinging noodles

''Swinging noodles'' is an old Chinese custom that fascinates every visitor to the People's Republic. I, too, was amazed at this kind of culinary expertise on my trip there.

The chefs use no knives to cut the dough into strips.They just swing the white rope of dough back and forth in a big circle until, like magic, they're holding a long white tassel of perfect noodles.

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Obviously it takes years of practice, and also a roomy kitchen with a high ceiling. But Chinese chefs say noodles made this way are more tender and have a better texture.

When I returned home I described the feat to my friend, James Shao, a Chinese cooking teacher and owner of the Chinese Gourmet Restaurant, Belmont Center.

There are Chinese chefs in the United States also who are capable of making noodles this way, he said, naming one in particular, in nearby Cambridge.

It is restauranteur Chef An, who makes noodles in the same way, as part of his weekly cooking routine. Owner of the Wu Fu Restaurant, he is a northerner, born in Tsing Tao.

His culinary apprenticeship started in Peking when he was l7, and he had a year learning pastries, another year cutting vegetables and another year learning the various cooking techniques. He came to the US in 1969.

An accomplished professional cook, he was a chef in the Hunan restaurant near the United Nations in New York City and he cooked at the special banquet for President Nixon before Nixon went to China.

Any good northern Chinese cook knows how to swing noodles by hand, I am told, and although there are many in the United States who once were adept, they are often out of practice. But not Chef An.

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What he does, actually, is to knead the hard dough until it is smooth and elastic, then let it rest overnight.

He then will shape the piece of flour and water dough into a long roll, then loop it from one hand to the other, stretching and folding it back and forth from hand to hand until the dough is divided evenly in strands that are the correct noodle size.

In China when the chef held up the armful of long, perfect strands there was a round of applause from everyone watching.

There is usually no applause for Chef An but his kitchen was busy with many interesting projects when I saw him there.

The chef was making the long stick-like pastries, or crullers, also called oil sticks. In China I had seen people making these long crullers on the street and they were hot and delicious. The recipes sound simple, but are not easy to duplicate. They are made of flour, a little soda, and oil.

Chef An rolled out the dough, made a crease down the middle of strips of dough, then left it to relax in plastic wrap. When deep fried they puff up, are golden brown and delicious.

In the kitchen also, his wife was making the tiny dumplings called bao. Another cook was rolling the tiny pastry circles and a girl was pleating them after adding a pork and scallion filling.

The Wu Fu menu lists Peking noodles with bean curd, peas, mushrooms, meat, bamboo shoots as well as other dishes served in the restaurant as well as to take out.

Wu Fu Restaurant, 460 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge.

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