it wasn't hard for me to decide what to make for my three minute audition tape for "the next food network star." wonton noodle soup is my all-time favorite comfort food. wontons, in chinese, actually means to swallow a cloud. for those of you unfamiliar, they are small little dumplings usually made with a square wrapper and then filled with a savory spoonful of shrimp and ground meat. it's a hearty dish that warms your belly and in my case, brings back great memories of cooking with my mom, my aunts and my grandmother when i was little.
even though my ma, for the most part, kept me out of the kitchen, i always managed to weasle my way in when it was time to wrap wontons. i would put a small spoonful of the filling into my wrapper and make all sorts of shapes. we would fill plate after plate with these small little dumplings, enough to feed a small army, which pretty much is the size of my family. my mom has seven siblings - five sisters and two brothers - and family gatherings at my grandparents house in jersey were always the real deal. everyone would bring their spouses and kids, and the chaos would commence. with so many people to feed, we would have to eat in shifts. after one platoon passed through, we'd get the water boiling for another batch of wontons, ready for another one to take their place at the table. those that weren't eating were chatting away in my ma's native chinese dialect chaozhou hua. and those that were eating were doing just the same. each time i bite into a wonton, i'm reminded of these chaotic days filled with indecipherable cacophonic sounds, family and of course, food.
after graduating from college, i spent six months teaching english and traveling throughout china. i started out living in the north in suzhou, a "small" city of seven million close to shanghai but was itching to travel south for some authentic cantonese cooking in guangdong province and hong kong where my family is originally from. it is here that you will find some of the best wonton noodle soup in the world. i would go to the dai pai dongs (basically, your hole in the wall dive) where you could get a bowl of soup brimming with all sorts of treasure for pennies. however, none ever compared to the hot piping bowls of wontons and noodles that came out of my grandma's kitchen. for those of you who'll never make it to my grandma's home or to southern china, here is a video that does this dish way more justice than my measly three minute audition tape.
cooking time: 45 minutes
salt and pepper
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbs oyster sauce
40 wonton wrappers
2 egg whites
2 quarts chicken broth
4 tbs fish sauce
3 carrots, chopped on a bias
1 package fresh egg/wonton noodles
dipping sauce (recipe below)
scallions, sliced for garnish
1 tablespoon chili-garlic sauce
dash of sesame oil