In a 2014 post I tried to argue that the Kang Shifu 康師傅 (aka Chef Kang, or Master Kong) “happy chef” and his style of the popular beef stew noodles have influenced not only other instant noodle brands in Taiwan and China but also Chinese food trends more broadly. In the US we still don’t have access to those incredibly popular Kang Shifu offerings (due to the real beef meat packets inside each package of noodles and US import restrictions), but we do have several copycat variations with powdered soup packets where we can see the effects of instant noodle brand battles.
Today I have another example of that influence, this time with a style of fermented Chinese mustard (changed from cabbage–see comments below), the so-called “old crock” sour vegetable.
Since my last post on Kang Shifu, I started noticing a new genre of instant noodle in the noodle isle of most Chinese supermarkets in Philadelphia. These noodle packs are usually purple, and there is a key active ingredient that is translated as “old crock” sour vegetable, or sometimes sauerkraut (and the flavor of this lacto-fermented Chinese mustard is similar to sauerkraut in many respects). This key ingredient is also signified on the package with an image of a pickling crock off to the side.
This combination of sour vegetable with beef noodles is not a new thing, in fact it is a classic. That said, the reference to the “old crock” (老坛酸菜), as well as the uniformity with the purple coloring, made me think this must be a corporate partnership with a brand called “Old Crock” (老坛). Instead, this is just a catchy name employed by two competing instant noodle empires, Master Kong and Tong Yi in China and Taiwan. See here for a Google image search with the keyword “Old crock sour vegetable” to get a sense of how these two companies are promoting the idea of “old crock”. For a very interesting blog post on the aforementioned noodle battle over the “old crock sour vegetable”, see the outstanding blog Reputable Sources.
This noodle battle and food trend finally started spilling over to the international market in recent years, and we now have a relatively stable section at Chinatown noodle isles for “old crock” sour vegetable noodles. In Philadelphia, we can clearly see popularity of this flavor, but we don’t have the original versions from the two main battling factions.
I have to admit, I find this style of instant noodle delicious. Sour vegetables go very well with the instant noodle beef soup base. In fact, as I get older, I find pickled vegetables go well with most anything.
I am getting more interested in Chinese pickled vegetables in general, and am slowly working my way through the varied offerings at Philly’s many Chinese markets. Recently I found “old crock” sour vegetables for sale in foil packages alongside other types of preserved Chinese vegetables (see left).
This example comes from a well-known company, Chongqing’s Yuquan 鱼泉 (literally “fish well”), is perhaps best known for its line of Sichuan-style pickles, i.e. yuquan zhacai 鱼泉榨菜. See here for a Google image search for this kind of pickle. Unlike the more stem-focused zhacai or yacai (see here for my post on Yibin yacai), these sauerkraut-like lacto-ferments utilize more green leaves than stem.
Notice the purple packaging and the image of a pickling crock off to the side. To me, this is a clear example of how instant noodle companies are driving food trends in China and beyond.