Eggs in purgatory. Shakshuka. An egg on a Margherita pizza. These are a few examples I can quickly think of where eggs and tomatoes happily co-exist. I mean, ketchup on scrambled eggs is perfectly acceptable, right? So, I’m not sure why I found the pairing of eggs and tomatoes so unexpected when a friend and I had Chinese hand-pulled noodles for lunch before a treats run at Villabate Alba last year. As a vegetarian, there were few menu options for her, so she decided to try the egg and tomato noodles instead of the fallback of noodles and random stir-fried vegetables. Perhaps it was not so much the pairing but its placement on Chinese noodles that raised my eyebrows. Tomatoes are not an ingredient I normally associate with Chinese cuisine or even in stir-fries, so this could be why I was so happy she went for it. The pile of diced tomatoes, scrambled eggs, and fresh noodles set before her was a steaming mess of tangles, soft curds, and tangy chunks. After trying some, I vowed to have my own plate one day.
But not at our Brooklyn lunch spot. The long train ride to Bensonhurst isn’t the best for spontaneous remembrances of wanting to eat egg and tomato noodles. I knew that Spicy Village in Chinatown had a version and have always wanted to visit the renowned spot. Spicy Village specializes in the cuisine of the central Chinese province of Henan, and its excellence in this regard was highlighted a few years ago when Mark Bittman wrote about it. He brought attention to their signature Big Tray Chicken dish. It is supposed to be a fantastic mix of spicy chicken and potatoes served in a… big tray that can feed a small army. Only present with my army of one, I was not deviating from the egg and tomato hu mei.
Hu mei are wide, knife-cut noodles with a texture that reminded me of thin dumpling skins. They were chewy, but with a softness that made them a bit slippery. The egg and tomato sauce was much more brothy than that in Bensonhurst, the scrambled eggs and tomatoes more finely chopped, as well, and topped with slivers of cucumber and bright green bok choy. Any oil in the dish was undiscernible. It was very light but nourishing, filling me with the kind of healthy satiety craved when you know salad won’t fill you up, but you also know you’ve recently had one Christmas cookie too many.
Unsure if only noodles would fill me up, I also ordered the spicy scallion sauce dumplings. They were awesome. The pork filling was ample and packed in the dumpling nicely, neither too loose nor too compact. The skins were on the thicker side, but they weren’t doughy, tender enough to easily bite but not too delicate to tear with any poor chopstick moves. The scallion sauce was the magic, though. The only slightly spicy sauce was an addictive mix of, at the very least, chopped scallions, chilies, cilantro, and black vinegar. In addition to doctoring my hu mei with some chili oil, I also scooped in some of the dumplings’ sauce.
Of course, Googling egg and tomatoes on noodles yields many results on how this is a very common Chinese comfort food dish and does a good turn on revealing my ignorance on the subject. The results also reveal the common inclusion of ketchup in the sauce…!