Noodle Diplomacy: Deconstructing the Biden Set

chinesetheater.jpgI knew them so well, I am sure I could have called them by their first name or (at the very least) in our family’s preferred style – ‘Uncle’ Chiang and ‘Auntie’ Madame Chiang, but I had much too much respect for those monstrously large and patronizing portraits that hung in the Grauman’s Chinese Theater to call them anything but Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

And, I always greeted them with reverence each Friday night when we went to the Chinese Theater and to the movies! I guess I was seven, and I had never seen portraits so grand and large. I wonder what happened to them. When were they un-ceremoniously dethroned and where are they now? Probably, resting on their sides against the wall of some antique warehouse in downtown Los Angeles smelling of incense and camphor…

greendragonplate.jpgBesides movies at the Chinese Theater, (Remember Dragon Seed with that lovely Chinese actress, Katherine Hepburn?) there were exotic dinners with my parents in Chinatown restaurants and visits afterwards to the small gift shops nearby where I fondled the porcelain dishes with green dragons, vowing one day to have plates just like them at home when I served Chinese food which I would surely learn to create.

...Which leads me to Yao’s Chao Gan restaurant – an ‘inexpensive eatery’ in Beijing – and to Vice President Biden and to … ‘The Biden Set’ and Noodle Diplomacy!

It was (deliciously) reported that our Vice President stopped by this simple restaurant, ordered lunch and was treated just like any other average Joe – or Yao.

bidenchina.jpgThis was not a green dragon kind of place; his meal was served on plain white plates. Simple white plates or not, Yao’s Chao Gan is now the place to be and the most popular choice on the menu – Joe’s Order of the Day:

Black Bean Sauce Noodles (or Fried Soy-Paste Noodles)
Steamed Buns
Smashed Cucumber Salad
Mountain Yam Salad
Shredded Potatoes
Coca Cola!

Total cost: 79 Yuan or $12.
(Oh My! Seems the ‘Biden Set’ is a bit carb heavy!)

Steamed (or baked) buns filled with BBQ pork, chicken, eggs or vegetables is a staple in any Chinese coffee shop or dim sum parlor. I think in Beijing one orders a Baozi, and I also assume it is similar to my favorite among them, the Cantonese style Cha Shu Buo or steamed bun with pork. (One of my great memories was serving Cha Shu Buo to NASCAR driver, Kyle Petty who proclaimed it as good as his North Carolina pulled pork sandwiches!) There is another steamed bun from Northern China called Goubuli Baozi, literally translated to mean, “Dogs Will Ignore!” Shall we assume that is not the bun our Joe dinned on? If one has the time and inclination, it might be fun to make steamed pork buns from scratch, though it can easily be found frozen in Asian super markets or over the Internet.

Black Bean Sauce Noodles is both popular in Korea as well as China and there are many variations available. The key to its success is that one uses a black bean paste, not black bean sauce.

CHA JANG MEIN (Noodles with Black Bean Sauce)
I found this recipe from many sources on the Internet.

1/4 pound pork
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 tablespoon fresh chopped ginger
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
3 onions chopped
2 zucchini chopped
3/4 cup shitake, straw or oyster mushrooms chopped
1 cup cha jang black bean paste – NOT sauce (found in Chinese or Korean markets)
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
Fresh Chinese noodles – cooked

Preparation: Cut the pork into small pieces and marinate in soy sauce, rice wine, ginger and garlic. Set aside. In a wok, over high heat, stir-fry the onion and zucchini. Set aside.

Heat the shortening or oil in the wok. (Do not be too stingy with the oil.) Dump the paste in the wok, stirring quickly to avoid burning for about 2-3 minutes. Add the pork and stir fry till cooked. Add the vegetables and mix. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Mix in cornstarch and water and stir until thickened and bubbly.

Served immediately over cooked noodles.


I found a recipe for Suania Tudou Si – a sour and spicy shredded potato that is very popular in Northern China. With basic ingredients such as dried red chili, oil soy, vinegar and salt it is made much the way we would do cottage fries, but cut like shoe string potatoes. Heat oil in the wok and add the potatoes, stir-fry until half done. Then add all the other ingredients and continue until done.


Made similar to an ordinary 3 pounds of potato salad, the sauce consists of oil, a bit of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon rinsed and minced fermented black beans or 1½ tablespoon soy sauce, minced ginger, rice vinegar, a bit of mustard, sliced scallions and seasoned to taste.


A simple recipe with few ingredients: 4 small or I large cucumber, minced garlic to taste, soy sauce (a few tablespoons) rice wine vinegar, salt and sugar to taste.

Cut the ends of the cucumbers and SMACK (!) them using the heavy side of a cleaver or small frying pan. (I suppose it helps to be angry with someone.) Slice the cucumber into pieces and mix with garlic. Add soy sauce, vinegar sugar and salt. Toss and serve…

And, there it is - ‘The Biden Set’


Nancy Ellison, award winning photojournalist and celebrity portraitist, has authored fourteen books of photographs, including "Romeo and Juliet: The Love Story in Dance" and "Starlet". Her latest book, "Wagner's Eternal Ring" was published in September 2010 by Rizzoli.