- Cantonese Chinese: Yi Min, Yi Fu Min 伊麵, 伊府麵
- Minnan Chinese: Yi Mi 伊麵
- Mandarin Chinese: Yi Mian, Yi Fu Mian 伊面/意面, 伊府面
In this recipe, the “Seongtong Longha Wuiyimin” 上湯龍蝦燴伊麵 (Cantonese Braised Lobster with Egg Noodles), I introduced a very specific Cantonese deep-fried air-dried egg noodles called “Yimin” 伊麵 .
“Yimin” 伊麵 is a Chinese Cantonese invention and it was originally called “Yi Fu Min” 伊府麵 – literally “The Noodles of Residence Yi”. And its origin can be traced to a real person.
Who invented the Cantonese noodles Yimin 伊麵?
Yi Bingshou 伊秉绶 was a government official who lived in the Qing dynasty from the year 1754 to 1815. Originally from Fujian, Yi learned under the greatest writers and thinkers of his day and quickly rose through the ranks in the Chinese civil service. He served in various provinces, notably in Canton and Jiangsu, and his rule was marked by fairness and transparency. When he retired from his last post as the Governor of Yangzhou 扬州 in Jiangsu province, tens of thousands of citizens came onto the streets to bide him farewell.
As a Chinese version of a Renaissance man, Yi Bingshou received poets, writers and thinkers at his residence everyday, as he encouraged and promoted the free exchange of ideas and the arts. According to records, when Yi was the county judge of Huizhou 惠州 in Canton, his cook was so busy that he accidentally drop fresh egg noodles into a pot of frying oil. To save time, the cook served the crispy noodles instead. Poet Song Xiang 宋湘 was at the dining table and he loved the new invention. He asked Yi if the noodles already had a name, otherwise, it should be named “The Noodles of Residence Yi” to honour Yi’s efforts in promoting thinking and the arts.
Hence, the precursor of the modern instant noodles was born!
Throughout the ages, Yimin making has been perfected, as soda bicarbonate was added to its manufacturing process, such that it has a longer shelf life after it was fried and then dried. Hence, Yimin is different in taste to normal deep-fried egg noodles and is more absorbent.
Two Types of Yimin 伊麵
There are in fact two types of Yimin 伊麵:
- The original Cantonese Yimin 伊麵 from Hongkong made with egg yolk
- The brown Singaporean Yimin 伊麵 made with alkaline ash
As I am from Singapore, I prefer the Singaporean version because it has a specific taste.
Now living in Belgium, I have difficulties finding either versions for several reasons:
- Commercial Yimin such as the one by the Shoutao brand in Hongkong are only air-dried and not deep-fried
- Deep-fried then air-dried noodles are not made with egg yolk but with turmeric
It is until when I discovered Pancit Canton from the Philippines! In fact, Pancit Canton IS the Chinese Cantonese Yimin!!
What is the origin of the Filipino noodles ‘Pancit’?
As the Chinese diaspora in the Philippines is primarily that of a Hokkien/Minnan diaspora from Fujian in southeastern coast of China, the Chinese immigrants spoke the Chinese Minnan language.
The word “pancit” comes from the Hokkien words “bian sit” 便食, meaning “convenient food”. By bringing over the Cantonese ‘instant noodles‘ to the Philippines, the Minnan immigrants popularised the use of pre-cooked noodles as a form of quick meal.
As eggs are expensive, to recreate the chewy firm texture of egg noodles, one can also use lye water such as in Japanese ramen. One way to create lye water is to pass water through burnt ash, and the result is alkaline ash water. This is the reason why Singaporean Yimin is brown in colour and not yellow.
For this reason, go for “Pancit Canton” if you want Hong Kong style Yimin, and for Singaporean style Yimin, go for “Pancit Hab-Hab“.