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Long Noodles, Long Life

Growing up as a second-generation Chinese American, noodles were a big part of my life: chow fun, chow mein, fensi, insert the names of some other noodles I can’t remember the name of, and of course, long-life noodles.

Long-life noodles, also known as birthday noodles or longevity noodles, are extremely long strands of Chinese egg noodles. I remember the first time I was served these noodles at a Chinese restaurant I was wondering why they were so long and why my grandma told not to bite nor cut them but to put the whole noodle into my mouth.

My dad explained that these long noodles symbolized a long life. To bite them would shorten your lifespan.

This tradition apparently dates back to the Han Dynasty. The story goes that Emperor Wu and his ministers were discussing how a one-cm-long philtrum (the space between your nose and upper lip) meant you can live 100 years when Minister Dong Fangshuo suddenly started laughing. Fangshuo explained how this logic meant that the legendary Peng Zu, a man who supposedly lived over 800 years in the Shang Dynasty, must have had a really long face. Everyone burst out laughing and realized that it was quite silly to wish for a long face to have a long life. There needed to be another way to express this wish for longevity.

The phrase “脸长就是面长 (liǎn chǎng jiù shì miàn chǎng)” was thus born. There is a play on words here: “脸 (liǎn)” and “面 (miàn)” both mean “face,” and “面 (miàn)” also means noodles. The saying can therefore be translated as “a long face is long noodles.” Thus the tradition of eating long noodles for a long life was born.

Here at the Story of Ramen, we love celebrating birthdays alongside friends, family, and coworkers. Just February 2, 2020, we celebrated Antonio Hernandez’s 26th birthday with friends from different periods of his life – friends from his hometown, friends from college, and other friends he made along the way.

Hernandez walks past the Story of Ramen storefront every day on his way to work, and as a big fan of ramen who always suggests trying out a new ramen place when hanging out with friends, he thought this could be the ideal spot to host his birthday party.

“I didn’t know what to expect but it was better than whatever it was I had in mind,” Hernandez said. “It was super fun! I thought it was very cool how much background you get on both the history of ramen and why we use certain ingredients – I definitely enjoyed that part a lot! I really like that we started off in groups of three because everyone there knew me, but not everyone knew each other, so that got a lot of people interacting together in new and fun ways that I don’t think would have happened if we would have done any other kind of party.”

The event was definitely filled with love and laughter as our guests experienced making ramen firsthand and then ate their hard-earned noodles.

To Hernandez, we wish you a long, happy, and healthy life, and to our other readers, we hope you’ll also consider celebrating your birthday at the Story of Ramen!

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