One birthday is good, but two is always better.
Growing up in a Singapore, a country that follows the lunar as well as the Western calendar, celebrating two birthdays each year was always a given. Cake, flowers and presents are lovely for Western birthdays. But for lunar calendar birthdays — or Chinese birthdays, as my family calls them — things are several notches simpler. The star of this show is always a bowl of noodles, symbolic of longevity, a pair of hardboiled eggs, representing fertility or life. And all of this comes in a sugary soup — "so the whole year will be sweet," as my mother says.
For too many years in America, my Chinese birthday — which I'm fortunate to be able to remember easily because it falls on Diwali each year — passed with little fanfare. Sure, my parents would call New York to wish me well. But the noodles, the eggs and the sweet broth — that always seemed like just a little too much trouble.
This year, however, as Diwali began today, I found myself temporarily stranded in Singapore due to unforeseen circumstances. So for lunch, my mother had a little treat planned: birthday noodles. "You must eat this," she said. "For luck."
These noodles are incredibly easy to make. First, you take some flour vermicelli, which my mother generally uses because they're made with a little sugar, which will only make your year sweeter. You cook them in hot water until they're al dente.
Then you take two hard-boiled eggs…
… and add them all to a broth you've made by basically combining a cup of water and a teaspoon or more of sugar. "It's up to you how much sugar to put in," she said. "See how sweet you want it."
As I dug in, with my mother carefully watching, she started telling me about how her mother used to make birthday noodles for her. "She would take little pieces of paper, write numbers on them and roll them up," she said. "Then she would make me take my chopsticks to pick lucky numbers for her" to buy lottery tickets. Unfortunately, no one ever won.
Lottery winnings were immaterial today, however. There was no need for little pieces of paper; no need for chopsticks and numbers. Just having my mother make me birthday noodles for the first time in years was more than enough of a prize.
My Mum's Birthday Noodles
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1 handful (or 1 oz.) flour vermicelli
3 cups water
1 teaspoon (or more) sugar
Bring two cups of water to a boil, add noodles and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside. Bring one cup water to a boil, add sugar and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Add vermicelli and eggs to the broth in a bowl and serve immediately.