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Oct 30, 2012 09:26 AM

Live Corn Tortilla Making, Chinese Noodle Making: Others?

Watching certain cultures demonstrate their 'since childhood’ food training (or DNA, whichever theory you subscribe to) can be a riveting way to spend some unscheduled time.

We were at La Verdad the other day, and while I waited for a take out order, I watched the tortilla maker do her thing , at her station behind the register. I’ve watched her scores of times before, but this time i REALLY watched her. Fascinating. I always had thought that you just roll a ball of masa, stick it in the press, pull the handle, and boom, all done. WROOOONG. She must have handled each tortilla at least 10 times during the process, to get each one to her liking. Then they went on the flat top next to her, for a few minutes, on each side, then were stacked and eventually wrapped. Maybe an Operations Management nightmare, but surely a delight for those lucky enough to eat them. And she still puts out a vast number (she can tell you exactly) per hour. (btw, we buy our tortillas from them, about $3 a dozen iirc.)

I really want to see Gene (Gene’s Flatbread, Chelmsford) do that magic noodle-making arms-ballet thing (that I think a Boston CH posted about watching there?) Does anyone know when Gene typically makes his noodles and do you think he’d be open to having an audience?

I have caught the Chinese dumpling pleating/wrapping show at a few Chinese restaurants over the years, and been mesmerized (but also occasionally freaked out, like when I noticed a huge bowl of ground pork filling sitting out in the middle of the(prep) table, on no ice.....:-{ )

Has anyone else had some cool experiences in Boston, watching artisanally created items that would otherwise be factory-mass-produced--- like these?

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  1. Funny timing. I was in Zocalo in the Back Bay on Sunday and was watching a young lady make tortillas at her station behind the bar. Agree with you that it can be a very cool process to watch.

    1. i like the noodles at China King; I wonder how they are made?

      1. At Viva Mi Arepa, it takes them a good amount of time to get each order right. Definitely fun watching them hand form each one to order and worth the wait in my opinion.

        1. Based on my experience there, Gene makes his noodles throughout the day; it's best to go on the weekends, because it's busier and he'll almost certainly be back there, and not up front working the counter. Based on reading other peoples' comments here, he is not comfortable with having customers in his kitchen.

          A window into the kitchen allows you to see him roughly from the sternum up. It's interesting, but it's basically like watching someone jumprope from the belly-up: you certainly get the idea, but you're missing the most important parts of the technique.

          I'm a little uncomfortable asking a chef to see how he or she makes the food, though. I understand that this is, to some extent, a function of the space: if you have a back room, you make it in the back room, and if you don't, you make it in the open. But I think that if the chef wants it to be a spectacle, he makes it one, and if he doesn't, he just gives you the food. Gawking at people making foreign cuisine is a little too "National Geographic" for my tastes.

          4 Replies
          1. re: FinnFPM

            opinionatedchef isn't "gawking". she's talking about understanding how they make their best food. I've had people ask to watch when I make cassoulet and southern biscuits. It's about learning, not about viewing people as exotic "others."

            1. re: Madrid

              There are obviously many people who are genuinely interested in learning. That doesn't mean that "it" -- the act of watching people make foreign foods -- is essentially about learning, nor does it mean that the person being watched is essentially under the impression that he or she is teaching.

              This is a public conversation, so there should be no assumption that I'm just specifically talking to opinionatedchef. I'm introducting a cautionary thought to the broader conversation.

              1. re: Madrid

                You can see many people making many different foods from all over the world watching youtube, and if you miss something they did you can always hit replay.

                The only problem is you can't taste it unless you try making it yourself.

              2. re: FinnFPM

                finn, that is a fun analogy, but in seriousness, I thought the arms ballet thing happened well above the belly- as in chest level up and out in the air.yes? i need to find me some you tubes of this......

              3. I love watching the guy in the north end shave ice. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth many times during the process with his shaving tool. Then he puts it in the cone cup and and ask what flavor, and I always choose lemon. I'm not sure if he would be able to tell you how many per hour he does but I've never asked. I wish I could buy them by the dozen to take home!