TCKs, Homesickness, and Happy Nouilles

The theory of the “third culture kids” phenomenon is an interesting one, describing a group of people who simultaneously belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time. My childhood consisted of a staunchly Taiwanese core culture, transformed by a haze of Shanghai smog, then engulfed by the gleaming bubble of American expatriates in China, and after that touched by the bright lights and varied smells of New York City. Paris would be the fourth culture I was exposed to, really, a fifth dimension that would mise-en-place another accent, another preference in my palate, another set of jokes that can’t be translated for my parents or purely English-speaking friends. It is truly a privilege to have been a part of a relatively international community, and while there’s nothing to complain about, there is one minor drawback—when the homesickness hits, it hits. Calls home assuage, for the most part, the sudden craving for the first home, but what really soothes the ache is having a bowl of hot noodle soup.
I stumbled upon Happy Nouilles by accident (are you digging the English-French mash-up?), on my way to Loustic to study. Right off of the Arts et Métiers station, the restaurant has an unmistakable sign, in white and red, that shouts its name in plain typeface that could really just be vertically stretched Times New Roman.
As soon as I pushed open the glass door, handle slightly greasy and glass slightly foggy, I was greeted by the smells of stewed beef bouillon, and the thud, thud, thud of hand-pulled noodles slapping the extended dough onto the work surface. There was something vaguely dingy about the place, but I was soon being greeted with mainland Mandarin Chinese, ushered to a table, and seated next to next to a fashionable, greying lady.

happynouilles2 The menu boasts Chinese classics from all over the country, from blanched dumplings to “drunken crab,” but the crowd pleaser would be the Sichuan spicy beef noodle soup, which was a welcome variation of the dense-brothed, national-pride-inducing Taiwanese beef noodle soup (牛肉麵). Doused with numbing pepper and served with a generous portion of fork-tender chunks of braised beef with soft tendon, this dish is surely the cure-all for not just homesick woes, but probably all sickness caused by the cold.

happynouilles3Feeling particularly dramatic that day, I texted my parents remarking that the noodle soup’s warmth and the spiciness really thawed out some dark corners of my soul I didn’t even know had frozen over, but it is a fact that every person I had taken there since have agreed on the pleasing nature of the homemade-quality food. I have taken to ordering take-out as I go, because their seaweed salad is delicious—sour and spicy, with the algae strips tasting vaguely like flavor-imbibed plastic—and their hot and sour soup pretty on-point to what my mum makes.

happynouilles1Also startlingly delicious would be the Zati noodles, loosely translated to “fried sauce” noodles (炸醬麵), which had a pleasant smoky flavor with the miso mixed in with minced meat and can be enjoyed with or without soup. The last time I went, I had knife-pared noodles, where the chef holds the pâte with one hand and slices with the other, which sent me to straight back to my childhood. For those who want a lighter flavor, they also make the beef noodle soup with consommé. The other stuff is indeed pretty crotch-grabbingly masculine fare in terms of its aggressive seasoning and full-bodied taste.

The staff there is friendly, and I enjoyed being able to speak in my maternal tongue and have them fawn over my supposedly ridiculous Taiwanese accent. Translating for non-Mandarin speakers is also a fun exercise that passes through various languages, and sharing a bit of your home culture with somebody receptive is always a pleasant experience. The chefs, the host lady, the head waiter, at the end of the day, are those who make the place for me—the entire shop is like a piece of home, bizarrely but thankfully copied and pasted into the eleventh arrondissement.
The next time you want to have a truly satisfying meal for fewer than seven euros, remember Happy Nouilles. As Paris by Mouth, a restaurant review site, puts it, Happy Nouilles make fantastic noodles at very happy prices.

Texte et Photos Yvonne Hsiao, Columbia College