Kong Wee’s Noodle Drawer

A Memphis artist’s tips on which instant noodles to buy and how to give them some local pizzazz

Photography by Chip Chockley

“Honestly, I love noodles! They’re so versatile and perfect for any mood,” says Kong Wee Pang, local artist and noodle connoisseur.

You may know her as the current Memphis in May poster artist, or maybe you’ve enjoyed the art garden she designed at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. In fact, if you’ve driven anywhere in the city, you’ve surely seen one of her many public art pieces.

Her food is as beautiful as her art, and Kong Wee regularly shares her cooking and eating adventures on Instagram (@kongweepang and @malayjun).

When we visited with her for “Please Handle with Curry” for our inaugural issue (Winter 2019), we found out that she keeps an entire kitchen drawer fully stocked with instant noodles. She shops locally, online, and whenever she travels to ensure she always has the best selection. Like the Luo Ba Wang brand Luosi rice noodles she first saw in Nashville, but recently picked up at Viet Hoa. “This is not for everyone,” she says. “They’re sour and stinky. It takes some practice!” Her husband, fellow artist Jay Crum, agrees. He didn’t want us to make them during our research for the smell alone. “I only say yes one out of every 10 times Kong Wee asks if I want some,” he says.

A walk down the fully stocked floor-to-ceiling aisle at Viet Hoa should be enough to convince anyone that instant noodles are having a moment.

(The noodles on the endcaps are usually the most popular varieties at any one time.)

“Sometimes I crave some spicy, dry, soupy feeling, and other times I want something comforting. I love trying out different instant noodle brands from around the world,” Kong Wee says.

“I must admit that Asian instant noodles are my absolute favorite. Sometimes, they don’t even taste like they’re instant!”

This was certainly true of the instant Myojo brand Ippei-Chan Yakisoba Japanese Style “snack noodles” we had while “researching” this story. The package included a creamy sauce that was a mixture of mayonnaise and mustard, and the dried noodles had some dried cabbage mixed in.

But adding to the noodles is half the fun.

“I love the concept of using fresh and locally sourced ingredients to take instant noodles to the next level and create a gourmet noodle dish,” Kong Wee says. 

We walked through the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market in search of mushrooms, herbs, and fresh vegetables before going to Viet Hoa for specialty produce, thinly sliced meat, and various kinds of tofu.

While Kong Wee cooked, I took a few notes:

  1. Turn on some music and let it guide you.
  2. Avocado oil has one of the highest smoke points. It’s great for cooking scored king oyster mushrooms in a pan and “frying” shallots in the microwave.
  3. A six-minute boiled egg is a great add-on.
  4. Perk up already fried tofu from the market in a pan with sesame oil, salt, and pepper.
  5. Don’t overcook the noodles. Al dente is the goal.

Here’s what Kong Wee made us:

Taiwanese Tseng Noodles with king oyster mushrooms, veggies, six-minute eggs, tofu, fried shallots, and togarashi seasoning.

Korean Shin Noodles—a good winter “one pot” to share with friends. Kong Wee was inspired by “army stew” (budae jjigae) which is meant to be made with leftovers. Kong Wee added chicken bouillon, lotus root, fried tofu, braided tofu, king oyster mushrooms, carrots, bok choy, beef, a splash of milk, muenster cheese slices, cracked egg, green onion, fried shallot oil, and chili powder.

When she’s not eating at home, here are Kong Wee’s favorite local noodle dishes:

  1. New Asia Jjamppong (Spicy Korean Seafood Noodles)

One of my favorite dishes during the winter season is the spicy seafood noodle soup. It helps keep my body warm and cozy. 

  1. Pho 4ever Bun Bo Hue Noodles 

I prefer bun bo Hue over pho because it is made with both beef and pork bones, contains shrimp paste, and is served with thick round vermicelli noodles.

  1. East Meets West Taiwanese Rice Vermicelli Noodles 

My mom used to cook Taiwanese rice vermicelli noodles for me. The dish has a nostalgic taste and an al dente texture that I love. East Meets West has cooked these rice noodles with love!

  1. Golden City Chow Fun Noodles 

“Chow Fun” is the anglicization of the Cantonese Chinese name for dry fried beef or shrimp flat noodles. It’s difficult to prepare this Cantonese noodle dish at home without using high-heat wok cooking. I usually like to go to a Cantonese restaurant to order this noodle! 

  1. Pho Binh Bun Dac Bien

If you live in Midtown, you’ll enjoy a family-owned restaurant. I always order the noodle dish, which is refreshing to eat during summer.

Stacey Greenberg is the editor in chief of Edible Memphis. You can follow her at @nancy_jew.

Chip Chockley, an attorney by day, has been a professional photographer since 2008. Things that make him happy include tacos, mai tais, and his wife and kids. @chipchockley