Of babies, Chinese food and noolakais!

“So what is in this bowl, pops?” I ask my 18-month old daughter as she “cooks” with water, salt and spoons while I busy myself making dinner for her.

She looks at the bowl I’m holding out – long strands – she’s eaten them once earlier and loved them the first time. I’d accidentally put in a wee bit too much spice for a little child but she loved the dish so much that through “oohs” and “aahs” indicating her tongue was on fire, she slurped her way through the whole dish, adding a bit of yogurt and then some sugar and then some jam and so on – basically creating her own ‘Noodles a la Archana’!

She reaches out for the dish as I ask again, “what’s this called, baby?” Stares at it for a while and then starts eating. Am sure what was running through her mind was, “What IS this amma of mine going on about? This THING, by any other name, would be just as  yummy”!

I prompt her again, “Noo….noo…nooo…?”

Inspiration strikes! She looks up at me with a noodle strand hanging out of the corner of her mouth – “NOOLAKAI”! Most things she’s eaten so far in her young life have been some  “kai” (vegetable) or the other – ergo, this has to be some sort of “kai”! I double up with laughter but as far as Archana is concerned , the matter is settled – to her entire satisfaction – and she proceeds to the serious matter of putting away the noodles. 

We have never, in our home, eaten ‘noodles’ after that – it has always been ‘noolakais’!

Here’s a very simple dish of noolakais – a family favourite:



  • 200 gm tofu – cut into cubes – marinade for half an hour with 
  • 1.5 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp soya sauce
  • 1 tsp Schezwan sauce
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • Salt – a little – the sauces are salty so go easy on this

Grill or pan fry the tofu steaks for 2 -3 minutes on each side and set aside.


  • 200 gm noodles – soba or egg – cook till al dente, drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
  • Shallots – 1 cup – chopped
  • Snow peas or green beans  – 1 cup
  • Capsicum – sliced – 1 cup
  • Garlic – 4-5 flakes
  • Ginger – 1/2 inch piece – minced
  • Green chili -1 – minced
  • Soya sauce – 1 tsp
  • Lemon juice – 2 tsp
  • Schezwan sauce – 1 tsp
  • Cracked pepper – 1/2 tsp
  • Sugar – 1/2 tsp
  • Coconut milk – 1/2 cup
  • Sesame oil – 1 tbsp
  • Salt

Heat the oil in a wok or large saucepan. Add the chili, shallots and garlic along with the sugar and stir fry on high heat for a minute. Add the beans and capsicum and continue to fry for 3-4 minutes adding ginger. Add all the other ingredients and continue to stir for a couple of minutes longer. Add the noodles and let them heat up. Serve immediately with tofu steaks on top.

Watch the noolakais and the tofu-kais disappear!

 (pic courtesy internet)