December, Frankfurt train station. It was a typical early afternoon in a pre-Christmas Germany city. On the small Christmas market next to the train station, some people were standing around a little wood cabin selling heart-shaped ginger bread, drinking mulled wine. Not far from the Christmas market, steam was coming out from the ground floor of a building. From 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day except for Sundays, the steam doesn’t stop.
The steam comes out from the famous “Lukas’ Noodle Shop”. Opened in early 2015, the shop quickly became the hit in the Chinese community in Frankfurt. Its owner, Lin, a small woman with short hair who always wears a smile on her face, works almost every day in the restaurant.
Originally from a small village in Zhejiang Province, China, Lin is the youngest daughter in a family of six. After high school, Lin couldn’t afford going to university. To make a living, she left her home village and started working at different restaurants in the next big city at the age of eighteen. Five years later, her newly wedded husband moved to Germany for a better professional opportunity. A few months later, Lin came along.
Lin had no idea what she could do when she arrived in the foreign country. She didn’t know the language nor the culture. Helping out in some Chinese restaurants in Frankfurt, she was soon tired of the so-called “Chinese food” that were mostly just fried things with rice on the side. “Way too much fat in dishes.” She said. Like many Chinese people living in Western countries, Lin was unhappy with the restaurants there. “Many places are so overprized!” She thought about opening her own restaurant to fill the gap between people’s expectation on Chinese cuisine and the disappointing local businesses. “My idea was to open a Chinese food-street model restaurant. It offers snacks from different regions in China, ideally in a fast-food style.” She said.
Just when the preparation was going well, one day, the local police called her up with a terrible news — her husband passed away in a car accident. “It was the darkest year in my life,” Lin said, “I went home to China and stayed with my family for some months, couldn’t bear to go anywhere else.” Her family wanted to persuade her to stay in China. But she believed that something unfinished was still waiting for her in Germany. “My life had to go on. And my life is no longer in China.”
A year later, Lin came back to Germany after mourning her husband. With the support from friends and the local community, she decided to invest her savings to open her restaurant. “It has been my dream since I moved to Germany — running a restaurant where Chinese people, especially students, can enjoy something that reminds them of the taste of home without paying too much money.”
She didn’t have enough money to open the food street restaurant. “‘What if there’s a type of food that exists almost in every city in China?’ I asked myself. Then it came to me — hand-pulled beef noodles from Lanzhou! It’s a type of food that is so popular in China that almost every town has some places selling noodles like that.” To ensure the food is authentic Lanzhou flavor as she would promise to the customers, Lin sent a friend, Lukas, to Lanzhou, to attend a noodle-making academy in order to master the craft and art. After several months’ training, Lukas returned to Germany, became the noodle master of the restaurant.
“Our customers are not only from mainland China, but also from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Many Germans like to come to us too.” Lin explained proudly, “still, we had to adjust the flavor and ingredients a little bit. The original taste is very aromatic but also too spicy for many people here. Of course, the soup itself is guaranteed to be authentic. We’ve given our best.”
The restaurant has only ten tables, with a big open kitchen next to the door. Every customer coming in and even every person walking by can see how Lukas pulling noodles as if it was martial art. Lukas’ Noodle Shop is attracting more and more home-taste-seeking Chinese people and curious non-Chinese taste buds. “Tasty but fair price” is the most comment Lin receives. “Business has just taken off, I realized that I have grey hair now. But I’m feeling better than ever.” Lin said, her smiling face glowing hope and happiness, “because I’m living my dream.”