Cup noodles take an entire three minutes to cook after you add the boiling water. That might seem like a short time to some, but when you're hungry, it can feel like an eternity. I remember afternoons after school waiting those agonizing 180 seconds for my noodles to cook, occasionally peeking under the lid to see if the dessicated noodles, peas, and carrot shards had finished plumping up. During late nights in college, I'd sometimes add garnishes — a raw egg or a squeeze of sriracha — to liven things up.
For those who require even quicker instant gratification than instant noodles can provide, meet Ten Seconds. The restaurant, which opened in the San Leandro Plaza strip mall in April, is a franchise of the China-based international chain Shi MiaoDao. The restaurant specializes in rice noodles from the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, which borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.
For the uninitiated, the process of preparing Yunnan-style rice noodles goes like this: order the broth of your choice, which arrives bubbling hot in a stone bowl; add proteins like beef, pork, or fish, then add the dozen or so garnishes that come on the side in tiny individual dishes. Pre-cooked round rice noodles get added last. After just 10 seconds, the bowl is ready to eat.
Yunnan-style rice noodles are also known as Crossing Bridge Noodles. According to the sign outside Ten Seconds, the dish was invented in 1806 by a woman who would cross a bridge every day in order to bring noodle soup to her husband, a scholar studying for his exams. But by the time she crossed the bridge, the toppings had become soggy — so instead, she brought the broth, noodles, and garnishes separately to keep all the ingredients fresh.
That might seem like a lot of work for a bowl of noodles, but here, the only effort that's required is dumping each of the ingredients into the bowl of soup. The Original Crossing Bridge version came with a single thin slice of raw beef, plus the standard array of 10 garnishes that included corn, a raw quail egg, chives, wood ear fungus, snow fungus, luncheon-style ham, tofu skin, pickled cabbage, lettuce, and pork paste. I carefully added them all to the milky-white, furiously boiling pork and chicken broth, taking care not to touch the scalding-hot stone bowl. Last was the noodles, which according to the menu, are refined by hand in Gu Zhen, and "each strand of noodle exudes an aromatic rich rice scent." After patiently waiting 10 seconds, I dug in.
The resulting bowl was a lot milder in flavor than I hoped: the broth was actually a little under-salted for my taste, and despite its opaque color, it didn't have the depth of flavor I expected from what looked like a long-simmered bone broth. Because the broth was so mellow, it also didn't impart a lot of flavor to the toppings. Still, I appreciated that the broth allowed the texture and flavor of the toppings to come through — the crunch of the snow fungus, the sweetness of the corn, and the pop of the quail egg, which gets poached in the hot broth. If you're looking for a substantial amount of protein, this dish won't provide that, unless you pay for another protein like sliced beef, fish, beef brisket, tripe, or beef balls as an add-on — though that's reflected in the fairly low price. The noodles also lacked the rich rice scent that I was promised, though they did have a pleasant amount of bite to them.
Instead of the original version, I'd opt for the pork cartilage rice noodles, which were my favorite. The veggie garnishes were identical, and the opaque broth looked similar to the original version, but with a much more aromatic, meaty flavor — the flavor of the pork bones and spices like star anise were much more pronounced. Though it cost a few dollars more, I also found the dish a lot more satisfying and filling, since it came with several chunks of bone-in, juicy pork.
Spice lovers have plenty of options to choose from here. The pickled pepper rice noodles, like the original version, only came with a single slice of beef — I'd recommend adding an extra order of sliced beef. The yellow-green broth had a tangy, sharp spice to it that was enjoyable for a few spoonfuls, though only a true spice aficionado would be able to finish an entire bowl. The green pepper fish fillet noodles were a little milder, made with tingling Sichuan peppercorn for a more mellow spice. It also came with a generous portion of fish, making it one of the better options if you're looking for a large dose of protein.
The tomato broth is the only vegetarian soup base on the menu. The consistency was much thicker than the other broths, making it almost like a sauce. The flavors leaned a little sweet, but the acidity from the slices of fresh, firm tomato helped balance everything out. There's also a version with tender, juicy beef brisket, which provided a pleasant contrast to all that tomato.
I found some of the side dishes to be a little lacking — the grilled chicken cartilage skewers could have used more char, and the salt and pepper calamari had a light, flavorful breading with plenty of Thai chili, but not much calamari flavor. But if you're going to order one side dish, let it be the sticky chicken wings. The wings came out nearly too hot to touch, with a caramelized sweet-spicy sauce, crisp, not-too-greasy skin and juicy interior. So diners can cool off from the piping hot soup, there's also a selection of quality, not-too-sweet tea drinks, like iced green tea with a whole, sliced up lemon.
I wasn't bowled over by any single dish at Ten Seconds, and maybe that's to be expected — after all, this is a chain restaurant, and maybe the chefs don't have the freedom to put a lot of personal touches on the food. But there are other aspects of the dining experience that feel more personal: the friendly servers who are eager to explain how to eat Yunnan rice noodles and help customers choose between the different soups. You might even witness multigenerational families eating together, all eager to scoop toppings from 10 tiny dishes into their own boiling stone pot of soup.