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Spicy chilli oil noodles make a 20-minute weeknight meal

THE WASHINGTON POST – TikTok food videos are all about the visual. The cheese pull, the fork breaking through the crust and the snap of a crisp cookie.

And I’ll admit that when I’m skimming a cookbook, an arresting photo will make me stop flipping and start reading – the offline equivalent of clicking. The “noodle pull” photo for this chili oil noodle dish did just that when I came across it in Caught Snackin’, a bright, colourful cookbook released by the people behind the popular TikTok channel of the same name.

These spiced, oiled noodles paired with lightly steamed bok choy result in a satisfying contrast of soft and crisp and spicy and mild – and the dish is ready in 20 minutes.

The noodles will make your tongue tingle, but they’re easy to tame by reducing the pepper flakes and switching out some of the chilli oil for more sesame or vegetable oil. If you don’t have udon noodles, use your favourite long pasta.

“You can replace the bok choy with anything in your fridge,” said content creator Katharine Scott Payne for Caught Snackin’, which released its first cookbook this year with 100 recipes.

The TikTok account was the brainchild of three co-workers at Uncovered Group, a marketing and social media agency in London. In April 2020, Lydia Vernon, Freya Matchett and Jason Tamou pitched the idea of starting a food TikTok.

Chilli oil noodles with steamed bok choy. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

The three co-workers, who have all since moved on, met over Zoom and decided to focus on foods they loved but couldn’t go out and eat due to isolating during the pandemic. You’ll find lots of hacks for making things like McDonald’s apple pies. You’ll see the English influence in quick-and-easy recipes for crumpets and trifle, too.

“It quickly became the fastest-growing food TikTok in the United Kingdom,” Payne said.

On the TikTok page, which has 2.4 million followers, the focus is on snacking and desserts.

You’ll find plenty of three- to five-ingredient recipes, lots of those cheese pulls and recipes that start with a store-bought mix.

The cookbook is just as vibrant as the TikTok, with brightly lit photos, over-the-top desserts and snacks, but it also features chapters for lunch and dinner with more substantial meals, such as ribs, shrimp and pasta bowls like these noodles.


Spicy oiled noodles find an ideal partner in lightly steamed bok choy in this bowl from the popular TikToker Caught Snackin’.


Fine salt

Five ounce thick udon noodles

Eight ounce baby bok choy or small bok choy, trimmed and sliced lengthwise

One tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil

One tablespoon chilli oil

One tablespoon white or black (or a mixture of both) sesame seeds

One tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

One clove garlic, minced or finely grated

One tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

Three tablespoons vegetable oil

Freshly cracked black pepper

One scallion, thinly sliced, for serving (optional)

One red or green chilli, seeded, pith removed and thinly sliced or minced, for serving (optional)


Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil, add the noodles and cook according to package directions; drain.

Meanwhile, fill a medium pot with about two inches of water and bring it to a boil. Place a steamer basket over the top so that it does not touch the water. Arrange the bok choy in the basket – it’s okay if the vegetables overlap – then reduce the heat to low, cover with a tightfitting lid and steam until tender, five to seven minutes. Uncover and turn off the heat.

While the bok choy steams, in a large heat-proof bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, chili oil, sesame seeds and soy sauce, garlic and red pepper flakes until combined.

In a small saucepan over medium heat or in a microwave-safe bowl, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering, about two minutes on the stove, or about 45 seconds on HIGH in the microwave. Pour the hot oil over the chili oil mixture and whisk until fully combined. Add the noodles and toss until each strand is well coated.

Divide the noodles and bok choy among warm, shallow bowls. Sprinkle with the black pepper, if using, the scallions and chilli, if using, and serve. – Ann Maloney