For glorious dishes just add noodles
June 08, 2018
Noodles are the Chinese staple with infinite possibilities, as a day-to-day comfort food or a complement to the season’s best ingredients.
In the summer season, dry noodle dishes served with a variety of toppings and sauces are perfect quick meals that offer everything in a bowl, especially when they are served chilled.
This week, we are rounding up the signature dry noodle dishes around China, from the luxurious sanxiamian (three parts of river shrimp noodle) to the appetite cheering Sichuan cold noodles.
Sichuan cold noodles
It’s hard to beat a bowl of chilled Sichuan cold noodles in hot weather. A traditional snack dish hailing from the home of spicy cuisine, Sichuan cold noodles are enjoyed across China. This dry noodle dish uses very simple ingredients: noodles, spicy chili sauce and refreshing vegetables such as beansprouts and shredded cucumber.
Like a lot of other Sichuan cuisine, the essence of the cold dish is the chili sauce, which is composed of dried chilis, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, soy sauce and ginger infused water among others. Sichuan-style chili sauces are known for the complexity of their ingredients that create bold flavors not just spicy hot, but full-bodied and aromatic.
As for the choice of noodles, both the machine-pressed thin noodles or handmade noodles are fine, the key is not to overcook the noodles in boiling water so that they retain a chewy and dry texture. After the noodles are cooked, they are tossed loose on the cutting board with some oil and cooled down.
Noodles with scallion oil
Congyoubanmian is a classic Shanghainese staple that can be made with simple ingredients of fresh scallions and thin noodles.
To make the brown-colored scallion oil, chop 100 grams of fresh green scallions in longer segments and discard the white portion near the root. Mix 60ml of light soy sauce with 50ml of dark soy sauce for later use.
In a hot pan, heat up about 80ml of oil and slowly stir-fry the scallions on a low heat, then add the soy sauce combo and sugar to taste until it’s all well blended and bubbly.
Now, simply boil some thin noodles and stir in the scallion oil. The excess scallion oil can be stored in glass jars in the fridge for later use.
The dish can be served alone or with other vegetable and meat toppings to your liking. The only thing to worry about is the strong smell of scallions during the process.
Wuhan is the city that created a word for eating breakfast, guozao, which means “going through the morning.” On busy working days, there’s limited time for breakfast, so speed and convenience are important.
One of the most iconic Wuhan breakfast dishes is reganmian, hot and dry noodles with sesame paste that are loved by people around the country. Reganmian uses special noodles with edible trona venenum added in the dough, which takes away the acidic taste. After cooking the thick and chewy noodles in boiling water, they are dried and then tossed in a seasoned fragrant sesame paste sauce. Toppings such as dried small shrimps, spicy radish pickle and finely chopped scallions are added for more flavors and textures.
Reganmian is a cheap noodle dish made with minimal number of ingredients.
It’s sold in Shanghai at a lot of wonton shops on the streets at affordable prices.
Unlike most of the noodle dishes that cook the noodles in boiling water, lumian, popular in Henan and Shaanxi provinces, is cooked by steaming the raw noodles.
The dish is made with fresh thin, flat noodles that are a little moist but not too much. The first step is to bring the water in the steamer to boil and then steam the noodles for 10 minutes on a clean cloth, make sure they are fluffy and not densely packed.
Then, make a stir-fry of pork belly meat, green bean and garlic shoots, and flavor with dark soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Add water to cover three quarters of the vegetables and turn off the heat, pour in the steamed noodles and stir well with chopsticks, then put everything back into the steamer and cook for 15 minutes until the flavor of the stir-fry is fully infused in the noodles. The second steaming process also fully cooks the vegetables.
Lumian is an ideal dish to share with family, and a lot of people like to enjoy it with raw garlic cloves.
Beijing-style zhajiangmian is one of the top 10 noodle dishes in China. It highlights a very dense, paste-like black sauce made by stir-frying diced meat, green onions and ginger with either soy bean-based sauce or sweet fermented flour sauce.
The noodles used in zhajiangmian are quite chewy, preferably handmade fresh noodles. The dish can be served hot or cold depending on the season, the cold version has the extra step of steeping the noodles in cold water.
Zhajiangmian also comes with a variety of toppings, the classic ingredients include shredded cucumber, beansprouts, tender toon leaves and cooked beans. In addition to the black sauce, you can also add chili or vinegar.
Biangbiangmian is an iconic dry noodle dish in Shaanxi Province where sizzling chili oil, or youpo lazi, is key to the local spicy cuisine.
This particular noodle dish uses wide and thick hand-pulled noodles in the shape of a belt. The noodles can be made at home by pulling the ox tongue-shaped dough strips evenly on both ends.
The chili oil is made of ground chilis and spices such as Sichuan peppercorn, cinnamon, star anise and the Thirteen Spices. Don’t forget toasted white sesame seeds to bring out the aroma of the sauce. After preparing all the ingredients in a bowl, heat up a saucepan of oil to about 80 percent hot and splash some over the chilis, add the sesame seeds and pour the rest of the oil.
Biangbiangmian often has boiled vegetables as well.
From June to July is the only time of the year to enjoy one of the ultimate noodle dishes in China, the sanxiamian in Suzhou which has a complicated, time-consuming topping.
It translates into “three shrimp noodle,” which means cooking the three different parts of the fresh river shrimp — the meat, roe and brain — separately before assembling the dish.
The name actually refers to this specific noodle topping rather than the form of the noodles themselves, as one can enjoy it with dry or soup noodles.
Featuring the single ingredient of fresh river shrimp in season, the first step in making sanxiamian is to separate the raw shrimp’s roe, body and brain. The river shrimp’s small size means it’s a very delicate process that requires patience and years of experience.
A bowl of sanxiamian typically needs the roe of more than two dozen shrimps, as each shrimp only has a tiny little bit of the precious roe that’s the size of the little finger nail.
The roe is then sieved repeatedly in water to remove the dirt, then you must carefully pick out the shrimp legs and other residue.
Next, it’s time to shell the shrimps. It looks easier than picking out the shrimp roe, but in fact fresh raw shrimps are very fragile and it’s easy to damage the integrity of the meat without the proper technique. Rather than peeling the shrimps like prawns, the correct way is to push the shrimp meat out of the shell from the tail after a gentle squeeze.
Unlike the shrimp roe and meat which is extracted from the raw shrimps, the shrimp brain is gained after cooking the shrimp heads so that the squishy texture hardens. Then, the white impurities from the shrimp brain are removed by hand, leaving only the bright red, semitransparent brains.
There are no better tools than the hands in processing the shrimps, and people must work as a production line to improve efficiency. Because of the tremendous workload, sanxiamian is also much more expensive than the average noodle dish at a price of around 100 yuan (US$15.6) per serving.
When the preparation is done, the three parts of the shrimp are stir-fried in a wok with seasoning. Sanxiamian can be enjoyed with the dry noodles alongside a few other vegetable toppings. Simply stir in the small plate of precious shrimp toppings into the thin noodles. You can also enjoy it with soup noodles.