Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Slurp du jour: Wonton Mein at ABC Bakery Restaurant

aABC Restaurant in heart of San Francisco's Chinatown is anything but. (American Born Chinese, that is.) From the bins of Cantonese-style pastries at the front to the apparent reluctance of the servers to bring you your check when you have to leave, it's as Hong Kong as it gets. (Not to even mention the macaroni soups.) It's also the place that a couple of graduate student friends from Guangzhou swear reminds them most of home. Therefore, when old China hand and Professor Emeritus at Zhongshan University, Lonnie Hodge, along with his ex-student Li Huiqing (at Berkeley on a fellowship) brought growling stomachs along on our Chinatown crawl, it was a logical place to stop.

I opted for the cha siu wonton mein (a.k.a. 叉烧云吞面, cha shao yun tun mian in Mandarin), a classic combination of southern style wontons and fine egg noodles in a bouillion-like broth topped, in my case, with thin slices of fatty Cantonese-style barbecued pork. I'm still learning to like the thin HK-style noodles (I've likened eating them to chewing on someone's hair) and slowly succeeding, I think. These had plenty of chew to them, which somewhat redeemed them from their meager circumferences. The wontons were the star, enormous and packed full of fresh-tasting, snappy shrimp and vegetal accompaniments. The scale of these wontons is more evident in the photo to the right of the "lo mein" version of the same dish, enjoyed by Ms. Li. We accompanied our wheaten noodles with a plate of chang fen, wide rice noodles topped with a sticky, peanutty syrup which was tasty but a bit sweet to my taste.

Would I return? I will, and I have. ABC has been a go-to place for me for wonton mein for a few years now.

Where slurped: ABC Bakery Restaurant, 650 Jackson St., San Francisco

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Noodling New York: Why a Duck?

It was Thanksgiving in New York, and I was flying solo. As I more often than not do when I'm having dinner alone there, I hopped on the 7 Train and headed for the Golden Mall in Flushing. I wasn't jonesing for turkey, as my visit had triggered a pre-emptive family Thanksgiving dinner upstate, replete with turkey, ten days before, and just two days earlier I had enjoyed a fried turkey leg, a one-off created by Eddie Huang at the late lamented Xiao Ye. Nonetheless. But why a duck? Some unreconstructed traditionalist in me cried fowl, and what better time to check out the duck la mian I'd been ogling on the menu of the Lanzhou Handmade Noodle stall?

Lanzhou Noodle's duck noodles came with the house's reliably springy fresh hand-pulled noodles in a rich, slightly sweetish broth. It was perhaps a touch too sweet for my tastes, but this sweetness was easily attenuated with a dollop of la you. The soup was topped with a generous portion of duck, as can bees seen in the photo above. The duck, quite obviously, was made off-premises, roast duck logistics being what they are. It was less aromatic and more ducky in flavor than the typical Cantonese roast duck, at least those I am familiar with in San Francisco. Overall, the duck noodles are one of the best options on Lanzhou Handmade Noodles' menu. At just a buck or so more than the standard beef la mian, they stand out as one of the best bargains as well.

Where slurped: Lanzhou Handmade Noodles, 41-28 Main St., Flushing NY

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Noodling New York: Hakata "Kuro" Ramen at Hide-Chan

On my recent New York trip, noodles at Hide-Chan Ramen were at the top of my list. Not that I'm a big ramen chaser (as I've made clear in the past), but Serious Eats NY had just named it the best ramen in New York, even ahead of the vaunted Ippudo, and I wondered what all the fuss was about. SE may have something there; I don't know if it was the noodle quality overall, or the style I ordered, but it was one of the most satisfying bowls of ramen I have ever had. On Serious Eats' recommendatiion, I went with the Hakata Kuro Ramen. "Kuro" apparently means black, and the blackness comes from charred garlic or, as the Hide-Chan menu describes it, "original 'ma-yu' roasted garlic oil." The noodles in my bowl were perfectly springy, and the toppings adequate, if not generous. But it was the addition of the blackened garlic oil that made the ramen exceptional. The garlic oil slick evident in the above photo turned the whole bowl an inky black color when stirred; more than that, it added a dimension of flavor to what otherwise might have just another salty, muddy broth.

Where slurped: Hide-Chan Ramen, 248 E 52nd St, New York

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Slurp du Jour: Home-cooked Duck Noodles

Sometimes home-made ad hoc noodle deliciousness cannot be topped (or can be topped, as it were). Such as was the case the other night when Ju Ju, pressed for time, threw the above bowl together for me. Vacuum-packed fresh noodles from Korea (which she's favored lately) were cooked and served in her standard pork neckbone soup broth with a few pickled vegetables and a mere kiss of Lao Ganma. It was amply topped with duck meat stripped from a Chinatown roast duck, and a couple of 荷包蛋 (fried eggs to you).


Where Slurped: At home.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Noodles du Jour: Curry Laksa from Azalina Malaysian

Off the Grid at Fort Mason Center, the Friday night street food extravaganza, is beginning to wind down for the Winter hiatus. There were no new vendors last night, and few new dishes to entice me, so I was doubly happy that Azalina of Azalina Malaysian had added a Curry Laksa to her offerings. Azalina's version had both laksa noodles and thin rice vermicelli in a coconutty lemon grass flavored broth, and was topped with a generous amount of chicken and you doufu. It was a hearty and tasty portion for $6.00, and the al dente thick laksa noodles contrasted nicely with the tender vermicelli. Having little familiarity with the dish, I took it as is, but the next time I'll ask for a bit more spice heat, as it was a little on the bland side.

Where Slurped: Off the Grid, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Rap on Lanzhou La Mian

To be sure, the subject of this post is a rap song about Lanzhou La Mian, by Gansu rapper Gao Xi, as a tribute to his iconic home town specialty. Click on the above image to hear the song, animated by Yu Ran Animation Studio. For those who can read Chinese, the lyrics are presented below. If you Don't read Chinese, but want to rap along, a PinYin romanization follows. I'll be very happy if someone can provide an intelligible line-by line translation of the lyrics, though a machine translation will give a rough sense of the meaning.

[Note: the animated version of th Lanzhou La Mian rap song linked above is slightly shortened from the original single; a full version, accompanied by by a less didactic but (to some) more stylish video can be seen at the 6.cn website.]

(~ 饿 饿死我了 老板 给我弄碗面 再拿瓶五泉 啥面 兰州拉面 )
走在兰州的大街上 有太多的东西让你不能忘
一路上走过的漂亮姑娘 还有兰州的面也能让你吃个爽
什么炒面拉面牛肉面 还有清真的面皮在等你尝鲜
但是 不要忽略最重要的一点 牛肉面是牛肉面 拉面是拉面
牛肉面它不是拉面 拉面不是牛肉面 你听清楚没
里面的区别可不容你小看 虽然全国各地都卖过这样的饭
正宗兰州牛肉拉面 什么牛肉加拉面是啥东西 说啊
人活 树活皮 人要没脸赛过驴 不了解行情就不要胡言乱
竖起耳朵 朋友们你们给我听仔细
牛肉面不是牵着牛做面 牛肉面用上等的牛肉汤下
细宽 几种规格随你换 锅后给你放点香菜葱花 说到兰州拉面
鲜的做法 如果你了解你一定感觉很伟大
兰州正宗师傅就是这么歪 一根面可以给你拉一碗
拉着面的时候比魔术还精彩 转眼间 变成又细又长的一根面
下面的肉 千里飘着香 包你吃了一碗还会再想 你想想想 你来尝尝尝
要是钱没带够 你也不用慌 跟老板讲一讲
们甘肃人可是善良又大方 们甘肃人可是善良又大方
~兰州的面这么吃我给你说下 加上二斤肉 再来窝个蛋
干上瓶五泉 你也来尝尝鲜啊 便宜得很 才五块钱 ~
兰州的面也可以这么吃 滴点辣椒油 再弄点大蒜
喝上口鲜汤 赞劲的很 证吃了一碗 让你回味几十年
(这个面还是不错的 可惜你个地方没什么好玩的 听着)
西北的文化你又懂的多少 可能你的了解等于你不知道
出生 结婚 还有挂的时候才会洗洗澡 这些话只是那些无知人们的笑料
听完我的这个歌希望你能好好检讨 则你来这旅游 还真不让你洗澡
听着没 还真不让你洗澡 听听我的介 敦煌有个石窟叫做莫高
丝绸之路上驼铃声声多美妙 记载了中华文明千百年的荣耀
西北边陲有个军马场风景也很好 滩上世界名种山丹骏马在赛跑
烈性的青稞酒随时待命把你放倒 陇东南的天水有个伏羲庙
人文始祖的老家就在甘 你知道不知道 你到底知道不知道
还有一个最重要 玩累了没啥大不了 兰州面味道又在你的周围飘
闻个好 吃个 话说的话 万里长城永不倒 兰州拉面就是好
~给我吹吧 呵呵
兰州的面这么吃我给你说下 加上二斤肉 再来窝个蛋
干上瓶五泉 你也来尝尝鲜啊 便宜得很 才五块钱 ~
兰州的面也可以这么吃 滴点辣椒油 再弄点大蒜
喝上口鲜汤 赞劲的很 证吃了一碗 让你回味几十年
兰州的面这么吃我再给你说下 加上二斤肉 再来窝个蛋
干上瓶五泉 你也来尝尝鲜啊 便宜得很 才五块钱 ~
兰州的面也可以这么吃 滴点辣椒油 再弄点大蒜
喝上口鲜汤 赞劲的很 证吃了一碗 让你回味几十年

(āi - è èsǐ wǒ liǎo/liào lǎobǎn gěi/jǐ wǒ lòng/nòng wǎn miàn zài ná píng wǔ quán shá miàn lánzhōu lāmiàn é/ó lái lei)
zǒu zài lánzhōu de/dí/dì dàjiē shàng yǒu tàiduō de/dí/dì dōngxi/dōngxī ràng nǐ bùnéng wàng
yī lùshang zǒu guò de/dí/dì piàoliang gūniang háiyǒu lánzhōu de/dí/dì miàn yě néng ràng nǐ chī/jí gè shuǎng
shénme chǎo miàn lāmiàn niúròu miàn háiyǒu qīngzhēn de/dí/dì miàn pí zài děng nǐ cháng xiān/xiǎn
dànshì bùyào hūluè zuì zhòngyào de/dí/dì yīdiǎn niúròu miàn shì niúròu miàn lāmiàn shì lāmiàn
niúròu miàn tā búshì lāmiàn lāmiàn búshì niúròu miàn nǐ tīng/tìng qīngchu méi/mò
lǐmiàn de/dí/dì qūbié kě bùróng nǐ xiǎo kān/kàn suīrán quánguógèdì dōu/dū mài guò zhèyàng de/dí/dì fàn
zhēng/zhèng zōng lánzhōu niúròu lāmiàn shénme niúròu jiā lāmiàn shì shá dōngxi/dōngxī wǒ shuì/shuō a/ā/á/ǎ/à
rén huó liǎn shù huó pí rén yāo/yào méi/mò liǎn sài guò lú bùliǎo jiě/jiè/xiè háng/xíng/xìng qíng jiù bùyào hú yán luàn yǔ/yù
shùqi ěrduo péngyou men nǐmen gěi/jǐ wǒ tīng/tìng zǐxì
niúròu miàn búshì qiān zhāo/zháo/zhe/zhù/zhuó niú zuò miàn niúròu miàn yòng shàngděng de/dí/dì niúròu tāng xià
miàn xì kuān jī/jǐ zhǒng/zhòng guīgé suí nǐ huàn chū guō hòu gěi/jǐ nǐ fàng diǎn xiāngcài cōng huā
shuì/shuō dào lánzhōu lāmiàn
xīnxiān de/dí/dì zuòfǎ rúguǒ nǐ liǎojiě nǐ yīdìng gǎnjué hěn wěidà
lánzhōu zhēng/zhèng zōng shīfu jiùshì zhème wāi yī gēn miàn kěyǐ gěi/jǐ nǐ lā yīwǎn
lā zhāo/zháo/zhe/zhù/zhuó miàn deshíhòu bǐ/bì móshù hái/huán jīngcǎi zhuǎnyǎn jiān/jiàn biànchéng yòu xì yòu cháng de/dí/dì yī gēn miàn
xiàmian de/dí/dì ròu tāng qiān lǐ piāo zhāo/zháo/zhe/zhù/zhuó xiāng bāo nǐ chī/jí liǎo/liào yīwǎn hái/huán
huì/kuài zài xiǎng nǐ xiǎng xiǎng xiǎng nǐ lái cháng cháng cháng
yàoshì qián méi/mò dài gòu nǐ yěbù yòng huāngzhāng gēn lǎobǎn jiǎng yī jiǎng
wǒmen gānsù rén kěshì shànliáng yòu dàfāng wǒmen gānsù rén kěshì shànliáng yòu dàfāng
lánzhōu de/dí/dì miàn zhème chī/jí wǒ gěi/jǐ nǐ shuì/shuō xià jiāshàng èr jīn ròu zài lái wō gè dàn
gān/gàn shàng píng wǔ quán nǐ yě lái cháng cháng xiān/xiǎn a/ā/á/ǎ/à piányi dehěn cái wǔ kuāi/kuài qián
é/ó lánzhōu de/dí/dì miàn yě kěyǐ zhème chī/jí dī diǎn làjiāo yóu zài lòng/nòng diǎn dà suàn
hē/hè shàng kǒu xiān/xiǎn tāng zàn jìn/jìng de/dí/dì hěn bǎozhèng chī/jí liǎo/liào yīwǎn ràng nǐ huí wèi jǐshínián
zhègè miàn háishì bùcuò de/dí/dì kěxī nǐ zhègè dìfang méishénme hǎo/hào wán/wàn de/dí/dì húshuō tīng/tìng zhāo/zháo/zhe/zhù/zhuó
xīběi de/dí/dì wénhuà nǐ yòu dǒng de/dí/dì duōshao/duōshǎo kěnéng nǐ de/dí/dì liǎojiě děngyú nǐ bùzhī dào
chūshēng jiéhūn háiyǒu guà deshíhòu cái huì/kuài xǐ xǐzǎo zhèxie huà zhǐshì nàxiē wúzhī rénmen de/dí/dì xiào liào
tīng/tìng wán wǒde zhègè gē xīwàng nǐ néng hǎohǎo jiǎntǎo fǒuzé nǐ lái zhèi lǔyóu wǒ hái/huán zhēn bù ràng nǐ xǐzǎo
tīng/tìng zhāo/zháo/zhe/zhù/zhuó méi/mò hái/huán zhēn bù ràng nǐ xǐzǎo tīng/tìng tīng/tìng wǒde jièshào dūn huáng yǒu gè shí kū jiàozuò mò gāo
sīchóuzhīlù shàng tuó líng shēng shēng duō měimiào jìzǎi liǎo/liào zhōnghuá wénmíng qiān bǎinián de/dí/dì róngyào
xīběi biānchuí yǒu gè jūn mǎ chǎng fēngjǐng yě hěnhǎo cǎo tān shàng shìjiè míng zhǒng/zhòng shān dān jùnmǎ zài sài pǎo
liè xìng de/dí/dì qīngkē jiǔ suíshí dāi/dài mìng bǎ/bà nǐ fàng dǎo/dào lǒng dōngnán de/dí/dì tiān shuǐ yǒu gè fú xī miào
rén wén shǐ zǔ de/dí/dì lǎojiā jiù zài gānsù nǐ zhīdao bùzhī dào dāi nǐ dàodǐ zhīdao bùzhī dào
háiyǒu yīgè zuì zhòngyào wán/wàn léi/lěi/lèi liǎo/liào méi/mò shá dà bùliǎo lánzhōu miàn wèidao yòu zài nǐ de/dí/dì zhōuwéi piāo
wén gè hǎochī gè bǎo súhuà shuì/shuō dehuà wàn lǐ chángchéng yǒng bù dǎo/dào lánzhōu lāmiàn jiùshì hǎo/hào

nǐ gěi/jǐ wǒ chuī ba/bā ā/hē ā/hē
lánzhōu de/dí/dì miàn zhème chī/jí wǒ gěi/jǐ nǐ shuì/shuō xià jiāshàng èr jīn ròu zài lái wō gè dàn
gān/gàn shàng píng wǔ quán nǐ yě lái cháng cháng xiān/xiǎn a/ā/á/ǎ/à piányi dehěn cái wǔ kuāi/kuài qián
é/ó - lánzhōu de/dí/dì miàn yě kěyǐ zhème chī/jí dī diǎn làjiāo yóu zài lòng/nòng diǎn dà suàn
hē/hè shàng kǒu xiān/xiǎn tāng zàn jìn/jìng de/dí/dì hěn bǎozhèng chī/jí liǎo/liào yīwǎn ràng nǐ huí wèi jǐshínián
lánzhōu de/dí/dì miàn zhème chī/jí wǒ zài gěi/jǐ nǐ shuì/shuō xià jiāshàng èr jīn ròu zài lái wō gè dàn
gān/gàn shàng píng wǔ quán nǐ yě lái cháng cháng xiān/xiǎn a/ā/á/ǎ/à piányi dehěn cái wǔ kuāi/kuài qián
é/ó - lánzhōu de/dí/dì miàn yě kěyǐ zhème chī/jí dī diǎn làjiāo yóu zài lòng/nòng diǎn dà suàn
hē/hè shàng kǒu xiān/xiǎn tāng zàn jìn/jìng de/dí/dì hěn bǎozhèng chī/jí liǎo/liào yīwǎn ràng nǐ huí wèi jǐshínián

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Slurp du Jour: Beef Hand Pulled Noodles at San Dong House

It's hard to believe a new restaurant in San Francisco featuring hand-pulled noodles existed for a full two weeks without me knowing about it, but I was clueless until a gourmand buddy, Al Cheng, posted a mini-review on Facebook of San Dong House in the Inner Richmond District. Needless to say, I was on it by the time of my next meal, which was lunch today.

San Dong House's menu presents a roster of 18 hand-pulled noodle dishes leading off a very ambitious bill of fare that lists over 160 items exclusive of drinks including (naturally), eight kinds of shui jiao dumplings and a staggering 22 "skewer sticks." The restaurant's dedication to the noodles is evidenced, however, by the noodle-making station in full view of the dining area, manned by a cheerful and enthusiastic noodle chef, and I was not to be deterred from my mission of vetting the la mian.

I selected the simply-named "beef noodles soup" for benchmarking purposes, niu rou la mian being the default offering in many parts of the Chinese hand-pulled noodle world. The noodles themselves were perfection, just the right thickness, bite, and chewiness for my tastes. The broth was beefy, well toward the Taiwan beef noodle soup end of the broth spectrum and away from the clear broth at the Lanzhou la mian end. It lacked the complex spicing of the Taiwan style broths, however, and I found it monochromatic and a bit too salty; it benefited from a dash of chili paste. The beef was an ample serving of lean cubes, a little on the chewy side. I'd choose a fattier topping or one with more textures the next time. Overall, it was a very satisfying bowl, credit going to the noodles themselves, and I'll certainly be back to try more noodle dishes whenever that I can fend off the small eats attractions calling to me from other sections of the menu.

Where slurped: San Dong House BBQ, 3741 Geary Blvd., Richmond District, San Francisco.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Slurp du Jour: Ajisen Ramen rides into town

Ajisen Ramen is a fast food noodle chain which originated in Kumamoto, Japan and is growing rapidly, especially in Asia. In Shanghai, where I had my only previous Ajisen experiences, there are at last count 189 outlets, by way of example. Today the first Ajisen Ramen shop in San Francisco opened in the basement food court of the Westfield San Francisco Centre, leaving us only 188 behind Shanghai. Despite being somewhat olfactorally challenged, thanks to a head cold resulting from our endless non-summer of 2010, I decided to check out Ajisen SF on its first day.

I arrived at Ajisen in late afternoon (4:00) in order to avoid the hectic first-day lunch period and found the dining area still about 75 percent full. I pondered ordering the Spicy Beef Noodle option from the laminated picture menu to see if it corresponded to the honestly spicy "Volcano" noodle dish on Ajisen's Asian menus; my condition, however, combined with the absence of cold beer from the menu, steered me to blander fare. My choice, the "Supreme" Pork Ramen, appeared to be Ajsen's tonkotsu broth option, though the two servers I queried could only confirm that it was a pork broth. This broth was almost offensively unctuous and creamy, though blessedly not overly salty. It went well with my cold, though I doubt I would choose this option while in full health. The razor-thin pork slices were surprisingly dry, reminiscent of the shavings of beef found in Lanzhou lamian soups in China, functioning more as condiments than as protein sources. I know nothing of the provenance of the noodles used by Ajisen, but they were the most satisfying component of my bowl, having been cooked to just the right degree of al dente goodness.

Ajisen's noodle bowls range from $6.50 for the eponymous "Ajisen Ramen" bowl to $9.25 for the seafood bowl. There are also appetizers like gyoza, fried tofu and edamame. A separate laminated menu is offered for drinks, which include bubble teas. They offer an unsweetened cold green tea beverage, but I was told they were out of it when I ordered it. I'll most likely return to vet the Spicy Beef noodle option, and perhaps some of the other more demure broth-based bowls.

Where slurped: Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market St. (food court below Nordstroms), San Francisco

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Slurp du Jour: Tempura Udon at Not-Quite-the-Same Kui Shin Bo

At the Nihonmachi Street Festival yesterday the charcoal-grilled meats were enticing, but my visit followed upon my eighth straight Friday night at Off the Grid, so I decided to forego street food for the quietude of a former favorite noodlery, Kui Shin Bo. Kui Shin Bo is in a forlorn second-floor corner of the equally forlorn Miyako Mall (which is overshadowed by the bustling Kintetsu Mall); on arrival I noticed changes, not the least of which was a friendly server for a change. Subsequent research confirmed that the place had indeed The changed hands since my last visit.

The chashu udon which I had a sudden craving for was not to be had on that visit, so I opted for the shrimp tempura udon. I liked the spartan presentation, just the udon noodles and onions in a clear broth with the tempura on the side (it has not always been that way). The soup had a refreshingly clean, if salty, taste, and the noodles were perhaps a bit too soft. Portions of both the udon and the tempura were generous, though less batter and more shrimpmeat and vegetables would have been nice. As always, the price was right, $7 for a decent sized lunch.

Would I return? Perhaps, for another shot at the chashu udon, though the consistency of the noodles seemed off, and I DO miss that cranky waitress of yore.

Where slurped: Kui Shin Bo, 22 Peace Plaza (in Miyako Mall), San Francisco.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Biang! Biang! You're Fed

Biang biang mian, a.k.a. you po che mian at Xi'an Famous Foods, Flushing

"Biang Biang" noodles are the stuff of folklore. Not because of the dish itself (though it deserves to be legendary) but because of the very name. The word "biang" is a Shaanxi localism not found in any modern Chinese dictionaries, famous for its complexity. It is written with 57 strokes, and pity the poor sign-maker that has to paint it twice. No one knows for certain where the name originated, but the most plausible guess is that it represents the sound of the noodles being slapped against the work surface when being made. This theory is advanced by Xi'an Famous Foods' Jason Wang in this video. Biang Biang noodles, being "as wide and thick as belts" are also famous for that reason as one of the "ten strange wonders of Shaanxi." But don't look for "Biang Biang" noodles on your menu; although phonetic substitutes like 棒棒麵 (bàng bàng miàn) or 梆梆麵 (bāng bāng miàn) may sometimes be used, according to Wikipedia, the dish is most commonly listed on menus outside of Shaanxi as you po che mian (油泼扯面).
You po che mian, roughly "oil-sprinkled torn noodles" are wide wheat noodles tossed (or stirred) with chili oil and some or all of: bean sprouts, crushed garlic, chili flakes, cabbage, and cilantro. The noodles are made by tearing wide strips of noodle dough in two lengthwise, rather than iteratively pulling them to thinness as done with "hand pulled" noodles (la mian). Traditionally they were supposedly made more than an inch thick and a meter in length, but fortunately are found in a more manageable size nowadays. Biang biang mian/you po che mian is an excellent hot weather dish, hard to find even in China outside of Xi'an. If you're lucky enough to be in New York, though, head for the nearest outlet of Xi'an Famous Foods for the excellent version depicted in the photo at the top of this page.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How Much Do You Love Noodles? (Rated R)

I suspect this is mostly true of rameniacs, for whom "using your noodle" takes on a different meaning.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lanzhou La Mian -- Part II

Note: This post originally appeared in my other blog in a slightly different form

In the last post, I documented my love for the Lanzhou Zheng Zong Niu Rou La Mian shops which can be found all over Shanghai (but especially the one on Hainan Xi Long). As promised, Here is a bit more of the science and history of this saving dish.
Making hand-pulled noodles requires an exceptionally supple dough; in practice this is usually achieved by the addition of kansui (jiang shui, or 鹼水), an alkaline solution of potassium and sodium carbonates, or a powdered base for same. Historically, however, the noodles were actually made supple by kneading lye from wood ash directly with the wheat flour. According to this article, "lye-kneaded wheat noodles" have been found in only three places in the world: Lanzhou, Gansu province, China; Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Okinawa. This practice probably was developed in China and introduced to the other two venues by Hakka travelers. Lanzhou is the only place in China where the practice persists. There, the lye is derived from burning mugwort grasses (peng cao) in a hole and extracting solidified rock-like mugwort ash (peng hui , 蓬灰) by a dripping method. The traditional use of peng hui can be seen in this video.

Lanzhou beef noodles as we know the dish is said to have originated with Ma Baozi
(马保子,1870-1955), a member of the Hui nationality, in Lanzhou at the end of the Qing Dynasty. He first sold his noodles of the street, and achieved such fame fame for their tastiness that in Lanzhou they became known as "Ma Baozi Beef Noodles." In 1919 he opened his first "bricks and mortar" shop. Today, there are around 1,000 beef noodle shops in Lanzhou. The traditional characteristics of Ma Baozi Beef Noodles are said to be "one clear, two white, three red, four green, five yellow" (一清、二白、三红、四绿、五黄), a reference to clear soup, white daikon radish, red chili oil, green cilantro and yellow noodles. (The use of an alkali imparts a yellowish tint to the noodles, which use no egg.)
I'm indebted to Sunny's Sohu Blog for the picture of the Ma Bao Zi restaurant at the top of this page. I learned a lot about Lanzhou and the background of Lanzhou la mian from her post. Please visit it for more tempting photos of the restaurant and its wares.

Lanzhou La Mian -- Part I

Note: This post originally appeared in my other blog in a slightly different form

On my periodic tours of Shanghai, I'm usually on a mission to visit as many different far-flung notable small eats establishments as I can get to, which means very few repeat visits. However, when I reviewed my notes for my April stay last year, I found (not surprisingly to me) that I had visited one restaurant no less than 10 times in the space of a month. This restaurant happened to be a noodle shop of the "Lanzhou La Mian" stripe, Lanzhou Zheng Zong Niu Rou La Mian (兰州正宗牛肉拉面), roughly translated as "Authentic Lanzhou Hand-pulled Beef Noodles."

Why so many visits to this shop? For starters, it was just steps from the apartment hotel I stayed in. It was also open early and late (7:00 AM to 4:00 AM), was extremely inexpensive, and its products were tasty and filling. Thus, if it were raining (which it often was), if I were late getting around and famished, or just too plumb lazy to go further, it was there; but most of all, I had come to love the noodles from this shop from my previous visit in October 2008.

Shanghai has some 250 "Lanzhou La Mian" styled restaurants, judging from the listings in dianping.com. About 50 of these, like the one across from my hotel, are "official" Lanzhou La Mian Shops, with identical names, identical signage, identical menus, identical prices and more or less the same modus operandi: although there is a kitchen at the back of the shop, the noodles are made when ordered at a work table at the front of the shop, and passed, when finished, through a sliding window into a large pot of boiling water on stove set up outside. After all, who wants large pots of boiling water inside an un-air conditioned restaurant in a Shanghai summer?

In addition to the beef noodles, Lanzhou La Mian establishments will also offer lamb (but no pork, being Muslim and halal) noodles. In addition to pulled noodles they will have knife-shaved noodles (刀削面), lamb or beef pao mo (泡 馍), or hand-torn steamed bread in soup, and other non-noodle and non-soup foods characteristic of the Lanzhou region. Despite this fairly extensive menu, the hand pulled beef noodles are always the main attraction, but don't go for them because you are a beef-eater. The thin beef slices, along with generous sprigs of cilantro are little more than garnish for the fresher-than-fresh noodles in a skillfully complex broth. A "small" bowl (enough for a hearty lunch) will set you back 4 yuan (about 60 cents), while a dinner-sized bowl if 5 yuan (about 75 cents).

It's notable that although the name and the origin of the specialty noodles come from Lanzhou, Gansu province, more often than not the Lanzhou La Mian restaurants are operated by Hui nationality Muslims from neighboring Qinghai Province. The history (and science) behind Lanzhou La Mian, and the development and popularization of today's bowl of beef hand-pulled noodle soup by one Ma Bao Zi in the early 20th Century, are fascinating subjects that will be touched on in a subsequent post.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Slurp du Jour: Shoyu Ramen from a Ramen Pop-up in a Salvadoran Restaurant

I don't know if I'm trying to expand my ramen knowledge at the very (presumed) top, or just trying to capture a shooting star before it burns out, but for the third time in a row my bowl of ramen came with a double-digit price, even before any tax, tip or ancillary indulgences. This time it was Ken-Ken Ramen, a Monday night pop-up at a normally Salvadoran and Mexican restaurant, Panchita's #3, and named, apparently, for chef Kenji Miyazaki.

I got there tonight a few minutes before the announced starting time of 6:00, and sure enough, the Ramen lantern was hung outside of Panchita's. I was seated at the bar, the first person to be directed there, even though most of the two-tops were unoccupied. It soon became clear why: within half an hour there was a butt in every seat in the joint and a line outside.

As of the moment, the Ken-Ken menu offers a choice of miso, shoyu, or miso vegetarian ramen, and I chose the shoyu. The non-veggie bowls were topped with chashu, mizuna, nori, a soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots; fish cake and Spring onions. All bowls were $11.00, three bucks less than I paid for a bowl of ramen at Ippudo in New York a few weeks earlier, or a dollar more than I paid for a Hapa Ramen styrofoam bowlful more recently. Compared to either, it was a relative bargain. It came with a free edamame appetizer, was a much larger serving than Hapa's, and came in a real stoneware bowl. Compared to Ippudo's, there wasn't much my novice ramen palate could find to distinguish between the two for tastiness. Although shoyu ramen broth is soy sauce based, it wasn't as salty as I'd feared, possibly not even as salty as the miso broth might have been. It was a clean, savory taste, not as muddy or fatty as Ippudo's (which, to be fair, was a tonkatsu broth). The noodles were curiously yellower than one would expect, but not noticeably acrid from kansui, and cooked just to my liking, on the firm side of al dente. The toppings were generous enough to be filling, though I wouldn't have minded a teensy bit more chashu, since you asked. There was an extra chashu option (for $3) but no extra noodle serving option.

Ken-Ken is a venture I might visit again (after my next big 401k bounce) to check out the miso ramen, though in the interim I need to visit some more proletarian ramen venues to recalibrate.

Where slurped: Ken-Ken Ramen at Panchita's #3, 3115 22nd St., Mission District, San Francico

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hong Kong Cart Noodles: Two Ways to DIY

For someone who doesn't cook and has the habit of marrying women who eschew cookbooks, I've amassed a fairly impressive collection of Chinese cookbooks and books about Chinese food generally, especially books that can teach or entertain. My latest find is Local Snacks in Hong Kong in the "Yellow Bus Loves Hong Kong" series. It features 12 popular Hong Kong street snacks, and what makes the book unique is its treatment of them. Not only does it give some background and a description of each dish, but it it provides all you need (except for the ingredients) to make the dish yourself in two different ways: cook it, or create a paper model from a clip-and-fold page provided for each dish. Hong Kong Cart Noodles is one dish given this honor. This dish, we are told, was popular in the 1950s and featured a sort of buffet on wheels from which you could construct your own bowl of noodle soup by choosing as many toppings as you liked from a wondrous array. Actual noodle carts have been banned from the streets for safety and hygiene reasons but the dish lives on in food stalls and restaurants.

The template at the top illustrates how to make your own cut-and-fold bowl of cart noodles. Clicking it will enlarge it for detail. If all that cutting and folding makes you hungry, Local Snacks in Hong Kong obliges you with a recipe for cart noodles:

  • Soup: Pork rib soup, curry soup, or tomato vegetable soup.
  • Noodles: Thin noodles, thick noodles, instant noodles, udon, Yi Mian, He Fan, rice noodles, etc.
  • Dishes: Fish balls, beef balls, pig skin, curdled pig's blood, Chinese radish, fish skin dumplings, chicken wings, vegetables, dried mushrooms (soake to soften), squid, beef tripe, etc.

Cook noodles and dishes and mix them with the soup.

What could be simpler?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Slurp du Jour: Pho Tai Lan at Turtle Tower

I find it hard to walk through the Little Saigon district on Larkin St. without stopping in at Turtle Tower restaurant. Yesterday, on my way to the Asian Art Museum I succumbed to its lure. Not that I have any guilt feelings, however: when I eat pho, especially the northern version (pho bac), I cultivate the impression that I am eating something relatively healthy, compared to, say, the fatty saltiness of ramen.

I settled on the Pho Tai Lan, lightly stir-fried lean beef slices with celery, carrot, onion and leek. As is the case with northern-style pho, the noodles were wide and flat, the broth subtle and minimally spiced, and the little garnish dish held only a lime wedge and jalapeno slices. The slippery noodles were cooked just right, and I only dared use about a third of the jalapenos lest they overpower the subtle beefy goodness of the clean broth. The only discordant note was the carrots, but that's just me. I am not a carrot fan. The man sharing the table with me (the place was packed, even at 2:30 in the afternoon) was apparently not a carrot fan either; after emptying his garnish dish, he filled it with sriracha which he proceeded to use to dip the carrots from his pho ga in.

My "small" bowl of pho was $6.75 ("small" and "large" on the menu translate to "large" and "extra large" respectively). Will I return? I always have.

Where slurped: Turtle Tower, 631 Larkin St., Little Saigon, San Francisco

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Spoonful yummy ramen noodles, yeah it's good to carry!"

Want to fly the noodle flag as a cell phone charm? Look no further than Strapya World, which carries "over 15,000 kinds of mobile charms delivering you 'up-to-date Japan cool/ kawaii culture' w/ more than 60 hard workers in the office." Of the 15,000 cell phone charms (known to Japanese as keitai straps) I am drawn to this one, which comes in both miso and tonkotsu flavors in a red, white or black spoon. I was sold on the product by this product description, and will order one when I figure out how:

Yummy ramen noodles are in a spoon. Yes, it almost gets ready to go in your empty stomach. Noodles and char shu soaked in hot soup. This replica ramen roodles make us feel really hungry and drive to a nearest Chinese restaurant. Instead, you can carry a spoonful of ramen noodles as a cell phone strap.

Remember these words, and if you see me playing pocket pool in the future, you'll know I'm just caressing my noodles. Plural.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Noodles du Jour: Hong Kong Style Seafood Chow Mein from Hong Kong Lounge

Yesterday was Leilani's birthday and we took her to Hong Kong Lounge for a dim sum lunch, her S.O. having first dibs on her for dinner. Our anchor dish was a Hong Kong-style seafood chow mein (identified on the menu as "pan fried noodles"). I'm not a big fan generally of the fine egg and wheat noodles beloved in Hong Kong, especially in soups like the iconic wonton mein; they make me feel like I'm chewing on someone's hair. When used in "Hong Kong style" chow mein, however it's another matter.

In Hong Kong style chow mein the fine noodles are pan-fried to a crisp and topped with a moist topping. The topping serves to soften the noodles on top, leading to a satisfying combination of textures (and flavors, if the topping delivers as it should). A key is having some of the bottom noodles browned, even burnt, to accent the crunchiness and sharpen the flavor, much as the crunchy bits of burnt rice do in a good bibimbap or a Chinese clay pot rice dish.

Our chow mein at Hong Kong Lounge came generously topped with shrimp, scallops and cuttlefish, and was vegged up with bok choy and carrot chunks, infusing the whole construction with subtle but savory flavor. If I could fault anything, it's that Hong Kong Lounge's chow mein seemed to be lacking its full complement of browned/burnt noodle bits -- I had to fish for mine. Overall, I found the dim sum above average and modestly priced. Our whole set (slide show here) of eight dim sum plates plus a communal bowl of congee and the chow mein filled the four of us to satiety for under $50 before tax & tip. Service was good, and the ambience agreeable. I'll be happy to return, though I might just try a chow fun as an anchor dish the next tine.

Where munched: Hong Kong Lounge, 5322 Geary Street, San Francisco

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Four for New York: Hand-pulled Noodles in Flushing and Manhattan

Hand-pulled noodles are viewed as a rare and wondrous thing in San Francisco, where I usually sit. I have seen gawking crowds viewing noodle pulling demonstrations by "chefs" in full whites in the middle of Union Square, and the discovery of a new hand-pulled noodle venue anywhere in the Bay Area is passed around in hushed, almost reverential tones. In China, by contrast, hand-pulled noodles are all but the lowest common denominator in comfort foods, with self-indentified "Lanzhou" la mian establishments on nearly every street corner dispensing a hearty bowl of fresh noodles for 3-5 Chinese Yuan, or about 50-75 cents. Pulling noodles, while it requires a skill that comes from practice, is physically demanding "mule work" in a busy noodle shop, and more often than not assigned to the youngest, most strapping member of the cooking family.

Fortunately for those of us who love fresh noodles, the burgeoning Chinese population in New York is pushing its food culture in the direction of la mian as a necessity and away from la mian as a novelty. In a recent visit to New York four hand-pulled noodle shops (including one that drew multiple visits from me) ended up in my mix of small eats venues, and I'm sure I could have found more with due diligence. All four were excellent values, serving up a good-sized bowl of fresh beef noodles in a broth with a distinct personality for $4-$5.00. Two were in Flushing, and two were in the East Broadway vicinity of Manhattan's Chinatown; two were served with a typical Lanzhou-style clear broth, and two with a more strongly flavored, brown colored Taiwanese-y broth. The four are profiled below

Kuai An La Mian Hand Pulled Noodle [Pictured at top]
28 Forsyth St., Manhattan

Kuai An La Mian was formerly know (and loved) as Eastern Noodle. I didn't have the opportunity of trying it under the earlier regime, though I can't imagine it's lost much if anything, as the noodles were fresh and delicous. This was one the two with a dark broth. A pleasant place to sit, with a view of the vegetable market along the Manhattan Bridge landing.

Lanzhou Handmade Noodles
Golden Mall, 41-28 Main St., Flushing

This is my favorite place for hand-pulled noodles to date in New York, partly for the just-like-China ambience of the Golden Mall food court, as well as the proximity (an arm's reach away) of Xi'an Famous Foods, where I can grab a lamb a lamb rou jia mo to add a little tasty protein to my dinner. Come here at 10:00 at night on a steamy evening (bringing your own beer), and you'll find it jumping. Pictured above is the more expensive eel noodles (which I found too sweet to my taste); I was too quick to dive into the excellent beef noodles to snap a picture. They use a clear Lanzhou-style broth here; I recommend the beef tendon noodles.

Lan Zhou Hand Made Noodle & Dumpling
96 E. Broadway, Manhattan

I stumbled across this place on my way from the 88 E. Broadway Mall (of Xi'an Famous Foods #3 renown) to the F Train station and had to give it a go. It was quiet in the middle of a weekday afternoon (with only one other table occupied) but has an extensive menu and good, fresh noodles. Despite the name, the broth in the beef brisket noodles I had was more of the Taiwanese style, even to the faintly medicinal taste characteristic of Taiwan's beef noodles. The noodles, however, were definitely Lanzhou style in thickness and shape.

Lanzhou Hand Drawn NoodlesFlushing Mall Food Court, 133-31 39th Ave., Flushing

This was a repeat visit for me, but the first since I put a lot of "genuine" Lanzhou noodles under my belt in Shanghai. Like the noodles at the Golden Mall (though neither the shops not the malls are related) the broth is of the clear Lanzhou style, though the noodles seemed a bit thicker than is characteristic, and the inclusion of bok choy was also atypical. This is not to fault the noodles, which were tasty and fresh. I was there at dinner time, and the shop was lacking in business; indeed, the whole food court seems depressingly like a ghost town except for clusters of activity at the far end from the unfortunately located noodle shop.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ramen Porn for Your iPad

It seems that the iPad will have something for everybody, and that includes noodle lovers, at least those of the ramen persuasion. Look for RamenWalker Tokyo and RamenWalker Yokohama applications in the iTunes app store. As far as I can tell, they are just magazines you can flip through, but here is the publisher's description of Ramenwalker Tokyo:

"Ramen Walker Tokyo 2010" Magazine is Published from Kadokawa Marketing Inc.
Contents of This Magazine is linked with "Ramen Walker Web" social web site. It registrated 30,000 shops or more, and mouth‐to‐mouth topics and review data from Ramen People as latest information.
This issue is understand all about of the Ramen for Tokyo area.
This Free version is can download until the end of July.

In other words, "All your iPad are belong to us."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Think Pink: Yen Ta Fo at Lers Ros Thai

On a foray to Lers Ros, the local foodies' New Best Thai Restaurant Friend last week, the notion for a noodles-only blog was already bubbling on the stove of my mind and I decided to take a flyer on something totally new to me, yen ta fo. Yen ta fo, which is เย็นตาโฟ in Thai, according to one thread on Chowhound.com (but don't hold me to that) is an eccentric rice noodle-based chowderish soup which seems to feature seafood prominently or exclusively. What's eccentric about it is the color of the broth, which is pink. It doesn't really come through in the photo above, but the broth in my yen ta fo was not red, but pink: shocking pink; Day-glo pink; Hello Kitty pink. It was a food color that Dr. Seuss could have dreamed up.

The pink of yen ta fo apparently comes from the fact that the soup broth was traditionally made with red/pink colored tofu (like to Chinese hong doufu ru, which was itself probably colored with red yeast rice). The yen ta fo at Lers Ros consisted of rice noodles (choice of vermicelli, regular width or broad flat noodles) in the sweet-sour-spicy pink broth, and a generous amount of shrimp, fish balls (said to be a necessary ingredient), cuttlefish, veggies, and what may have been thinly sliced dried tofu. The complex broth had a good chili kick, perhaps emphasized by contrast with the Barbie Doll coyness of its color, and the soup soup as a whole made a very satisfying light meal.

The yen ta fo ($7.25 for a large bowl) is something I'd definitely order again at Lers Ros, and look for at other Thai restaurants.

Where slurped: Lers Ros Thai Restaurant, 730 Larkin St., San Francico