Friday, September 5, 2014

A Clear Case For Hand Pulled Noodles With China North Dumpling's "Qing Tang" Beef Noodles

I've written abut how the ubiquitous "Lanzhou Lamian" noodle shops of Shanghai made me a confirmed noodle lover with their on demand hand pulled noodles. Contrary to popular belief, "Lanzhou Lamian" doesn't refer strictly to a noodle making technique, nor to the place where the technique originated; the term is inclusive of  a method of preparation of a "clear broth" (清湯, qing tang) soup which has been a traditional medium for showcasing hand-pulled noodles for over 100 years.  The very subtle broth, said to be devised by one Ma Baozi in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, has an obvious purpose: to stay out of the way of the handsome fresh hand-pulled noodles, so they can be appreciated on their own merits.  In a way, Lanzhou lamian is the polar opposite of Japanese ramen, where the broth is all-important and the noodles are almost an afterthought.

Lanzhou Lamian in Shangha
After an initial visit to China North Dumpling on Noriega St. a couple of months ago to vet  the hand-pulled noodles I noticed that an item simply titled "Beef Noodle Soup" on the menu was listed as "Clear Soup Beef Noodles" in Chinese and wondered if this was a nod to "Lanzhou Lamian" style soup.  A return visit today confirmed that it was, or at least appeared to be.  The subtle, faintly aromatic broth was reminiscent of numerous bowls I have had in China under the blue and white "Lanzhou Lamian" signs, and adding a smidgen of chili oil made it even more so.  The beef was even more uncannily familiar: thin, dry slices (possibly of beef shank) that would be disappointing in almost any other context but totally appropriate here. The only thing lacking was cilantro, and the hearty stalks of bok choy (almost de rigueur in San Francisco) seemed out of place.  For their part, the noodles did not disappoint, Large, thick and chewy, they knew themselves to be the center of attraction and strutted their stuff with noodle pride.

If you are in the mood to savor the glorious, glutenous, wheaten goodness of hand-pulled noodles for their own sake, "Beef Noodle Soup" at China North Dumpling is what you need.  If you are craving an aggressively broth and showy toppings, no soup for you.

Where slurped: China North Dumpling, 1311 Noriega St., San Francisco

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