They always say the northern Chinese love noodles more than southerners. But ask any frequent noodle shop-goer and they will tell you Hangzhou is an exception.
A typical day for a noodle lover starts with a bowl of noodles, usually a banchuan (拌川). Banchuan is the local term for a kind of stirred noodles, where toppings are stir-fried separately and then added and stirred into the noodles.
Pian'erchuan (片儿川), the best representative of Hangzhou noodles, is served in a similar way. The noodle soup is topped with bamboo shoots, pickled Chinese mustard and shredded pork. Other toppings vary from soy-braised beef to stir-fried pork liver, to pork chops or pork ribs.
The genuine old-style Hangzhou taste lives on in one of those unremarkable noodle shops. They are hidden away in local communities, in that apartment downstairs, opposite the open market. And their reputation spreads gradually, by word-of-mouth.
Shanghai Daily visits some of these noodle treasures in Hangzhou and tries to find the secrets that lie behind their success.
Laoqiaotou noodle shop
It's one in the afternoon. Queue number 48 has been called for another round. People keep coming in. The tiny space is filled with six tables — seating five people each — and several people stand between the tables waiting for an empty.
This is a normal Sunday at the Laoqiaotou noodle shop. Everything is first-come-first-served. If you come after 12 o'clock, the best — with toppings of pork chop, pork ribs and pig's trotters — are usually sold out.
"We prepare a fixed amount of food and if it's sold out for the day, we won't do any more," shop owner Yu tells Shanghai Daily.
"For 30 years, every day is like this."
The shop is run by a family, the Ningbo-born wife, the Hangzhou-native husband and his parents. Yu's mother-in-law gained a reputation for her home-made noodles in her neighborhood, and then they made it into a business.
They use lard mixed with vegetable oil to stir fry the toppings. Noodles are custom made from the same reliable vendor. Customers can choose from a selection of stirred noodles, noodle soup, rice vermicelli soup and rice cake soup with all kinds of toppings.
The price is also reasonable. A bowl of noodles with pork chop and vegetables costs 14 yuan (US$2.1). You can buy extra toppings for 1 to 10 yuan.
"I come here regularly. It's cheap and tasty as well," says one customer as he feeds his grandson.
Address: 1-6 Xiaohezhi Rd
Opening hours: 7am-1:30pm
Liulaolao noodle shop
Liulaolao (Granny Liu) is the name of a female character in "Dream of the Red Chamber," one of the Four Great Masterpieces of China. And the noodle shop serves only two things: beef and beef noodles.