To most Chinese people, noodles are the one staple that’s considered a necessity of life. The oldest trace of Chinese noodles was a 4,000-year-old find unearthed at the Lajia archeological site in northwestern China. Scientists determined it was made from two kinds of millet that were ground into flour to make the dough.
The earliest written record of noodles dates to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) when it became established as a staple.
But it’s almost impossible to name every single variety of noodles in China. Depending on the ingredients, craftsmanship, cooking method and place of origin, noodles that share similar appearance may turn out to be very different from each other.
This week, we’ll delve into some popular handmade noodles.
Pulling noodles from dough by hand was the ancient way before machines and other methods were developed.
Also called lamian in Chinese, hand-pulled noodles were born in northern China as a staple that can be cooked in many ways.
First, the famous Lanzhou beef noodle, Xinjiang hand-pulled noodle and Henan stewed noodle are all made by hand using different techniques.
Even for celebrity UK chef Gordon Ramsay, making hand-pulled noodles is not an easy task —as he once learned and tried in 2008 at Noodle Oodle, a Shanghainese restaurant in London specializing this style of noodle.
To make the hand-pulled noodles, the dough must be twisted, stretched and folded repeatedly into a growing number of strands.
The length and thickness depends on the number of folds.
The thinnest hand-pulled noodle is the “dragon’s whiskers.” Dough must be folded and pulled until more than 16,000 strips of thin noodles are created.
If pulling noodles wasn’t already enough of a challenge, top noodle makers can even perform dances while working.
The Henan stewed noodle uses a flat, thick stretched noodle that uses a different technique from the repeated pulling process of making lamian.
The soul of a good stewed noodle is the lamb broth.
In the markets in Henan, one can buy pre-made dough pieces coated with vegetable oil and make the stretched noodles at home.
The Xinjiang-style noodle is not as thin as the typical Lanzhou style. The thick and chewy noodles are traditionally stir- fried with lamb and vegetables.
Biangbiang mian is a wide, thick hand-pulled noodle that’s shaped like a belt.
The Chinese character, with 57 strokes, for biang cannot be typed, hence it’s often written in pinyin.
The noodle is much simpler to make than the common lamian. After the dough is separated into smaller strips, it’s coated with oil and covered with plastic wrap to rest for 15 minutes.
Then the strips are rolled to the shape of an ox tongue and pulled evenly on both ends.
Sometimes the noodles can reach 50 centimeters in length.
Biangbiang mian is served with a simple hot chili sauce made by splashing hot oil onto ground chilies.
A unique hand-pulled noodle called “one noodle” can be found in Chengdu. Each bowl contains exactly one long noodle that’s hand-pulled from the dough.
The noodle maker pulls the dough into a noodle and throws it directly into boiling water.
Couples often share a bowl of “one noodle” by picking up each end and eating all the way to the middle.