Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kaifeng Pulled Noodles

One well-known hometown dish that has escaped the confines of its native city is the Lanzhou Beef Noodles (兰州牛肉拉面) (Lanzhou Niu Rou La Mian). "La Mian" means "pulled wheat noodles"; the operative word there is "la." The method used to create these pulled noodles is both unique and lots of fun to watch. Starting with a block of dough, the noodleer (pardon me for the invented word) grabs the ends and swings it up and down to stretch out the dough to arms' length. He then brings the ends together, halving the length, and again grabs the ends and bounces. As the dough stretches out longer and longer, he keeps folding and bouncing until the original block of dough is one incredibly long thread of dough. The noodleer cuts off the folded ends, leaving himself with a handful of long, round noodles. Here's a neat New York Times video demonstrating the process.

The best noodleers make this whole process look remarkably easy, tempting one to try it at home, though I have been told it actually takes years of practice to get it just right. The noodles are boiled and then served in spicy, oily soup with chili and beef. Though Lanzhou is way out west in Gansu Province, you can find this special dish in small shops in virtually all Chinese cities. Almost any Chinese person you talk to will be familiar with these spicy noodles.They are truly one of the most famous dishes in China. Which is why it came as quite a surprise to me when I learned that Kaifeng, an ancient city in Henan Province, offered their own take on pulled noodles: Kaifeng La Mian. The noodles are pulled out in just the same way in Kaifeng as they are in Lanzhou. The difference lies in the way it is served.

Where the Lanzhou noodles are known for their spicy chili flavor, Kaifeng La Mian are delightfully sour. They come with a generous pile of cubed winter melon on top, and a bit of mutton for flavor. The noodles are served in soup, but they aren't swimming in it like their Lanzhou brethren. The sour chunks of melon--kind of a rarity in Chinese street food--are really a welcome experience for the taste buds. Kaifeng is renowned for incorporating a wider variety of flavors into their street food than many other Chinese city. I enjoyed my noodles immensely and came away wondering how it was that the Lanzhou La Mian had spread so thoroughly across China, but the Kaifeng La Mian--equally delicious and very different--had barely made it past the city borders. In a way it's kind of a shame (to be honest, I liked the Kaifeng noodles better), but on the other hand, it can serve as a nice reward to the people that make their way off the beaten path and into Kaifeng. It's a small but lovely city that is well worth a visit. Especially for street food lovers.

Kaifeng La Mian shouldn't cost more than 5 or 10 RMB and are easiest to find in the fantastic night market in Kaifeng. Just look for the guys swinging noodles around like jump ropes.


Post a Comment