Dan Dan Mian, or Dan Dan Noodles, are, perhaps, the most unphotogentic noodles I’ve ever had the frustration of snapping a picture of. In my opinion they look downright messy from every angle, in every lighting, and in every bowl. Though, don’t yet their ugly-osity fool you—these noodles are packed with flavor, absolutely delicious (’til this day, I get craving for these noodles on cold gray days: it reminds me of the day I first made them!) and incredibly simple to make—once you have all the right ingredients that is.
The first time I made Dan Dan Mian was for my Chinese 3 Oral presentation. I had decided to teach my Chinese class, which, ironically, was filled mostly with native speakers who probably already knew how to do this, how to make Dan Dan Mian. Now, if I really was the sort of girl who liked to exaggerate her exploits—I would say I gave directions in flawless Mandarin, impressing my “lao shi” (teacher) and “”tong xue men” (classmates) with my pronunciation and knowledge of Chinese cuisine. But at last, I have friends from that class who may be reading this, and boy would my credibility go out the window once they got their schadenfreud-ian hands on the comments button. So, I think it’s best that I remain modest and say it went just barely okay.
Though, in all seriousness, the first time I made Dan Dan Mian I bought the wrong ingredients—which turned out to be a fun conversation topic during my presentation. Walking into and shopping at a Chinese market for the first time can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re not exactly sure what’s what, where it is, or what the Chinese actually call it. After I wised up and started researching the Chinese names of specific ingredients I needed to buy before heading to my local Ranch 99, I found the whole stimuli attack a lot less “attack-like,” and more of an exciting adventure into the supermarket culture of one of my favorite languages.
The Recipes is As Follows: adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper (46).
- Fresh or Dried Chinese Flour Noodles(条面, tiao mian), specifically Shang Hai Noodles (上海面, shang hai mian)
- 1tbsp oil
- 3 Sichuan dried chilies, snipped in half, if using regular dried chili 4-5 (辣椒干, la jiao gan)
- ½ tsp Sichuan Pepper (花椒, hua jiao)
- Ya Cai or Tian Jin preserved vegetable (芽菜, ya cai/天津冬菜, tin jin dong cai）
- Ground beef or pork.
- 2 tsp light soy sauce （生抽, sheng chou）
- ½ tsp ground roasted Sichuan pepper (花椒, hua jiao)
- 2tbsp sesame paste (芝麻酱, zhi ma jiang)
- 2tsp dark soy sauce (老抽, lao chou)
- 4tbsp chili oil with chili sediment (辣椒油, la jiao you)
- In a dry wok, roast the Sichuan pepper corn until it is fragrant and lightly browned. Set aside half (about a 1/2 teaspoon) of the peppercorns.
- Take the rest of the peppercorns and remove from the heat. Take a grinder (like a coffee grinder) or a mortar and pestle, and grind/mash the peppercorns until they become fine powder.
- Take the Tian Jin preserved cabbage and rinse it in a strainer, set aside.
- In the wok, add oil and heat until lightly smoking. Add the chilies and peppercorns to the wok and stir-fry until fragrant.
- Add the beef and preserved cabbage and stir-fry until the meat becomes toasted. Add the soy sauce to the wok and stir until combined.
- Boil water for noodles. When the water is ready, and the noodles. Cook for about five minutes and then set aside.
- In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the sauce and then mix with a spoon.
- Add in the noodles and the meat topping, then stir.
- It’s done! Eat. Enjoy. Best served on rainy days, or days when it impeccably cold. 😉
“But, I’m confizzled [which by that you mean confused] What’s all this…this…Stuff? What’s the difference between Dark and Light Soy Sauce? Sichuan chili, preserved veggies—whaaaa?” I understand readers, I was confizzled too [if you’re already familiar with Chinese cuisine , feel free to skip this part, hehe] So:
Let’s Talk Ingredients!
Chinese Flour Noodles are a pretty simple ingredient to find—they are noodles made from wheat flour instead of rice flour. As I said in my presentation, you can pretty much buy whichever style of Chinese Flour Noodles you like—I especially like Shang Hai Noodles, or上海面 (see pictured in the main photo), which are a much fatter and chewy wheat noodle similar to that of Japanese Udon. In Chinese the main distinction between wheat and rice flour noodles is a character: 面 or mian, which is often reserved for flour noodles, while 粉or fen, is reserved for Rice noodles, such as bean thread noodles. You’re Chinese market should have an ample supply of various varieties (ooo, alliteration), and so, when you go shopping—look for the character 面on your packaging or, simply ask an attendant for 条面，which specifically translates as flour noodles.
Sichuan Chilies Vs. Regular Dried Chili
Sichuan Dried Chilies or 四川辣椒干(si chuan la jiao gan), are a much spicier version of regular dried chills or 辣椒干(la jiao gan), pictured below. The recipe I originally read called for three dried Sichuan chili, which I just could not find at the market—you can substitute regular dried chilies, which in my opinion work just as well—though, if you’re like me, and have this fantastical illusion that all Sichuanese cuisine is mouth-numbing-ly spicy, then by all means, up your chili ‘take. I found that about four-five regular chilies is my preference. Just remember that the seeds and the white inner lining-foam-like stuff that surrounds them make a chili spicy, so if you would like the flavor of the chili without all the spicy-ness, just remove the seeds before you add the chilis to the wok.
Sichuan Pepper Corn or 花椒 (hua jiao) is infamous in Chinese cuisines for putting the “numbing” in mouth-numbing-ly-spicy. Personally, contrary to popular opinion, I find Sichuan pepper corn to have a much more “tingly” feeling on the mouth as opposed to “numbing.” Numbing to me suggests an inability to feel physical touch (picture my mouth getting lidocaine-ed when I had that cavity back in grade school -_-). For some, the flavor may be over powering, though personally I find it quite enjoyable. As many recommend, if this is your first experience with the little firecrackers, start out small, and work your way up. The recipe itself, actually calls for quite little. But then as we all know from the Mapo Dofu recipe, I’m extremely biased…
Ya Cai and Tian Jian Preserved Vegetable
I told my Chinese class that Ya Cai was the stem of preserved bean spouts—and boy was I WRONG. （对不起，我错了！_|¯o)Thank god nobody said anything. Ya Cai is actually the upper part of a particular type of Mustard Green. I have never used Ya Cai in my Dan Dan Mian; therefore, I can’t really recommend it. But I think for those who aren’t used to the sometimes strong and unique flavors of Chinese cuisine, I’d stick with what I have mentioned below:
Tian Jin Preserved Vegetable 天津冬菜(tian jin dong cai), pictured below, which translates literally as Tian Jin Winter Vegetable, is basically a salted pickled Chinese cabbage from Tian Jian. It comes in a ceramic bowl, bagged, and topped with salt. Before use rinse, as it is VERY salty. I’ve also read that it can sometimes be sandy. The first time I made Dan Dan Mian, I just could not find this ingredient—I thought it would be with the pickled condiments, because in western stores, pickled things tend to be with the ketchup. But at last it was on the the soup and jellied beans isle (which I just happened to stumbled upon when I was perusing the isles, and BOY did I do a Happy Dance when I found this jar!)
Light Soy Sauce vs. Dark Soy Sauce
Before I began cooking Chinese food—I never knew there was any other variety of soy sauce aside from the Light kind. Light Soy Sauce or 生抽 (sheng chou) is a more salty soy sauce—used more for flavor and seasoning, while Dark Soy Sauce or 老抽 (lao chou), is thicker and used mostly for color. Apparently, it is also sweeter.
Sesame Paste 芝麻酱 (zhi ma jiang) is pretty self explanatory to me. It’s basically a highly concentrated paste made of sesame seeds. It’s really thick, and has oil on the top…just like a nut butter you’d find in a Western store when you think about it. Like many all natural peanut butters with the oil at the top, you need to mix the paste before use.
Chili Oil with Chili Sediment 辣椒油 (la jiao you) is another one of those ingredients that doesn’t need much explaining (and then Ricki Ricardo hung his head in shame…). If you can’t find it in a store, it is quite easy to make at home. Just take a cup of your favorite cooking oil (just don’t use olive oil…use something that is milder in flavor, like canola or safflower oil). Heat it over medium high heat until you see VERY light smoking–if the oil gets too hot the chilies will burn. When the oil is ready add 1/2 cup of chili pepper flakes, stir and remove from heat. Let sit for 2 hours. If you want regular chili oil, then just strain the oil to remove the chilies, but if you want what I have pictured below–just leave the chilies in.
I’m starting to thing the noodles are kinda sexy now—2ma noodle call anybody? <–omg imagine being married to that cheese! (by which I mean my lovely self) =P