Hand-pulled and stretched Chinese wheat noodles (SFBA/Norcal)

The Bay Area has over a dozen types of handmade Chinese wheat noodles, varying in technique, name, and/or ingredients, and that’s not even getting into seasonings. When you consider how rare it is for our Italian restaurants to roll out and/or form pasta by hand, we’re sitting on a goldmine, and a relatively inexpensive one in that.

Let’s talk about which places serve your favorite examples of hand-pulled or stretched wheat noodles. Which preparations would you recommend? I’m also hoping the entire Hungry Onion community can guide us about noodle-theory (see also a Home Cooking thread). I’ll start a companion thread in a few weeks where we can discuss knife-shaved noodles, those made with rolling pins, scissors, etc.

Search here on Hungry Onion or Chowhound for other opinions of linked restaurants and their noodles. Restaurants are in SF unless otherwise noted and y*lp links are provided for addresses, hours, and photographs.

Here’s some background to get the conversation started:


1: Lamian 拉麵 aka Shou lamian 手拉麵 aka chen mian 抻面 aka Hand-pulled noodles

Restaurants (soup or dry/sauced) : Lanzhou-style pulling visible at Yi Yuan (Millbrae); Beijing-style twirling visible at MY China, Ark Restaurant (Alameda). Made behind closed doors at Boiling Beijing (soup only, San Bruno), QQ Noodle (Cupertino/Milpitas), and Thousand Tasty (Milpitas).

Shape : very long, even strands
Origin region : Northwestern China
Ingredients : wheat flour, water, salt, alkaline substances, oil for prep. Alkaline substances are key to making everything from tortillas to pretzels, and for noodles add a distinct flavor, yellow color, and according to some sources make the noodles more stable in hot liquid. As in lamian’s Japanese descendent, “ramen,” alkaline substances make noodles springier. Harold McGee discusses some of the relevant science. We’re most likely to be eating jian shui (kansui in Cantonese, 碱水 / 鹼水, potassium and/or sodium carbonate), or xuejianshui (snow alkaline water). Home cooks can use baking soda in the dough, and get an approximation by putting it in the boiling cooking water! The chefs I’ve spoken to use jian shui, either in powder or solution form. Lanzhou uses peng hui 蓬灰 , mugwort ash, which is illegal in the U.S. I’ve read conflicting information about whether hand-pulled noodles in Beijing and Shaanxi use alkaline materials or not.
Technique : The rope of dough, as a whole, is repeatedly stretched outward and folded in half, first to work the dough, then to create individual strands that halve their width with each pull. The technique in which the mass is vertically twirled to stretch the noodles is a Beijing addition according to Wikipedia. A thread on reddit aggregates links on making it at home. See also Jen Lin-Liu’s book On the Noodle Road and a post on Madame Huang’s Kitchen
Video : Hand pulled Noodle, the secret (turn on Closed Captioning), Making Noodles by Hand at Lanzhou La Mian - Shanghai, China (Lanzhou style), and Hand made Chinese Pasta - Crazy Pasta ! (Beijing style).


2: Che mian 扯面 aka 拉片 Lapian aka Wide noodles aka ripped noodles aka Wide handmade noodles aka "Biang Biang noodles"

Restaurants (soup or dry/sauced) : OK Noodle (Newark), Imperial Tea Court (Berkeley), Shandong Deluxe / Shandong Best, QQ Noodle (wide and extra wide, Cupertino/Milpitas), Terra Cotta Warrior (uses alkali jianshui), IPOT, Liang’s Village Cuisine (Cupertino, wide and extra wide ), Liang’s Kitchen (Milpitas, wide and extra wide)

Shape : very long, 1/2" wide or more and thick noodles.
Origin region : Shaanxi
Ingredients : wheat flour, water, sometimes alkali, oil for prep.
Technique : Shape dough into flat rectangles, rest; oil up, flatten, wave each rectangle outward with the arms to form flat belts. The dough may also be anchored to the table with one hand. The middle of the dough gets slapped on table to aid in stretching. Once length it achieved, dough can be ripped in half along length.
Video : Biang! (of Xi’an Famous Foods family) on Taste In Translation (Cooking Channel) ; Pictures here.
Other: The term “Biang Biang” noodles is not typically used in the Bay Area, and I’m not sure Biang Biang noodles are served here (maybe at Liang’s, which I haven’t been to yet). Can anyone elaborate on what width, or other characteristics, distinguish biang biang from che mian?

Imperial Tea Court’s wide noodles are as wide as any local wide “che mian” noodle, and the chef assured me they were not Biang Biang, but “thick lamian 手拉麵.” The servers at QQ Noodle also told me that their wide noodles are not Biang Biang noodles.

David Deng, owner of Terra Cotta Warrior, told me that Biang Biang “belt” noodles are a wider variety of noodle than the wide noodles they serve. That conforms to some Shaanxi videos showing lasagna-width noodles, at least two times wide as what I’ve eaten in the Bay Area. e.g., Xi’an Muslim Quarter biang biang noodles Biang Biang Noodles - 庄稼汉.

Deng said that one of his chefs has the talent to make them, and he occasionally cooks a one-noodle-per-bowl biang-biang mian as a special treat for the staff. He also told me that “che mian 扯面” is a general category that encompasses wide noodles (which they call Latiaozi 拉条子), extra-wide Biang Biang noodles, and the lagman-like noodles they use in their Qishan noodles (all of his noodles use the same dough).

To my knowledge, only two places have claimed to serve Biang Biang noodles. SF’s Mission Chinese Food used the term for one of its noodle dishes (see video) and has since switched to Shanghai noodles. The BBM at newly opened IPOT in SF’s Inner Sunset look the same width as non-BBM around town, and appear to have been ripped in half along length.


3a: Lagman aka Legman aka Xinjiang ban mian 拌面 aka Latiaozi 拉条子 aka Shou lamian 手拉麵 aka Hand-pulled noodles

Restaurants (soup or dry/sauced) : Uyghur Taamliri (egg), Eden Silk Road Cuisine (egg, Fremont), House of Pancakes, and Terra Cotta Warrior (alkali jianshui). Between them and the relatives/trainees of SF’s King of Noodles / Kingdom of Dumpling , it is the most common technique for making hand stretched noodles in the Bay Area. Their descendants include King of Dumplings (Newark), House of Dumplings (Union City), Town of Dumpling (San Mateo), Taste of Shandong Alice Chinese Bistro, and Shandong Deluxe / San Dong Best.
Shape : very long, typically uneven, strands
Origin region : Xinjiang . Whether the term “lagman” derivates from “lamian” is debatable, but the technique is very different. Local Uyghur restaurants, and videos of Uyghur people in cities throughout Asia, use the “feeding” technique described below and call these noodles and a dish made with them lagman/legman. Non-Uyghur restaurants in the Bay Area refer to these noodles as everything from hand-pulled (Shou lamian 手拉麵) to hand-rolled to not naming them at all. Outside of a Uyghur restaurant, is this technique done in China, and if so, what is it called?
Ingredients : wheat flour, water, egg at Uyghur places, sometimes alkali at non-Uyghur places, oil for prep. According to the NY Times, lagman, ding ding chao mian, and che mian use the same dough.
Technique : the dough is hand rolled into a thick tube, coated in oil, and coiled up. After relaxing, the tube is fed from hand to hand, and pulled into thinner tubes in a sideways motion. Sometimes the lengths are rolled against the cutting board. The full length is then coiled around the arms, and the center is slapped on a table as the ends are yanked outwards. Follow a recipe!
Video : Fun video and a video with more detail.


3b. Yi gen mian 一根麵 Single-strand hand-pulled noodles AKA Longevity noodles

Restaurants (soup) : MY China (vegetarian longevity noodle soup)

Shape : a single long, typically uneven, strand
Origin region : Huanglongxi, Sichuan according to one source, Shanxi from another source.
Ingredients : presumably the same as for lagman.
Technique : the dough is hand rolled into a thick tube, coated in oil, and coiled up. After relaxing, the tube is quickly pulled from side to side to thin out the noodles. Each elongated segment is propelled into a boiling water without breaking from the previous segment, leaving one giant noodle. Note that there are a few other types of noodles referred to as “Longevity noodles,” including Cantonese yi mein (伊麵), which are a dried noodle, and fresh Chang Shou Mian (长寿面). These are popular on birthdays— Chang Shou means “long and thin” and is a homophone for “long life.”
Video : Most famous Shanxi noodle dishes


4: Other, hand-pulled maybe

I haven’t been able to find information on the techniques Shandong / Korean Chinese restaurants (San Wang, Chef Wang (Millbrae), China Way (Santa Clara)), Z & Y / Chili House / Spicy Legend (whole fish with hand-pulled noodles), and Dragon Beaux (squid-ink hand pulled noodles) use to hand-pull their noodles. Does anyone know? Two other places that list hand-pulled noodles on their menu are Hand Pull Noodle House (San Jose) and Little Beijing.

San Tung/SO, Everyday Beijing (w/ alkaline, San Mateo), and iDumpling (Redwood City) have great noodles, but they’re made with machines.


5: Ding ding chao mian 丁丁炒麵 aka fried crush noodles

Restaurants (stir-fried) : OK Noodle (Newark), Shandong Deluxe, San Dong Best

Shape: chopstick width, ~1cm - 1" long
Origin region: Xinjiang
Ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water, oil (for brushing)
Technique: prepare lagman, then cut into "chopstick width pieces. Same dough as lagman according to NYTimes. See also Souperman’s blog entry and read the rest of his noodle coverage while you’re at it.
Video : Korean video


6a: Then thuk noodles aka Amdo noodle squares aka Tang fan 汤饭 aka Mian pian 面片

Restaurants (Then thuk in soup) : Cafe Tibet (Berkeley), Tashi Delek (Albany)
Restaurants (Tang fan in soup) : Uyghur Taamiliri (Süiqaş soup)

Shape : thick, 1-2" squarish with rough edges
Texture : soft, stick to teeth
Origin : Amdo, Tibet; Xinjiang; Northwestern provinces in general
Ingredients: wheat flour, water
Technique : roll out, cut into wide strips and tug 1-2" pieces at a time into boiling liquid. Cutting into squares with a knife is an alternative, but the squares lose their irregularity. Jen Lin-Liu has a recipe in On Noodle Road. Naomi Duguid has a recipe in Beyond the Great Wall and reports eating a dish using these noodles at a Hui (Muslim, ethnic Chinese) restaurant. See also a Tang fan recipe w/ pics (in Chinese).
Video : TV3 - Karakia - Then thuk (Pasang i Tashi, Tibet)


6b: Snap noodles 朵面

Restaurants (stir-fried) : M.Y. China’s squid ink snap noodles.

Shape : thick, ~ 1 1/2" squares with a raised center and rough edges
Texture : soft, stick to teeth
Origin: Shanxi (I can find no web reference to their Chinese name besides M.Y. China’s “squid ink snap noodles.” I found some sources referring to this as a Shanxi type of noodle known as 揪片子 (Jiū piànzi) or 掐圪瘩 or (Qiā gē da). Note that these are different than Shanxi “cat ear noodle” mao erduo 猫耳朵, which, like one method for making orecchiette, obtain a pronounced center indentation by pressing individual pieces of dough between the thumb and a solid surface.
Ingredients: wheat flour, water
Technique: Squares of dough are pinched off the top of a a fat belt of dough directly into boiling water.
Video : M.Y. China video

12 Likes

Great post!

China Village in Albany does great dishes with #2, the wide-cut noodles. You can get them in soup or dry/sauced. “Village Special” seafood soup has mixed seafood, bok choy and lots of chili oil; a milder version skips the chili oil. The non-soup versions I’ve enjoyed include beer-braised duck, braised short ribs, dry-wok fish and mixed seafood with pork.

Ancient Szechuan in El Cerrito has a version that doesn’t seem to be on your list. The noodles are cut in irregular shapes, some wide, some narrow, and come with some of the same toppings you get at CV. I’ve only had them once, though, and unfortunately they were unevenly cooked.

Thanks!

I’ve heard rumors of hand-pulled noodles at CV, but haven’t been there when they were a special. Please keep us updated!

Oh, I’ve had those at Ancient Szechuan, and the chef did a decent job one day, but not so good on another day. They’re made of wheat, but are hard and chewy like oval rice cakes. They’re called knife shaved noodles (Daoxiaomian, 刀削面) and are created with special tools that flings noodles straight into boiling water. If they’re not quick enough, the noodles that first went in the pot get overcooked. And if they don’t shave them consistently, one side is hard and another side overcooked. Check out this dude shave up some noodles and then make some hand-pulled noodles. I’ll open up a thread about knife-shaved noodles and knife cut noodles in a few weeks— there are at a lot of places in the South Bay and Peninsula to track and I’m curious if any are actually selling the dried variety, which is probably a pretty good noodle.

揪片子 gets the most results on Baidu for the “snap” noodles. Here’s a video that call them out as snap noodles and shows them being made in the fashion you described.

Thanks! I’m gonna try to make that at home, and the close ups will be useful for technique. BTW, the video’s subtitles mention Shanxi.

Also, I read you blog post on the single strand hand pulled noodles at MY China. http://noodlefrontity.blogspot.com/2015/10/my-chinas-vegetarian-longevity-noodle.html?m=1 . Sorry that didn’t work out— vegetarians tend to get the short end of the noodle.

Here’s a whole hour on jiu pian which shows some different manual and machine techniques. I gather the term covers a range of styles.

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There’s a whole range of Chinese vegetarian offerings I like, usually involving tofu or wheat gluten, and there’s no law against sharp spicing. The Longevity noodles here are for mushroom lovers (which I am not), and the softness of the noodles may have been an aberration. (Tuesdays are often the chef’s day off and not the day to find a Chinese restaurant at its best.)

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To be clear, the hand-pulled noodles at CV aren’t a special offering. The dishes I described are on the lunch menu every day.

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And the dinner soup noodles too.

A companion thread is at Hand cut, knife-shaved, and other Chinese wheat noodles (SFBA/Norcal) --The discussion there is about
fresh wheat noodles formed with the help of rolling pins, knives, scissors, extruding devices, and other people powered specialized tools.

The current Bourdain piece on Okinawa reminded me of this think-piece, “Research on
the History and Production of Lye-kneaded Wheat Noodle as Part of Okinawan Traditional Food Culture.”

“Lye kneading” refers to burning certain types of plants and mixing their ashes with flour, and was the original method of producing alkaline noodles. The has been found in only three places in the world, Lanzhou (China), Chiang Mai (Thailand) and Okinawa. It apparently originated in Lanzhou and was exported by Hakka Chinese.

Great pic from right now of a woman making laghman in Kashgar, by my Shanghai correspondent Fiona Reilly.

Imperial Tea Court in the Ferry Building has wide “hand stretched noodles.” They were out or them today.

Sichuan fusion in El Cerrito/Richmond has seven varieties of noodles and you have a choice of chow mein or knife shaved noodles. It’s been years since I’ve been there – – how are the noodles these days?

The toppings are beef, chicken, combination, Pork, seafood, shrimp, and a variety of not seeing on a menu before, tomato beef.

There are positive reports of their food in general Best bites 2015 [SF Bay Area] , so please start another thread if you have Intel on this place. One dish they list on their menu that I’ve not seen elsewhere is Sichuan yacai chicken, which lists pickled mustard stems and rice powder as ingredients

Tomato beef chow mein used to be a staple in Chinese-American restaurants. I think Sam Wo still has it.

yes, tomato beef chow mein was invented in SF iirc. the version with knife shaved noodles is what I was referring to as unique

My point is that a combination of tomato and beef is not unusual in Chinese cuisine. It’s widespread in Taiwanese beef noodle soups, and in Shanghai’s “Russian” soup (albeit with potatoes, not noodles).

My understanding from your post was that is was a DIY option in a matrix of mix-and-match possibilities. Once you’ve done it it’s no longer unique :smile:

[quote=“Souperman, post:17, topic:758”] My point is that a combination of tomato and beef is not unusual in Chinese cuisine. It’s widespread in Taiwanese beef noodle soups, and in Shanghai’s “Russian” soup (albeit with potatoes, not noodles).

My understanding from your post was that is was a DIY option in a matrix of mix-and-match possibilities. Once you’ve done it it’s no longer unique :smile: [/quote]

Oh, gotcha! On that note, let’s not forget that there’s at least one other tomato and beef dry-style noodle dish out there— Uyghur laghman with tomatoes and beef! (I’m guessing that one doesn’t use ketchup like in tomato beef chow mein)

L & L Seafood on San Pablo in El Cerrito has crispy noodles (Hong Kong style?) with tomato and beef.

I haven’i tried Sam Wo’s, but the TBCM I was fond of in the 60s (I think is was at Sun Tai Sam Yuen on Jackson St.) was stir-fried with big chunks of tomato. I don’t recall ketchup in it at all.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold