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