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拉面 La Mian World

the quest for the perfect noodle

When I arrived to the city of Mumbai or Bombay (as you are allowed to say once you get more intimate) there was only one locale to go to in terms of nightlife. Not that it was the only place but it was THE place. In Mumbai life is fast and THE place changes as fast as the tides. Before the sub-suburb crowd finds out about THE place and is allowed in, THE place is filled with the rich, beautiful, famous and, which sometimes is the same, Bollywood stars.

Back then I knew exactly nothing about Bollywood and its stars. Even after several months, still I had difficulties distinguishing the Khan’s, the Kapoor’s, the Bachchan’s and all the others. After chatting with a friendly Indian lady at a bar one night over a drink I  found out the next day (only), that I had been talking to a Bollywood celebrity.

To make it short, THE place at that time was “China House” in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Bombay’s Santacruz suburb. Why I am telling this story here is that China House is not only a hotel bar, dance club and celebrity hang-out (these times are long gone, however) but it is also a great Chinese Restaurant one floor up from the club area.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is kind of like in a movie set for a Bollywood style rural China thriller market night scene: sacks filled with all kinds of spices, dark wood and dimmed lights. Adding to the chill is the notoriously freezing air conditioning. The food which is prepared in several open kitchens throughout the restaurant is excellent authentic Chinese. You would have guessed by now, yes, they do have hand-pulled noodles on the menu. Unfortunately there is only one dish and that is Dan Dan Mian. Although they claim in the menu that they are hand-pulled noodles I failed at several occasions to see any chef pulling La Mian there. Nonetheless, when you are craving for a change from the butter chicken fare head to China House for your dose of great Chinese food. Or maybe fancy some dumplings and dim sum, try Royal China in Bandra.

China House, Grand Hyatt Mumbai, Off Western Express Highway, Santacruz East, Mumbai, India

Royal China, 92 Turner Road, Bandra West, Mumbai, India

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Who would think that you could find a La Mian stall in a business hotel on Orchard Road in Singapore?

The Orchard Hotel features the noodles restaurant in one corner of its lobby floor.  It was opened already in May 2012 and is more a bar or bistro than restaurant. I did not take notice of its existence until today.

Recently they hired the new chef Xu Ai Min for noodles from Beijing and put in some advertising effort which successfully reached out to La Mian World. Well, I stumbled over it by coincidence while googling.

I was a bit sceptical about the setting, but it is actually quite nice and bright inside the huge glass facade of the hotel. The place is as simple as it gets with a menu concentrating on the most important La Mian dishes like beef La Mian, Dan Dan Mian, minced pork La Mian and a couple more fancy ones like one with Abalone. Interiorwise noodles features only the bar with the La Mian chef,  one friendly waiter and some bistro tables.

I went to have You Po Mian and my lovely companion ordered the La Mian soup with vegetable and pork dumplings. You have four choices of noodles: either the classic round, super thin, flat or egg noodles. Both dishes were ordered with flat La Mian. The expert chef went to pulling and hitting the dough as I was snapping away at his fast motions. Some perfect La Mian noodles emerged from his hands and submerged into the boiling water.

The meal was served in no time and looked fantastic on nice white china. I must admit that I would have wished my La Mian to be a bit more chewy but in essence both the dishes were excellent.

Which way will the art of La Mian making go? Is it a dying art or will we have La Mian outlets mushrooming up soon at every corner like Starbucks cafes?

noodles, Orchard Hotel Singapore, 442 Orchard Road, Singapore 238879

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The best La Mian in 2012!

The time around New Year’s is the time of new year’s resolutions, bucket lists, reviews, best-off’s etc. Here at La Mian World we also sat down to look back on the past year of 2012 and collected some statistical facts. This is it:

I ate La Mian in four different countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand.

I consumed approximately 50 bowls of La Mian, of these 47 were consumed in Singapore.

I betrayed the cause of La Mian World by eating Japanese Ramen, Vietnamese Phở and Italian Pasta an uncounted number of times.

Running through the list of places I patronized I decided to nominate the top five best La Mian stalls, restaurants, shops and hawkers in Singapore. Just to remember, the La Mian World criteria for excellency in La Mian are

1. Freshness: The noodles have to be hand pulled freshly for every dish served,

2. Craftsmanship: When you look at the noodles you must utter: ‘wow, that is amazing how evenly sized they are, although he just pulled them in front of my eyes’ (bonus points for front-of-the-eye-open-kitchen-la-mian-expert-chef-pulling),

3. Experience: In your mouth the La Mian are blowing you away with their balanced composition of texture, al-dente-ness and flavour of the dough,

4. Composition: Neither the sauce, soup, meat or whatever it is the dish consists of, can dominate over the noodle. The La Mian speak for themself but are complemented with superior sides.

This is the La Mian top five billboard chart hit list:

Which is your favorite La Mian outlet in Singapore or any place around the world?

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Did I mention before that La Mian World is not a food blog?

Actually I intended to start a world-noodle-revolution.

Since the invasion of Sushi in the 1990s in the USA and the 2000s in Europe I kept asking myself, why can La Mian not do the same. It is great, healthy food. Freshly handmade and a real art, just like Sushi.

Maybe it takes more to become a La Mian chef than to be a Sushi master? Maybe noodles are not exotic enough? Maybe La Mian did not find the right promoters yet?

The La Mian World blog managed to prove that La Mian is not at all mainstream but indie, underground, gothic even. The circle of readers is exquisite and shy.

On the other hand it might be attributable to my failure to ride the wave of social media successfully.

Where am I getting at here?  I need your support to start the real La Mian revolution! Come and join me!

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After a series of disappointing visits to some places that did not fulfill the very strict criteria established by La Mian World, I took a break from experimenting and had the real deal at Imperial Treasure La Mian Xiao Long Bao located at Marina Square mall. Yes, it is a bit tiring, that you end up in another shopping center and sit in the middle of the buzz of shoppers around. But also, yes, they do have excellent, fresh and expert made, hand pulled noodles here.

With this soothing experience giving me peace of (noodle) mind, I was excited to travel to Taipei. The capital city of Taiwan must hold some La Mian secrets for me to discover as it is, for starters, the home of Din Tai Fung. Their La Mian is decent and we don’t have to talk about the quality of the Xiao Long Bao.

I started searching the web (as Apple’s Siri would say: “I don’t know what you mean by La Mian. May I search the web for you?”). To my surprise it proved to be more challenging to find a La Mian place in Taipei than I expected. It seems that, first of all, the Taipeinese are not as food blog crazy as the Singaporeans. Or, if they are, they may write in Mandarin, which I happen to neither speak nor read.

After endless crawling through web searches and hours of walking through the fascinating streets of Taipei I ended up at Xiao Liu La Mian located close to the Technology Building metro station.

I must have been the first customer of the day as I entered the small restaurant shortly after 11 in the morning already hungry for some carbs infusion. The interior looked more than promising with an open, glass window kitchen with space for the chef pulling the noodles in view of the patrons. The walls were decked out with murals depicting the art of La Mian pulling. The friendly lady and only staff in the entire place seemed to me as if she would be the one pulling it off here. However, to my great disappointment, she was pulling no dough nor was any other chef appearing miraculously.

My beef La Mian was prepared with already pre-pulled noodles. The soup and noodles were good. But after all the effort and time I put into searching and finding this one place I was utterly disappointed about the missing pull here.

I shall come back to Taipei and get some professional help next time to find the right place!

Imperial Treasure La Mian Xiao Long Bao, 6 Raffles Boulevard, #02-138J Marina Square, Singapore (up-date March 2013: this restaurant is closed)

Xiao Liu La Mian, 223 Heping E Rd, Sec 2, Taipei City, Taiwan

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When I was a little boy, I saw the Columbia sitting on the ramp in Cape Canaveral. After that I wanted to become an astronaut for many years. Though I did not become one, I managed to make NASA send me a number of nice space shuttle mission photographs from the US all the way to my home in Europe.

Discovery is the name of NASA’s second space shuttles. It also was my motto for last weekend’s food choices. Well, maybe not in terms of the kind of food, but in terms of location. I am still working on trying out all the La Mian places, that the Epicure magazine considers the ten best in Singapore. This time I ventured to Tanjong Pagar’s Kampong Bahru Road.

Along a stretch of shop houses are the usual sleazy-bars next to cheap eateries and, to my surprise, two amazingly trendy looking cafes. However, the actual target for discovery was the Savor Rey La Mian Xiao Long Bao Restaurant off Epicure’s list in one of these shop houses.

It starts to dawn on me that my understanding of the best La Mian and that of the guys of Epicure may significantly differ. I asked the friendly waiter at Savor Rey whether the noodles would be freshly hand pulled and he said, they are ‘home made’. What does that mean?

It is time to get serious about things! What are the La Mian World criteria for any eatery to be considered in the best La Mian category?

1. Freshness: The noodles have to be hand pulled freshly for every dish served,

2. Craftsmanship: When you look at the noodles you must utter: ‘wow, that is amazing how evenly sized they are, although he just pulled them in front of my eyes’ (bonus points for front-of-the-eye-open-kitchen-la-mian-expert-chef-pulling),

3. Experience: In your mouth the La Mian are blowing you away with their balanced composition of texture, al-dente-ness and flavour of the dough,

4. Composition: Neither the sauce, soup, meat or whatever it is the dish consists of, can dominate over the noodle. The La Mian speak for themself but are complemented with superior sides.

Ticking through the list, Savor Rey does not fall into the best La Mian category. Not that I did not like the noodles that I ate here, and for sure nothing can beat their prices, but I would not put them on my favorite La Mian list. Since this is not a sell-out food blog, like… some others in Singapore, I don’t have to rave about every place I go to.

Walking back, I entered into Stranger’s Reunion Cafe attracted by its raw wooden door as well as accumulation of funny vintage chairs and table arrangements inside. Great coffee, cool ambience and good cake – this is what I rave about!

Let’s pull it together and forget about the Epicure list. I continue to go out to discover on my own the world’s best La Mian!

Savor Rey La Mian Xiao Long Bao Restaurant, 3 Kampong Bahru Road, Singapore

Stranger’s Reunion, 37 Kampong Bahru Road, Singapore

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Some trace back the history of modern-day shopping centers to the grand bazaars of the Orient. Through the retail evolution from downtown via main street shopping to mega malls, the concept has taken over the entire globe. Asia replaced the USA as the location with the largest, craziest and especially most fancy shopping temples. Today the world’s most gigantic malls are found in communist China. Asia loves luxury brands, brands in general and chain stores especially. This is not only true for the consumer’s love for cars, clothes or watches. It is also true for food.

Fine dining restaurants of celebrity chefs evolve into global chains like Wolfgang Puck’s Cut or Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne, which touched down in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands’ The Shoppes. The Shoppes are themself a gigantic mall with a collection of high-profile names’ restaurants and sporting the Pangea night club. The latter reportedly serves Asia’s most expensive cocktail at 32,000 Singapore Dollar per glass.

La Mian World is dedicated to the quest for the perfect hand-made noodle. This quest started with the hole in the wall noodle stalls in China. This simple shops for fast food in its literally meaning never fail to impress with the quality of their food, amazing flavours and perfectly hand crafted noodles. Even in Singapore nowadays, a city hailed for its cleanliness and organisation you can find these simplest of places of Northern Chinese influence in and around the Pearl Center in Singapore. The next step towards commercialisation is the Hawker Centre. Ultimately the search will bring you to one of the malls. The Shoppes own food court has a La Mian outlet with a chef pulling the dough. However, the most common evolution of the La Mian stall is the restaurant or of the the chain restaurants serving the Shanghainese cuisine with a string of La Mian incorporated.  Din Tai Fung, Crystal Jade, Imperial Treasure and others have outlets across Asia(‘s malls).

Kuala Lumpur is mostly underestimated when talking about Asian mega cities while Hong Kong, Manila or Jakarta jump into mind immediately. As  any Asian city with some self-respect, Kuala Lumpur has a mind-boggling concentration of mega malls just within walking distance of its center: KL City Center, Berjaya Times Square and Pavillion Kuala Lumpur to name just a few.

No wonder a quick internet search for a place to have some La Mian for lunch brought me to a MALL. Not the usual candidate like Crystal Jade, a restaurant by the name of dragon-i caught my eye. As was to be suspected also this is not a single-outlet-only place. With a very similar menu to Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao it throws in some Sizchuan and Beijing dishes. The interior of the dragon-i in Pavillion Kuala Lumpur feartures some interesting red plastic brick walls and  Xian soldier sculptures standing around. Overall it looks a lot more fancy than Crystal Jade and they seem to have sense for special effect and drama as can be witnessed in their La Mian pulling video: dragon-i la mian drama

I tried their seafood La Mian and the Xiao Long Bao. Although the presentation, juicyness and looks of the XLB were not entirely convincing, the taste was very good. The La Mian were pulled in the open kitchen by a seemingly very experienced chef. I felt that it took him only nano-seconds to produce my noodles. I enjoyed my bowl of freshly made fare and dreamt of some hole in the wall noodle shop in China….

Dragon-i, Pavillion Kuala Lumpur, Lot 1 .13, Level 1, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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