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拉面 La Mian World

the quest for the perfect noodle

Tag Archives: China

So this is the last post on La Mian World. Maybe.

It has been a great journey. The world’s first blog dedicated to the art of  hand pulled Chinese noodles was launched in 2011. With one post per month and fabulous finds of places, restaurants and noodle artists it is the ultimate source of wisdom for all la mian lovers. So or in similar ways goes the usual praise for ones own blog.

Anyway I just had a good time exploring different aspects of the La Mian World, Asian food and countries, taking photographs and last but not least eating and enjoying heaps of amazing, fresh hand pulled la mian.

I hope you enjoyed it as well. Thanks for reading and keep on eating la mian at your local la mian chef’s joint! And of course you can come back and re-read some old post every now and then. It doesn’t hurt.

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You should always have ambitious targets in life. My latest target is to try all the Chinese hand-made noodle varieties that I found out about.

I stumbled upon a cooking class in Beijing which offers to teach you how to do a whole lot of different noodles from the provinces of Shanxi and Shaanxi. Some of them I had never heard about. So now I am out for the hunt to try them out.

This is the list and the current status of  ‘found it, ate it’:

Honeycomb-shaped naked oat noodles you mian kao lao lao
Fish-shaped sorghum noodles gao liang mian yu
Knife cut noodles dao xiao mian – found it here and there, delicious!

Hand pulled noodles la mian – of course, the queen of hand made noodles, my favorite of 2011 and of 2012. Of course there are sub-varieties of the actual La Mian from super thin angel hair to triangular, round and fat to flat La Mian. In Singapore you can try those at Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao outlets.

Dragon whiskers noodles long xu mian 
Chopstick sorghum noodles ti ba gu
Pinched noodles jiu pian
Shaved noodles ti jian
Cat eared pasta (Chinese orrechiete) mao er duo
Sorghum buckwheat noodle strands he le
Shaanxi chewy belt noodles shaanxi you po che mian – this is very nice and chewy!

Only how will I find all the other different shapes?

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Pingyao 平遥 is a UNESCO world heritage city in the province of Shanxi. It is a superpopular tourist destination for the Chinese and to some extent also with foreign visitors. Its historic centre is well-preserved and lies surrounded by the ancient city wall. You can leisurely walk around in its streets and imagine yourself as part of a Chinese historic soap opera.

A friend and I arrived one day in Pingyao at its typical Peoples Republic concrete style train station. From there it is a short walk to one of the city gates to enter the historic centre. Just past the gate I found the right place for breakfast: a La Mian shop!

Its Uighur owners became our best friends in Pingyao. Everyday of our stay in the city we would visit their open kitchen at least once for a bowl of freshly prepared noodles.

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During my stay in China in 1999 I experienced the feel of the Peoples Republic in the once small town Chuan Cha, now a metropolitan suburb, that is rapidly changing to become part of an ocean of urbanity called Shanghai.  After a couple of weeks I decided to move to the heart of that complex itself and found a flat in a new looking apartment building sitting next to the Huang Pu river in Shanghai Pudong.

Similar to my hotel experience the entrance to the apartment building was all marble and gold. However, my apartment was already run down, although probably barely one year old. After three freezing nights (it was March) my first acquisition was a woolen blanket from the shopping centre close by. This massive cube of concrete was at that time considered to be the largest mall in China: the Ba Bai Ban or Nextage. Colossal shopping centres and food courts are nothing out of the ordinary for Shanghai nowadays but in 1999 this was still something not to be found around every corner.

The top floor had a food court and I soon discovered that it also had an excellent La Mian chef. After trying a couple of the other food stalls I returned only to eat at my new La Mian supplier several times per week. All other outlets were way inferior to the outside mall food available in that area. And this area of town was rapidly changing:

In front of my building the street was being turned into a four lane road. New apartment high-rises were under construction across the road in a huge open space. Behind my house a patch of the relatively old remained. Three storey houses connected by narrow lanes which were occupied by a busy all day market. Noise and dirt everywhere. Bicycles crisscrossing the maze. All of this was soon to be replaced by more high-rise buildings and wider roads, or maybe another mall. But for the time being the La Mian hand-made noodle business still survives in modern Shanghai, hopefully for a long time to come.

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In late 2008 we had to spend 22 hours in Xining 西宁, waiting for our train ride to Lhasa. With the Tibet-Permit in our pocket we explored this typical modern city in the Chinese province. Pretty boring, except for the Xidan-Market in the city centre.

The highlight was the Uigurian noodle stall “Yan Ge La Mian” which provided us with one of the most tasteful hand pulled noodle experiences in China. I can highly recommend it!

The rest of the day we spent in the Kumbum Monastery, almost 30 km from Xining and definitively a lot more interesting than the city itself. But in the evening we came back to fill our bellies again with these delightful noodles. It was the best preparation for our Tibetan adventure.

Yan Ge La Mian, Changjiang Road, Xining, P.R. China  中国 青海省西宁市城中区长江路

(C) Mr Walder – thanks to Mr Walder for this guest article and photo

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Chuansha is an urban development zone, or something that probably used to be a small town not so long ago, close to the Shanghai Pudong International Airport. In 1999 my Chuansha consisted of one main street that featured one hotel, a shopping mall, a western style supermarket and a lot of ugly one or two-story concrete buildings with shops, restaurants and whatever else.

I happened to stay at exactly that one hotel in the main street for fourteen days in a row. It was a typical local business hotel. The lobby area looked reasonably fancy decked out in marble. Once you entered the elevators the façade began to fade since it urgently needed some cleaning. The rooms special treat was its wonderful carpet spotted with uncountable cigarette burn marks. For some reason the ashtray must have gone missing whenever somebody was smoking in the room. Not that I wanted to stay in a smoking room. There was simply no choice. So I settled in for my first night of sleep in this wonderful home away from home.

The sound of the Huangpu river suddenly disturbed my light sleep. Only after a while I realised that the Huangpu river was actually not close to my hotel at all. Half asleep I followed the sound and found my bathroom quickly filling up with water bubbling out from a leak in the water pipe for the toilet flush. I called reception. Unfortunately mastering the English language was not part of the receptionist’s portfolio nor was Mandarin part of mine. Quickly I dressed and took the dirty elevator down to the lobby and explained myself face to face with a lot of interesting gestures involved to the receptionist. Finally we could agree that she would send someone to the room. A hotel engineer made a site inspection, understood my situation and reported back to the reception. Communication got much easier now with a clear picture of the problem and I was given another room. They must have quickly changed the carpet from my old room into the new one as it had exactly the same cigarette burn marks.

My greatest daily challenge was dinner. Not that there was nowhere to eat in town. Plenty of options where available indeed. Basically, I first needed to find a decent looking place, then I needed to figure out what kind of food they actually serve, then I would also need to order without making everyone already staring at the crazy foreigner not burst out laughing and, finally, I needed to manage to eat while ignoring all the stares at the crazy foreigner  eating. This is particularly puzzling if this crazy foreigner is you .

Finding a place in the first place was not so difficult. Just go for the crowd. Where the crowd eats it must be good. Once I entered a nice looking crowded place, settled down among my staring onlookers and was immediately approached by a friendly man from the next table. He spoke exactly five words of English but became my interpreter with the waiter. I had a list of my favorite dishes written in Chinese characters to show to the waiter. This was always good for great amusement for everyone and could be passed around the restaurant for people to marvel about the outright smartness of this foreigner. I ordered Gong Bao Ji Ding, some fried vegetables and plain rice. Suddenly some lengthy discussion between the waiter and my interpreter arose. However, after a while they got everything sorted out whatever there was to sort out and my order made its way to the kitchen.

I relaxed and looked around. To my amazement I realised that everyone and every table was having the same food set-up: A large clay bowl filled with steaming soup and some chicken feet sticking out of the soup. My interpreter explained to me that this was a sticking-out-chicken-feet-soup-restaurant. What he was discussing before with the waiter was, if they would be able to prepare my desired dishes. They figured out that they could make an exception for me as guest of honour and cook up some Gong Bao chicken, no problem.

Although this makes for an entertaining story it is a bit exhausting as an everyday experience. Since this was already my third trip to China I figured I am already quite China-smart. To make things a bit easier I should just go for fast food.

First stop barbecued lamb skewer from the bike mounted Uigur-grill. Only some minor bargaining about how much to pay for ten skewers. On the next day we are already friends.

Second stop la mian shop. Just order some noodle soup and things are sorted. Well, that did not prove to be that easy. It was like going to one of this Subway Sandwich franchises. You tell the friendly counter staff that you would fancy a turkey sandwich and you will be faced with a myriad of questions about the type of bread, the shape of the turkey, the toppings, sauces and spices you desire, about the name of your grandmother and god knows what. Without taking a two days long ‘how to order at Subway’ tutorial before, you won’t even understand what they are talking about. Same in the la mian shop. Things are slightly more complicated with limited language skills.

After my many attempts to articulate beef noodle soup in Mandarin failed badly I settled for simpler communication: Pointing at the other guests dishes. Excellent! The soup is served, I survived another day and enjoyed great food!

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Kaifeng 开封 in China’s Henan province boasts an incredibly popular night market where you can savour juicy dumplings, spicy meat skewers and of course skilfully prepared la mian. When the night market swings into action you will find the young la mian pullers, a cigarette dangling from their mouths, the dough whizzing into hundreds of thin noodles, behind their soup-steaming market stalls. The pictured chef, however, serves his meals in a small shop in one of the tiny lanes in the city center.

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