Citizens, the first recipe I ever posted on TFD was exactly one year ago, for the Taiwanese national dish of Niu Rou Mien, a spicy beef noodle soup. It seems only appropriate to close the circle and post the mainland China version of this classic recipe trope! 🙂
Noodles have a very long history in China (pun intended) and, as such, achieving any accurate history of the origin of them is fraught with difficulty. Recorded histories of noodles in China date back more than 1900 years to the Eastern Han Dynasty!
That said, it is generally agreed that it was not until the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century that the superior skills of noodle makers reached its high point to achieve the art of the hand-pulled noodle, or 拉面.
Noodles from Gansu province are very famous for their springy texture, according to Florence Lin, the great teacher of Chinese cooking in the United States. Centuries ago, noodle makers in Gansu learned that certain kinds of ash, called peng, had the effect of tenderizing dough.
Ash contains potassium carbonate, an alkali (like lye and lime) that makes the noodles soft by inhibiting the development of gluten. (Potassium carbonate is also used around the world to cure foods like olives, lutefisk and corn for hominy.)
The modern Lanzhou variety of the hand-pulled noodles and their distinctive broth have developed as a collective food habit of the minority Hui Muslim people in northwestern China.
This is anything but an average bowl of noodle soup; it has an official name – Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles (兰州拉面, lan zhou la mian). It is a registered commercial designation and a long list of rules and standards defines it.
A young Hui man who sold the hot soup noodles topped with beef on the streets of Lanzhou during the Qing Dynasty is credited with developing the dish in its current form. Mao Baozi’s (马包子, 1870-1955) noodles attracted such fame that they literally define the traditional characteristics the dish!
His dish was said to be “1 clear, 2 white, 3 red, 4 green, 5 yellow” (一清、二白、三红、四绿、五黄) to signify respectively clear soup, white radish, red chili oil, green coriander and yellow noodles. (Using the alkali ash imparts a yellowish tint to the noodles, which actually does not use egg.)
In 1919, Mao Baozi opened his first restaurant in the city, leading to the eventual growth of thousands of beef noodle restaurants in Lanzhou. Outside of Lanzhou and Sichuan province, such noodle shops carry the title of 兰州正宗拉面 (authentic Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles), while in Lanzhou itself they are simply called beef noodles (牛肉面).
Citizens, I recognize this recipe is very involved for what is essentially beef noodle soup. However, this is the true pinnacle and apotheosis of what beef noodle soup aspires to be, and I hope you will find yourself worthy of the challenge of making it!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
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