My glorious members of TFD Nation – I apologize that it has been many days since My last post. Your proud and usually stalwart Suzerain has been laid low with the most intense pain any human being can suffer, thanks to a very large 6mm kidney stone that took Me to the Emergency Room and kicked My keester straight to the curb.
The pain is beyond excruciating – but like the mighty Phoenix, I have risen reborn from the ashes of My agony to provide you with one of My favorite comfort food recipes that I always turn to in these moments of torment. I speak of nothing less than the classic Sichuan recipe for dan dan noodles, and I will ascend above the pain to share it on a Cherubic cloud of Codeine-chill, chronicling Chinese Chopstick fare of the highest order for your reading and gustatory pleasure!
Dan dan noodles or dan dan mian (simplified Chinese: 担担面; traditional Chinese: 擔擔麵) is a noodle dish originating from Chinese Sichuan cuisine. It consists of a spicy sauce usually containing preserved vegetables (often including zha cai (榨菜), lower enlarged mustard stems, or ya cai (芽菜), upper mustard stems), chili oil, Sichuan pepper, minced pork, and scallions served over noodles. The dish can either be served dry or as a noodle soup.
Sesame paste and/or peanut butter is sometimes added, and occasionally replaces the spicy sauce, usually in the American Chinese style of the dish. In this case, dan dan mian is considered as a variation of ma jiang mian (麻醬麵), sesame sauce noodles, although ma jiang mian usually refers to a specific Shanghainese dish. In American Chinese cuisine, dan dan mian is often sweeter, less spicy, and less soupy than its Sichuan counterpart.
The name refers to a type of carrying pole (dan dan) that was used by walking street vendors who sold the dish to passers-by. The pole was carried over the shoulder, with two baskets containing noodles and sauce attached at either end. As the noodles were affordable due to their low cost, the local people gradually came to call them dan dan noodles, referencing the street vendors. The name translates directly as “noodles carried on a pole”, but may be better translated as “peddler’s noodles”.
A variety of English spellings are used. The first word may be either dan dan, dun dun or tan tan, and the last word may also be spelled mein (Cantonese pronunciation).
As noted in an article on the history of dan dan noodles on guide.michelin.com:
Dan dan noodles started out as a street food in Sichuan. In its earliest form, it was carried by hawkers on a bamboo pole (dan), from which the name of the dish is derived. The pole was attached to two baskets, one holding the ingredients, the other holding the cookware. It is part of the collective memory of the people of Sichuan, a comfort food that eases their homesickness while being away. Even celebrated writers from Sichuan like Ba Jin and Guo Moruo sought out dan dan noodles the moment they returned to their hometown.
Legend has it that the creator of dan dan noodles was named Chen Baobao. In 1841, he walked from his native village to the town of Zigong. Looking at the many hawkers selling cooked food by the roadside, he decided to sell the noodles he was good at making, carrying everything he needed with a pole on his shoulder. The handmade noodles, which were springy and smooth, were paired with bean sprouts from Sichuan and a rich, tasty soup. The dan dan noodles soon won the hearts and palates of the whole town, which led to Chen opening his own shop.
Dan dan noodles were later introduced to the city of Chengdu. The hawkers there added minced meat to the plain noodles. They cooked with a pot divided into two segments, one for the broth of chicken or pork, the other for blanching the noodles. The minced meat added fragrance and umami, and the whole dish tasted rich and mildly spicy. Other toppings, like the local chao shou dumpling, were also brought into the mix.
The standard cooking method of Chengdu dan dan noodles is to add bean sprouts, chopped spring onion, chilli oil, soya sauce and meat broth into the bowl. The boiled noodles go in later, followed by minced meat with equal parts of fat and lean meat, fried in advanced with bean sprouts, salt and soya sauce.
Another common approach is to eat the noodles “dry”, which means they are complemented by a sauce instead of a broth: the cooked noodles are first shaken to remove all the excess liquid, and then mixed with soya sauce, vinegar and chilli oil. The spicy flavour is one of the defining features of Chengdu dan dan noodles.
The dish later reached the other cities in the province such as Chongqing. The basic ingredients remained the same, barring some subtle adaptations to local tastes. Generally, Sichuan dan dan noodles are cooked with regional ingredients and condiments: Yibin bean sprouts, Baoning vinegar, fermented bean paste from Pixian, chilli and Sichuan pepper.
Chilli oil is the most special element. Steeped in canola oil used frequently in the province, the local chilli species erjingtiao and lantern chilli impart the trademark aggressive character to the final product. It takes a lot of preparation work, but there is no parallel to its unique taste.
Truly, a dish worthy of sharing – and I shall share all My secrets to making this authentically, Citizens!
First off, you are going to need proper dried dan dan noodles – which thankfully can be easily purchased on Amazon here. Sichuan preserved vegetable is an absolute MUST in authentic dan dan noodles – this is a brand I am quite partial to. Preserved mustard stems from Sichuan are also a classic ingredient, and may be easily obtained from My favorite Sichuan ingredients provider (the Ma La Market) here.
The Ma La Market can also be your go-to source for the unmatched 10-year aged Sichuan Baoning vinegar, as noted here. I’ve added an optional hit of green Sichuan peppercorn oil as a finishing touch for aroma and flavor right before serving – again, the Ma La Market is your friend, get it here.
A superlatively fiery Sichuan chili oil is a must for this dish as well – I strongly prefer My own version, articulated here and My favorite brand of fermented black beans for the umami component can be purchased here. Dark soy sauce is NOT the same as regular soy sauce, I strongly prefer the shiitake-flavored version found here as well as the best-quality Sichuan peppercorns for vibrant flavor – these are My go-to. Chinese sesame paste is NOT the same thing as tahini – you can buy the real deal here and this is My favorite brand of hoisin sauce.
Citizens, this fiery and flavorful bowl of noodles can be served hot, room-temperature or cold as you see fit – and it is truly a dish of wonder worthy to grace any of TFD Nation’s tables, perhaps in tandem with this delicious Chinese dessert! Until this stone passes, I will wrestle like Jacob against an implacable and merciless opponent comprised solely of razor-sharp Calcium Oxalate! No kindly angel in My case, but a pain demon burning with white-hot fiery agony and whom I pray will be expelled with all swiftness and efficacy back to the 9th Circle of Hell from where it was spawned!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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