Greetings dear fans! A thousand apologies for the lack of writing. I have been in the U.S. Peace Corps serving in China since last year, and recently got the green light for writing again. I live in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, which is in Northwest China. I will be sharing information and recipes about real Chinese food, and how you can make it/find it in Baltimore. *Everything I write reflects my own opinions, and not those of the U.S. government or Peace Corps. Enjoy!
“Do you like beef noodles?” If you are a foreigner in Lanzhou, or visiting somewhere in China from Lanzhou, this is often the first question you will hear from a Chinese person. Beef noodles –niu rou mian ( 牛肉面)- are the backbone, the staple food of Lanzhou. From breakfast to dinner, there is no wrong time to eat them in China (though it was a surprise for me as an American to have my Chinese host mother take me for spicy beef at 8AM). It’s a simple meal: hand-pulled noodles and pieces of beef in a light broth, and usually topped with lajiao ( 辣椒),spicy chili oil.
You can find beef noodles served all over China, but it’s always called Lanzhou lamian. In the North, it is more common because noodles are more popular/convenient than rice. My students always ask me which I like more, longing for the day when the answer will be “noodles” instead of “both.”
Lanzhou noodles have a long history, dating back several hundred years. It is a specialty dish of Muslim minority groups in China. The noodles are expertly hand-pulled by slapping and twirling the dough, creating a cat’s cradle of hundreds of noodles within seconds. There are noodle places everywhere in Lanzhou, but one of the best –if not the best- is at the intersection of Anning Xi Lu and Bao Xi Hua Lu in the Anning district. The noodles are only 5 Yuan (less than 1USD), and ready within moments.
An unfortunate thing about this meal is that it seems cooks are not crazy about sharing their recipe, so even if I was fluent, I doubt I would have luck. So I found a few recipes online, tasted a few local bowls, and made them my own way with what I could find and buy in Lanzhou on my volunteer salary.
So, without further adieu, I give you the recipe…
What you need:
5 Scallions, diced
5 Cloves garlic, diced
¾ tbsp Chili paste
2 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
½ cup Soy sauce*
8-9 cups Beef broth
3 Bunches of baby bok choy
250-500g of Beef (thin-sliced, shredded, or small cubes). For a traditional meal, all beef should be halal.
Fresh flour noodles
1/8-1/4 cup Peanut oil
Chili oil for topping (as much as you like)
Cilantro for garnish (optional)
*Traditional Muslim-style beef noodles recipes do not use soy sauce. You can use it if you would like to make it a little more salty, and more like Han Chinese recipes.
Where to get it:
If you live in the city, I recommend that you get any produce from the Great Valu in Highlandtown. They have some of the freshest and cheapest produce in the city.
If you are outside of the city, you should be able to get your produce when you pick up your soy sauce, peanut oil, chili oil and paste, and five-spice powder at the H-Mart in Catonsville.
You can buy the fresh pasta from Casa di Pasta in Little Italy, which is the shop owned by the same people that own Vellegia's restaurant.
Get your beef at Punjab Groceries and Halal Meat in Charles Village.
What to do:
1. Heat oil, stir fry garlic, scallions, five-spice, and chili paste. Stir continuously for about two minutes to mix and keep from burning.
2. Add broth and soy sauce. Bring to a boil.
3. Add beef and bok choy. Simmer, covered, for about an hour, until beef is tender.
4. Cook noodles in water for 5-10 minutes. Add to broth and simmer for about 5 minutes.
5. Add cilantro and chili oil.
*These noodles are a bit of a pain to make for a newbie, especially without a pasta machine, but you can buy fresh noodles from the local grocery store or your local vegetable vendor.
Mix 1 ½ to 2 cups of water to 2 cups of flour (enough to make dough wet and sticky). Add a teaspoon of sesame oil. Cover and let sit for one hour. On a flour-covered wooden surface, stretch, pull, cut and twist the noodles into whatever length you like (mian, short and thick; or miantiao, long and thin).
Tips: Keep your hands covered in flour to keep them from sticking. Use the sesame oil to help saturate the noodles for stretching.
Food for thought: Chinese food in America is NOT Chinese food. For starters, most of it is based off of Cantonese (Guangdong and Hong Kong) Chinese food. Also, most likely because meat is more expensive in China, Chinese food in China has significantly less of it than in America. Also, did you know that some “Chinese food” in America isn’t even Chinese? That’s right! General Tso’s Chicken and Fortune Cookies were made in America, to suit American tastes for meat, sweets, and fried food!