youtube pinterest twitter facebook instagram vimeo whatsapp Bookmark Entries BURGER NEW Chevron Down Chevron Left Chevron Right Basket Speech Comment Search Video Play Icon Premium Nigella Lawson Vegan Vegetarian Member Speech Recipe Email Bookmark Comment Camera Scales Quantity List Reorder Remove Open book
Menu Signed In
More Guest recipes Recipe search

Dan Dan Noodles

by , featured in The Wok: Recipes and Techniques
Published by WW Norton
Print me

Introduction

In the short time I spent in Chengdu, I found that dan dan miàn are to Sichuan what the hamburger is to the United States: they’re ubiquitous, there are certain expectations, but there are no hard and fast rules other than the basic ingredients (noodles, chile oil, pickled Sichuan vegetables, Sichuan peppercorns, and vinegar) and the manner in which they’re served (fast and cheap). They get their name from dan, a heavy stick carried over the shoulders onto which noodle vendors would balance two loads, the noodles on one side and the toppings on the other. Known as “peddler’s noodles,” they are the prototypical street food and, according to Hong Kong–based food writer Man Wei Leung, have been enjoyed as a quick, inexpensive meal on the streets of Chengdu and Chongqing continuously since 1841.

Beyond that they can be soupy or dry. They may or may not have sesame seeds or peanuts. They might have greens or bean sprouts boiled together with the noodles or not. Sometimes they have a dollop of creamy roasted sesame paste. Oftentimes they are sprinkled with a shower of fatty stir-fried minced pork. Sometimes they have raw garlic or even a sprinkle of sugar on top. In other words, get the chile oil and Sichuan peppercorn bit right and the rest is really up to you.

I know a lot of writers will tell you that it’s impossible to make great dan dan noodles with store-bought chile oil, and that may be true, but it’s definitely possible to make really really good dan dan noodles with store-bought chile oil. My favorite is Mom’s Málà, though I’ve also had good luck playing chile oil roulette in the Sichuan section of the Chinese supermarket. Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chile Crisp, with its heavy addition of fried shallots and soybeans, has a different flavor profile from a classic Sichuan málà chile oil, but it’s still delicious in a bowl of dan dan noodles, as are a number of high-quality competitors that have sprung up on the market (such as Fly by Jing’s Sichuan Chili Crisp or David Chang’s Chili Crunch).

The only other ingredient that can truly elevate a bowl of dan dan noodles is sui mi ya cai, which are salty-savory semidry preserved mustard greens that come from Yibin, in southeastern Sichuan. It’s hard stuff to find at the supermarket, where you are more likely to find its cousin zha cai, preserved mustard root. You can use zha cai in place of ya cai, but it doesn’t have quite the same umami punch. I order my Yibin sui mi ya cai from a company called Yibin Sui Mi Yacai Co., which is sold through themalamarket.com (or Amazon) and comes delivered in small foil pouches that last indefinitely until you open them. I stir-fry the ya cai together with fatty ground pork, cooking it until it’s completely dry to really concentrate its punchy flavor.

In the short time I spent in Chengdu, I found that dan dan miàn are to Sichuan what the hamburger is to the United States: they’re ubiquitous, there are certain expectations, but there are no hard and fast rules other than the basic ingredients (noodles, chile oil, pickled Sichuan vegetables, Sichuan peppercorns, and vinegar) and the manner in which they’re served (fast and cheap). They get their name from dan, a heavy stick carried over the shoulders onto which noodle vendors would balance two loads, the noodles on one side and the toppings on the other. Known as “peddler’s noodles,” they are the prototypical street food and, according to Hong Kong–based food writer Man Wei Leung, have been enjoyed as a quick, inexpensive meal on the streets of Chengdu and Chongqing continuously since 1841.

Beyond that they can be soupy or dry. They may or may not have sesame seeds or peanuts. They might have greens or bean sprouts boiled together with the noodles or not. Sometimes they have a dollop of creamy roasted sesame paste. Oftentimes they are sprinkled with a shower of fatty stir-fried minced pork. Sometimes they have raw garlic or even a sprinkle of sugar on top. In other words, get the chile oil and Sichuan peppercorn bit right and the rest is really up to you.

I know a lot of writers will tell you that it’s impossible to make great dan dan noodles with store-bought chile oil, and that may be true, but it’s definitely possible to make really really good dan dan noodles with store-bought chile oil. My favorite is Mom’s Málà, though I’ve also had good luck playing chile oil roulette in the Sichuan section of the Chinese supermarket. Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chile Crisp, with its heavy addition of fried shallots and soybeans, has a different flavor profile from a classic Sichuan málà chile oil, but it’s still delicious in a bowl of dan dan noodles, as are a number of high-quality competitors that have sprung up on the market (such as Fly by Jing’s Sichuan Chili Crisp or David Chang’s Chili Crunch).

The only other ingredient that can truly elevate a bowl of dan dan noodles is sui mi ya cai, which are salty-savory semidry preserved mustard greens that come from Yibin, in southeastern Sichuan. It’s hard stuff to find at the supermarket, where you are more likely to find its cousin zha cai, preserved mustard root. You can use zha cai in place of ya cai, but it doesn’t have quite the same umami punch. I order my Yibin sui mi ya cai from a company called Yibin Sui Mi Yacai Co., which is sold through themalamarket.com (or Amazon) and comes delivered in small foil pouches that last indefinitely until you open them. I stir-fry the ya cai together with fatty ground pork, cooking it until it’s completely dry to really concentrate its punchy flavor.

Image of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's Dan Dan Noodles
Photo by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Ingredients

Yields: 4

Metric Cups
  • 4 to 5 grams red Sichuan peppercorns

FOR THE SAUCE

  • 30 millilitres Chinese sesame paste (store-bought or homemade (see below), or 4 teaspoons (20 ml) tahini or unsweetened peanut butter mixed with 2 teaspoons (10 ml) roasted sesame oil)
  • 30 millilitres warm water
  • 30 millilitres light soy sauce or shoyu
  • 30 millilitres Chinkiang vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • 8 grams sugar
  • 120 millilitres Sichuan chilli oil with its sediment (homemade or store-bought)
  • 5 grams minced fresh garlic (about 2 medium cloves)

FOR THE PORK

  • 15 millilitres peanut oil (rice bran, or other neutral oil)
  • 180 grams minced pork (preferably with plenty of fat)
  • ¼ cup minced preserved mustard root or stem (ya cai or zha ca) (see Notes)
  • 15 millilitres shaoxing wine
  • 15 millilitres light soy sauce (or shoyu)

TO SERVE

  • kosher salt
  • 450 grams fresh wheat noodles
  • 120 grams spinach or baby bok choy (optional)
  • 60 grams mung bean sprouts (optional)
  • 40 grams roasted peanuts (gently crushed in a mortar and pestle)
  • 4 to 5 spring onions (thinly sliced)
  • 2 teaspoons red Sichuan peppercorns

FOR THE SAUCE

  • 2 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste (store-bought or homemade (see below), or 4 teaspoons (20 ml) tahini or unsweetened peanut butter mixed with 2 teaspoons (10 ml) roasted sesame oil)
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce or shoyu
  • 2 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ½ cup Sichuan chile oil with its sediment (homemade or store-bought)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic (about 2 medium cloves)

FOR THE PORK

  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil (rice bran, or other neutral oil)
  • 6 ounces ground pork (preferably with plenty of fat)
  • 2 ounces minced preserved mustard root or stem (ya cai or zha ca) (see Notes)
  • 1 tablespoon shaoxing wine
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (or shoyu)

TO SERVE

  • kosher salt
  • 1 pound fresh wheat noodles
  • 4 ounces spinach or baby bok choy (optional)
  • 2 ounces mung bean sprouts (optional)
  • ¼ cup roasted peanuts (gently crushed in a mortar and pestle)
  • 4 to 5 scallions (thinly sliced)

Method

Dan Dan Noodles is a guest recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt so we are not able to answer questions regarding this recipe

  1. Toast the Sichuan peppercorns in a dry wok over high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Set aside.
  2. For the Sauce: Combine the sesame paste and water in a medium bowl and stir until completely smooth. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, chile oil, garlic, and half of the ground Sichuan peppercorns and stir until homogenous and the sugar is dissolved. Divide the sauce evenly among 4 individual bowls or pour it into one large serving bowl to share.
  3. For the Pork: Heat a wok over high heat until lightly smoking. Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the oil and swirl to coat. Add the pork and cook, stirring and tossing and using a spatula to break up the pork until it is no longer pink, about 1 minute. Add the preserved mustard root and cook, stirring and tossing until all excess moisture has evaporated and the mixture starts to stick to the wok, about 1 minute longer. Add a big pinch of the ground Sichuan peppercorns and toss to combine. Swirl in the wine and soy sauce around the edges of the wok and continue to cook, stirring and tossing, until the wine and soy sauce have completely evaporated. Transfer the pork mixture to a small bowl.
  4. To Serve: Bring 3 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in the wok or in a large pot over high heat. When the water is boiling, add the noodles, greens, and bean sprouts (if using) and cook according to the noodle package directions until barely cooked through, just a couple minutes.
  5. Drain the noodles, reserving some of the cooking liquid, and divide evenly among the individual bowls or transfer them to the serving bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid to each bowl. Spoon the pork mixture on top. Sprinkle with the remaining ground Sichuan peppercorns and the sliced spring onions. Serve immediately.
  1. Toast the Sichuan peppercorns in a dry wok over high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Set aside.
  2. For the Sauce: Combine the sesame paste and water in a medium bowl and stir until completely smooth. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, chile oil, garlic, and half of the ground Sichuan peppercorns and stir until homogenous and the sugar is dissolved. Divide the sauce evenly among 4 individual bowls or pour it into one large serving bowl to share.
  3. For the Pork: Heat a wok over high heat until lightly smoking. Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the oil and swirl to coat. Add the pork and cook, stirring and tossing and using a spatula to break up the pork until it is no longer pink, about 1 minute. Add the preserved mustard root and cook, stirring and tossing until all excess moisture has evaporated and the mixture starts to stick to the wok, about 1 minute longer. Add a big pinch of the ground Sichuan peppercorns and toss to combine. Swirl in the wine and soy sauce around the edges of the wok and continue to cook, stirring and tossing, until the wine and soy sauce have completely evaporated. Transfer the pork mixture to a small bowl.
  4. To Serve: Bring 3 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in the wok or in a large pot over high heat. When the water is boiling, add the noodles, greens, and bean sprouts (if using) and cook according to the noodle package directions until barely cooked through, just a couple minutes.
  5. Drain the noodles, reserving some of the cooking liquid, and divide evenly among the individual bowls or transfer them to the serving bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid to each bowl. Spoon the pork mixture on top. Sprinkle with the remaining ground Sichuan peppercorns and the sliced scallions. Serve immediately.

Additional Information

If you can’t find ya cai (preserved mustard greens), you can use zha cai (preserved mustard root) in its place or a combination of equal parts finely chopped sauerkraut and drained capers (really!). If you prefer a soupier version, you can add a ladle of the noodle-cooking liquid to the bowl before adding the drained noodles or a ladle of hot broth.

Active Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

If you can’t find ya cai (preserved mustard greens), you can use zha cai (preserved mustard root) in its place or a combination of equal parts finely chopped sauerkraut and drained capers (really!). If you prefer a soupier version, you can add a ladle of the noodle-cooking liquid to the bowl before adding the drained noodles or a ladle of hot broth.

Active Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

Tell us what you think

Breakfast Strata