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Food is Love

Passport & Plate - Weird Character Noodles

China | Wednesday, 12 March 2014 | 5 photos


Ingredients
Noodles:
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup room temp water
sesame oil

Meat:
cooking oil
300g diced beef
1-2 cloves minced garlic
thumb-size piece fresh minced ginger
2 tsps Chinese five-spice powder
2 star anise
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp black vinegar
1 tsp chicken or beef stock powder
water

Toppings:
2 to 3 pak choy
handful of sliced carrots
1 tbsp sliced spring onions
a few sprigs of coriander
2 tsp dried chili flakes
1/2 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 tsp five-spice powder
1/8 tsp ground cumin

 

How to prepare this recipe
1. Mix the flour, salt, egg and water in a medium-sized mixing bowl and knead until smooth. Cover and set aside for 15 min.

2. Heat up a pan, add oil and throw in the minced garlic and ginger. Then add the diced beef and fry until brown on all sides. Next, add spices and sauces and pour in water until the beef is barely covered. Put lid on and let cook until you're finished making the noodles, about 30 minutes. If the liquid evaporates you can add slightly more water, you want the meat to have a nice sauce.

3. Uncover dough and cut it into 6-7 pieces. Place in a bowl and lather with sesame oil. Take one piece out at a time and work the sesame oil into the dough. If necessary, dip the pieces into the sesame oil again, you want it to have a squishy texture that allows you to pull the dough apart a little without it breaking. This is what will allow you to later pull it and make noodles.

4. Now comes the hard part, once your piece is moist enough, roll it out a little with a rolling pin, then take one end into each of your hands and shake the piece up and down pulling your arms wider as you go. Try slapping it on the board as you shake it to thin it out, but don't let it break. If it does, try rolling it up again and adding more sesame oil, it may have been too dry. Once you manage to stretch it to a decent length, lay it out on a flat surface and go over it once more with a rolling pin to make each piece equally thin.

5. Boil a big pot of water and throw the noodles in. Be careful carrying them to the pot as this is when they like to break.

6. After about 4-5 min, take noodles out with a sieve ladle and put into bowls. Use remaining boiling water to boil the carrots and pak choy. Drain and put vegetables on top of the noodles.

7. Take your braised beef off the stove, pour it on your noodles with the sauce, and add the rest of the toppings. If you like it more saucy, feel free to add more soy sauce and/or vinegar. I also like to add chili flakes.

8. Enjoy!

 

The story behind this recipe
“Go to the restaurant at the end of the street and order the dish with the most complicated Chinese character on the menu, you'll know which one it is when you see it,” my friend in Beijing told me when I first moved there. Without knowing what this mysterious dish was, I pointed at the most difficult character I had ever seen, and minutes later was served a bowl of steaming hand-pulled noodles, covered in a variety of condiments and spices, and was reminded of why I had fallen in love with a country so far away and decided to study such a hard language. Chinese food started it all. I don't mean the greasy stuff you get from your local take-out. There was a reason, after all, that Marco Polo came back to Italy loaded with culinary treasures, he must have been convinced, as am I, that China's cuisine had the most diversity, detail and flavour of any in the world.
What's amazing about biang biang noodles is that the person eating can be just as creative as the chef. When you order them in Shaanxi, their province of origin, you are served a bowl of just the wide, flat noodles along with some meat and steamed vegetables, and the table is covered with a variety of toppings that give it flavour: walnut paste, chili oil, vinegar, coriander, and more. It was originally known as a poor man's dish, but has recently become trendy across China, especially due to its intriguing name. The 57-stroke character biang does not appear in any Chinese dictionary, and most people in China have no clue how to pronounce it. My friends and I still call it weird character noodles. Some say it was called biang because it sounds like the noodles being pulled and slapped against the table, but others say an ancient Chinese emperor decided to give a unique name to his favorite dish. No one really knows the truth, but what I know is that when I make this dish in my kitchen, it brings me back to the smells and tastes of my favorite country in the world and the adventures I had while living there.

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