“When the world’s gone to shit, a bowl of noodles will make you feel better.” This isn’t an ancient Chinese proverb, we just made it up, but there’s little denying the cathartic nature of a good bowl of noodles — and when it comes to noodles, China has one of the most extensive menus in the world.
This time last year, we brought you an illustrated guide to some of the country’s most famous noodle varieties — the big hitters, like Sichuan Dandan and Shaanxi Biangbiang. Now we’re coming back for seconds, with a guide that goes even deeper into noodledom and presents some of the unsung heroes and lesser-known-but-still-delicious dishes you need to work into your noodle rotation.
If you missed part one, you might want to start there as an appetizer:
Mian’splained: An Illustrated Guide to Chinese Noodles, Part One
Dandan noodles took top billing when it came to an option from Sichuan in our first noodle round-up (and won RADII’s inaugural #SoupAndNoodleBowl), but one of China’s most famous foodie regions has much more where that came from.
While the province is typically known for its fiery flavors, this dish — as the name suggests — brings a little sweetness to proceedings as well. The Chengdu staple throws together chewy, thick-cut noodles, sweet-tasting soy sauce, a dash of chili oil and some diced chilies for that spicy kick, before being topped with crushed peanuts and sometimes a dusting of sugar. The result is a deeply satisfying dish with a sweet first bite followed by a spicy kick. Delicious.
First-time diners might be scared away from the pungent smell of snail rice noodles, or “luosifen,” but this divisive dish has become a huge hit in recent years in China.
Originating from Liuzhou in southwestern China’s Guangxi province, snail rice noodles combine a unique variety of rice noodles with sour bamboo shoots, fungus, peanuts, fried yuba and fresh green vegetables — all cooked into a hot and sour snail soup.
A bowl of luosifen became the hippest dish to order during the early stages of the pandemic, with young people buying instant snail rice noodles to cook at home during Covid-19 lockdowns. It got so big that even KFC launched a version.
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Braised noodles, also known as lor mee in areas such as Singapore, is a Hokkien noodle dish that hails from Zhangzhou. Served in a gloopy gravy, the slippery, thin-cut noodles usually come loaded with fresh seafood.
The history of this southern Fujian dish can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty, and is an early example of “fusion cuisine.” Essentially, the story goes that northerners migrating south brought the noodle base with them, but added the seafood preferred by southerners along with other local ingredients to create the dish.
Shredded pork, bamboo shoots, wisps of egg, shiitake mushrooms, squid, dried shrimp, long yellow daylily and more are all likely to make an appearance if you order this classic, with the versatile dish proving a hit far beyond Fujian’s borders today.
Another southern fave, wonton noodles are made with crisp noodles, pork or shrimp-filled wontons, and a sweet, palate-cleansing soup. Cantonese people often start the day with a bowl of this healing breakfast dish, which balances a satisfying, slurpable base with a not-too-heavy flavor profile, making it an ideal option for kicking off your morning. Similar to Japanese ramen, the magic of wonton noodles is all in that bowl of soup, which often takes 4-5 hours for chefs to prepare.
Liangpi, also known as “cold skin noodles,” are a noodle-like dish that originates from Shaanxi province in northern China. Made from wheat or rice flour, liangpi have a translucent appearance thanks to the yellow gluten they absorb from the special soy sauce used. People often add cucumber shreds and spicy chili oil, stirring these in for a cool, light taste and an essential summer dish.
Another popular noodle dish from Sichuan is this offering from Yibin, a city in the southeast Sichuan of the province. Ranmian, also known as “burning noodles,” are so-named because of the dish’s heavy use of oil, but it could also just as easily apply to its flammable flavor profile. A good bowl consist of four key ingredients: sesame oil, dry noodles, preserved rice sprouts, and crushed, toasted peanuts. Some variants will come with ground pork on top, but for the purists, it’s really those last two ingredients that make this dish pop.
Zhenjiang pot noodles belong to the Su cuisine grouping out of eastern China’s Jiangsu province. These are also known as “jump noodles,” thanks to the traditional way of making them: kneaded noodles are placed on a chopping board and then a chef sits on one end of a bamboo pole with the other end fixed to an adjacent wall; the chef then uses their body weight to hammer the noodles on the board, giving them a springy texture.
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Anhui isn’t the best-known Chinese province outside of the country, but it has a rich culinary heritage and its Hui school of cooking is one of China’s historic “eight great cuisines.” This dish is a cornerstone of noodle consumption in the region, with beef banmian traditionally slow-cooked with more than 20 types of spice, chili and of course, chunks of beef. Chewy and a little bit spicy, these noodles make for a refreshing bite.
Controversially, some claim that the best beef banmian noodles can these days be found in the city of Shijiazhuang in northern China’s Hebei province, but probably best to keep that snippet to yourself if you’re ever visiting the dish’s ancestral home in Anhui.
Okay yeah, not the most appetizing of names. But if you pay a visit to southwest China, you’re more than likely to come across this popular local delicacy.
Guizhou chefs put pork blood curd, crisp noodles, spices, and fresh soup into one bowl of noodles, which is also known as intestine noodles (cháng wàng miàn in Mandarin). “Cháng wàng” (“肠旺”) is a homophone of “cháng wàng” (“常旺”), which means auspiciousness.
Surprisingly, this southwestern delicacy also incorporates the cooking methods of other types of noodles from different regions of China, including Lanzhou Lamian, Sichuan Dandan, and the mellow Wuhan Hot Dry noodles.
Henan’s beloved stewed noodles are made with high-gluten flour, supplemented by various side dishes. The highlight is all in its soup that is slowly cooked with tender lamb and lamb bones (split to reveal the marrow in the middle) for five hours. Added to this are kelp shreds, vermicelli, coriander, quail eggs, and touches of chili oil, sugar garlic, and crushed chili. It’s not as glamorous or as well-known as some of the other noodle dishes coming out of China, but it’s certainly one worth trying.
Aozao noodles are well known for their signature red-oil, fried fish, and braised duck soup. Traditionally, chefs in the eastern Chinese city of Kunshan add some black carp for a fresh taste of fish. The braised duck is cooked in a slow-boil soup with the local delicacy of “Kunshan hemp duck,” giving the whole bowl a thick flavor but minus the grease that can sometimes accompany duck dishes.
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The municipality of Chongqing, much like the neighboring Sichuan province, often has a reputation for fiery foods such as hotpot. And while such dishes are a staple of the megacity, its residents sometimes take pleasure in simpler, more approachable dishes too. As Chen Xiaoqing, the director of famed Chinese food documentary Flavorful Origins once wrote on his food blog, “Chongqing natives eat gently, especially this bowl of noodles covered with miscellaneous sauce and peas.”
Peas, noodles, sauce, and maybe a bit of onion, ginger and garlic. That’s it. Simple and unfussy, to Chongqing locals, eating a bowl of these is like a ritual occurrence.
Originating from a noodle house in Hangzhou, the provincial capital of Zhejiang, pianerchuan is a dish with more than a hundred years of history. The noodle soup is topped with sliced bamboo shoots, pork, and pickled vegetables, and is a must-order for the tourists who flock to sites such as the city’s famous West Lake.
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Qishan minced noodles, or sàozi miàn in Mandarin, are a feature of the Guanzhong Plain in Shaanxi province and Longdong in Gansu province. “Sàozi” means diced meat and for the northerners who swear by this dish, the colors that it comprises are particularly important — yellow eggs, black fungus, orange carrots, green garlic sprouts, and white blocks of tofu are all essential for fans of this noodle offering. If you’re a fan of sour spicy flavors, a bowl of Qishan noodles is something not be missed.
If Qishan noodles are all about the rainbow of colors that give them their unique flavor, Yangchun noodles are kind of the opposite. This dish, also known as plain noodles, is a simple staple for people in and around Jiangsu and Shanghai.
The dish is made with a red soup, white noodles, green onions, and minced garlic leaves. Hailing from the city of Yangzhou (which tends to be more famous for its fried rice), a good bowl of these noodles will work wonders with such ordinary ingredients to surprise eaters with an unforgettable, refreshing taste.
All images: Shi Yue
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