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Chinatown's Noodle Houses

by Michael Gray

Chinese Food in the USA

Fall Volume: 2012 Issue: 19(3) page(s): 5 -6

Noodles, according to K.C. Chang in Food in Chinese Culture, were "clearly a Han Dynasty contribution to Chinese culinary art." The technology needed for large-scale flour milling enabling noodle making was not available in China until around 100 BCE. Therefore, making noodles may have been introduced from another culture.

La mian, or hand-pulled noodles, originated in China around 1500 CE. Made by pulling and stretching high-gluten dough into strands of various lengths and widths depends upon how often the dough gets folded and pulled. Restaurants in China specializing in particular kinds of foods including noodles, were already popular by the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 CE). In the last issue, namely Volume 19(2) on page 28, I wrote about my favorite hand-pulled beef noodle spot in Manhattan's Chinatown, the Food Sing 88 Corp. By now, many of you may have tried their yummy selections.

In a bit of Chinese marketing, these noodle houses advertise themselves as serving Lan Zhou Hand-pulled Noodles. Lanzhou is capital of the Gansu Province; it is along the Yellow River and is home to three million people. Once called the 'Golden City,' it was a famous rest stop on the Silk Road. One story told is that some three hundred years ago, noodles here were served to officials, merchants, and other gentry. Thus, their popularity spread.

The first of these hand-pulled noodle restaurants in New York City's borough of Manhattan appeared in 2001. Owned and operated by a Fujian immigrant husband and wife couple, Gao Jianbin and his wife Meihui hailed from the city of Fuzhou. By 2007, they had moved on but their restaurant remains. There are two ingredients used by most noodle restaurants that flavor their broth. They are pictured on this page. One is called dang gui which is Angelica sinensis, or gui pi. You may know it as cassia. Dang gui is from the same Umbelliferae family that carrots and dill come from; it is harvested in late fall, said to be sweet, acrid, bitter and warm. Cassia is Chinese cinnamon, a Chinese native plant now cultivated throughout Southeast Asia.

With Fujian immigrants migrating from New York City westward, they are bringing their hand-pulled noodle-making expertise with them.

NAN ZHOU at 927 Race Street; Philadelphia PA, may be Pennsylvania's first hand-pulled noodle house. It is appropriate that we look at the other hand-pulled noodle restaurants in Manhattan. They are listed at the end of this article along with the one written about in the previous issue. This puts them all in one place along with another that recently opened in Flushing in New York City's borough of Queens. The editor took the liberty of adding it to this list, and putting Food sing at the beginning.

LAM ZHOU at 144 East Broadway in New York, NY 10002; phone: 212-566-6933 is open from 11 am to 10 pm. This small but lively place has their menu board on the wall as seen here. One can watch as the noodles are made before your eyes. The portion of hand-pulled noodles are slightly smaller than at other places but even so, they offer a full range of boiled, steamed and pan-fried dumplings.

LAO DIGANG; 28 Forsyth Street; New York BY 10002; phone (212) 941-7678 features a rustic interior along with friendly folk. They have twenty-six kinds of hand-pulled noodle dishes such as those with oxtail, duck, beef tripe, pork intestine, or pig trotters. Be sure to ask for the pickled vegetables to top the bowl of steaming noodles. It is an added free treat.

SHENG WANG; 27 Eldridge Street New York NY: phone: (212) 925-0805 requires walking down steps to enter; and is the noodle emporia with the most extensive menu. Here, one can choose between hand-pulled or knife-cut noodles. In addition to the usual protein selections, they also offer one with rabbit. As an added home-style touch, a Fujian fish ball is added to each bowl and pickled vegetables are on every table.

SUPER TASTE at 26 Eldridge Street; New York NY, 10002; phone (212) (646) 283-9995 is across the street from Sheng Wang. They also offer knife-cut noodles. My only complaint here is the use of take-out plastic serving bowls. In my book, they detract from the overall noodle experience or any dining experience.

TASTY HAND-PULLED NOODLES at 1 Doyers Street; New York NY 10013; phone (212) 791-1817 also offers knife-cut noodles. The difference here is the fresh cilantro given with which to top yours.

FOOD SING; 2 East Broadway; New York NY 10028; phone: (212) 918-8223 is still my favorite, yet I continue to visit all the Chinatown noodle houses in order to maintain my noodle chops. Have hand-pulled noodle shops reached your neighborhood yet? The editor say they are on the way.

Mr. Noodle 45-72 Kissena Blvd; Flushing NY 11355; phone (718) 661-0008 is a new noodle shop the editor visits in Queens. They have a full menu, close to thirty noodle dishes with a choice of ho fun, mai fun, lai fun, and thread noodles. These are all made with rice flour.

Most of the noodle spots above and below are open seven days a week. Here are other particulars:

LAO DIFANG at 28 Forsyth Street in New York, NY 10002; phone: 212-941-7678 is open from 8 am to 10 pm

SHENG WANG at 27 Eldridge Street in New York, NY 10002; phone: 212-925-0805 is open from 10 am to 11 pm

SUPER TASTE at 26 Eldridge Street in New York, NY 10002; phone: 646-283-9995 is open from 11 am to 10:30 pm

TASTY HAND PULLED NOODLES at 1 Doyers Street in New York, NY 10013; phone: 212-791-1817 keeps open from 10:30 am to 10:30 pm

MR. NOODLE at 45-72 Kissena Blvd. in Flushing NY 11355; 718-661-0008 is open from 11am to midnight; and on Fridays and Saturdays it stays open until 2 am.

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