Dan Dan Noodles
Chengdu: City of Gastronomy #11
担担面 -- Dān dān miàn
This is one of the most iconic Sichuan noodle dishes of all time. A spicy chili oil and pork mix with fresh wheat based noodles.
Chinese noodles don’t get much better than this!
Dan Dan Mian or Dan Dan Noodles is one of the most famous Sichuan dishes in all of China. It’s a very popular street food. It’s cheap and tasty. I like to think of it as the spaghetti bolognese of China.
15 years ago, I’d easily find these on the street from a vendor carrying a big long shoulder pole on his or her back. They’d have their stove, all the ingredients, everything on this pole. This is actually where the name comes from. In Chinese, those poles are called Biǎndan. Originally, it didn’t refer to an exact dish, but just any noodle dish that the biandan guys would have, but now it’s only the name for this particular dish.
Unfortunately, the street food scene in Chengdu has been cleaned up a bit, so it’s now almost impossible to find these guys. I see some dudes carrying the poles and selling other stuff, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen them selling the noodles.
That didn’t stop me from trying though. In the video I head to my local farmer’s market to hunt down a traditional pole carrying version. Ultimately, I saw a lot of cool stuff in the market, but I didn’t find the guy carrying a pole with noodles. I did find the dish though. I ended up at one of my favorite noodle shops and had an amazing bowl.
The most important part of of dan dan mian is the mian, the noodles. They’re a wheat based noodle. They should be springy and fresh. A stewed ground pork is mixed with a preserved vegetable called ya cai. It’s a preserved mustard green stem that’s pretty popular in Sichuan dishes. It has a nice funky taste to it -- a salty fermented taste.
Of course, there are also lots of sauces, spices, and pastes in a bowl of dan dan noodles. Sesame oil adds a nuttiness. Red chili oil adds a spiciness. There’s also usually some fried soy beans sprinkled on top, but sometimes they’ll use chopped up roasted peanuts instead. I like both, but I think the western palate prefers peanuts maybe. If you look at a recipe online for this dish, you’ll probably find peanuts rather than soy beans… Maybe cause frying up soy beans is a pain the ass.
Where to try Dan Dan Mian in Chengdu
On Chengdu’s page for Dianping (China’s Yelp) there are 604 restaurants that serve dan dan noodles. It’s hard to choose just one to recommend, but I love this place, which has multiple locations across the city. I’ve listed the main branch below. They do Sichuan smalls eats really well -- some of my all-time favorite Sichuan dishes -- and I believe Anthony Bourdain visited this location when he was in Chengdu.
小名堂担担甜水面 -- Xiǎo míngtáng dàndàn tián shuǐmiàn
Address: 成都市青羊区东城根上街13号 -- 13 Dongchenggen Upper St
Map in China
Other things to try:
手工甜水面 -- tián shuǐmiàn -- Sweet Water Noodles
钟水饺 -- Zhōng shuǐjiǎo -- Zhong Dumplings
鸡丝凉面 -- Jī sī liáng miàn -- shredded chicken cold noodles
红油抄手 -- Hóng yóu chāoshǒu -- Red oil wontons