MUSLIM PULLED NOODLES
One of our favorite local restaurants in China was a family owned and operated Muslim noodle shop. There are many of these types of noodle shops throughout the city and country. They all have the same basic menu and are the cleanest restaurants we have come across for the value. One other huge factor is that they smile when they see you! If you come in or just walk-by they will smile. Living in Shanghai this is a rarity.
At these restaurants there is a different spice pallet used, lots of cumin, anise, and other flavors I couldn’t put my finger on. Because they are Muslim the main meat on every dish is lamb but many are vegetarian dishes. They serve the lamb in different ways but it is mainly cooked and shaved as thin as proscuitto. They serve their dishes of veg and lamb over rice or (our favorite) pulled noodles.
The first time I saw this process I was in awe. They take a large ball of dough rub it with oil and literally pull it apart, but this dough is made to a consistency that it will not break, rather it just stretches. The dough master will pull the dough until their arms are fully extended to either side and then they quickly lift the dough up and then smack it back down on the stainless steel stretching surface. After this smack, they bring their hands together at head level and away from the table which makes the dough twist together like a cinnamon twist. He then brings the dough back to the table, kneads it and repeats the process. This process reminds me of a taffy puller but with dough. After about 10 or so pulls they take a smaller piece of the dough, pull it, and take the opposite ends in one hand creating a loop that they would thread one finger through and then pull dough again. They would repeat this until they had two 10 or more long thin noodles that they would again smack and then cut in the middle creating 20 or more noodles and then drop those directly in a huge pot of boiling water. The whole process would take 3-5 minutes. While the noodle puller was making the noodles there would be another cook preparing the sauce and toppings depending on what you ordered. Each plate would take no more than 10 minutes to be served to you after ordering (good food quickly). Most orders come with a consommé type soup flavored with cumin and finished with chopped spring onion. All of this cost about 10 RMB ($1.75). Katie and I ate there at least once a week and many times 2-3 times a week.
Watch the videos to see how these noodles are made.
MALA TANG SOUP
Mala Tang is a soup and probably the meal I have eaten the most since we have been here. The local teachers in my center turned me on to it and I have eaten it 5 times a week since.
Mala Tang comes from the Sichuan/Mandarin cuisine and is a form of Hot Pot. There are many Mala Tang shops all around the city and they are open 18-24 hours a day. When you go into these shops you get a plastic basket with a number on it and walk to a cooler that feels like the produce section of a market. You choose the vegetables, meat, and noodles that you want in your soup and then give your basket to the cook.
Here are many but not all the choices you have. Vegetables: several types of seaweed, cabbage, many types of mushrooms, spinach, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, several types of root veg., several types of tofu, and herbs mainly cilantro (coriander). Meat: several types of cased meat (hot dogs), imitation crab in a couple forms, fish balls, chicken parts (talents, meat, organs), and a hand full of things I’m not sure of. Lastly the noodles: rice, ramen, and several other types of that very in thickness.
Once the cook has your basket they count them and charge you. Usably 1 RMB per item, so your soup will cost you 8-12RBM (12RBM is $2.00). Then they stuff your selected items into a pasta-cooking basket and drop them in a huge pot of boiling broth. The broth is a chicken and vegetable stock base but has some other peculiar spices. The cook places the items that take the longest to cook in first (meat, noodles, root veg, etc.), and then add the vegetables later during the cooking process. When finished they serve it in a metal bowl or to-go container with several ladles of the cooking broth and then finish it with raw chopped garlic, red chili paste, a little peanut sauce, and a soy vinegar.
The soup is amazing, and we usually fill our basket with only vegetables and sometimes noodles, but it is the broth what makes it delicious and a little weary. The base is chicken and vegetable but it is cooking all day and has cooked hundreds of different items before yours. Talk about some cross-contamination. The one thing that makes me feel OK about it is there’s a line of people in there everyday, and it is served so freaking hot that I have to wait 5-10 minutes to eat it. It is great on a cold day.
In China there are 8 main different styles of Chinese cuisine, not including all of the other styles from the surrounding countries. Soon I will write about the cuisines we have tried and include our pictures and videos. But first comes the education.
1) Cantonese: which originates from Hong Kong and the southern province of Guangdong. This cuisine is know for it’s freshness with mild, subtle sauces as to not over power the freshness of the ingredients. They use live fish and seafood held in tanks to maintain the freshness. Many popular dishes are Dim sum (meaning touch the heart), steamed whole fish, crispy-skinned chicken, roast suckling pig, and shark’s fin soup.
2) Mandarin: This cuisine originates from the northern Peking area (Beijing). They use more wheat than rice in this area and lots of Napa cabbage. Crepe like cakes are used to eat classic dishes such as Mu-shu pork and crispy Peking duck, and they love to decorate with colorful vegetables carve into flowers, animals and designs. Because this is a Northern cuisine many of it’s most popular dishes are influenced by Mongolian dishes like, hot pot, garlic and scallion Mongolian beef, but my favorite are the pan-fried pot stickers.
3) Shanghai: This cuisine is from the south eastern providence of Zhejiang and the city it’s named after. It is known for braising and slow cooking techniques along with reduction sauces which provide a full-body of flavors. Also know for pickling vegetables and curing meats most Shanghaiese dishes have a subtle sweetness to them. Fried Shanghai noodles are one of their most popular dishes, but other include stewed meatballs “lion’s head”, drunken shrimp and pickled greens with pork.
4) Sichuan: From the north western providence of Szechuan this cuisine uses chili peppers and red peppercorns to stimulate the taste buds and counter the cold of the winter. They are also known for there pickling and salt-curing. Some dishes include Szechuan beef, stir-fried green beans, cold noodles with peanut sauce and spicy stir-fried Ma-Po tofu.
5) Hunan: This cuisine is very similar to Sichuan because they come from neighboring Providences Most of these dishes have a base of hearty oils, garlic, and chili-based sauces and are stir-fried. Chinese comfort food such as orange chicken, spicy eggplant in garlic sauce, and hot crispy fish.
6) Fujian: Has more of a historical base than a regional base. It grew from the Song Dynasty to the middle of the Qing Dynasty. These dishes are less salty or spicy and have more of a sweet and sour characteristic to them. The ingredients range from mountain products such as mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tremella, and bird’s nest. To sea products such as cuttlefish, shellfish, and turtles. Popular for it’s soups and broths the most famous dish is Buddha-jumping-over-the-wall. This dish is a mix of seafood, chicken, duck, and pork put into a rice-wine jar and simmered over a low fire. The name implies that Buddha himself would jump over a wall to have a taste once he smelled this dish.
6) Anhui: Is from the mountain providences west of Shanghai and has not only a different choice of cooking materials but also strict cooking methods. Some of these methods include stewing the ingredients in a brown sauce to boiling it in a clear soup, and result in slightly spicy and salty finished product. The ingredients range from mushrooms and bamboo shoots to stone frog, soft shell turtle, and pigeon. On their menu you would find stewed turtle with ham, braised pigeon, and steamed stone frog.
8) Huai-Yang: Like Fujian this cuisine has more of a historical background than ageographic one. The cuisine is characterized by it’s cooking techniques of stewing, braising and steaming over a low fire. Many other dishes from other cuisines have their base from the Huai-Yang cuisine. Some the most famous dishes are chicken braised with chestnuts, pork steamed in lotus leaf, duck stewed with eight treasures, and steamed dumplings.