Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Staples of Shanxi 山西 & Shaanxi 陝西

The neighbouring northern Chinese provinces of Shanxi (山西) and Shaanxi (陝西) are often confused with one another. Not only do they sound alike but their respective cuisines also share many similarities. In particular, both provinces are famous for their noodles, and to a lesser extent, their bread. I know that this is a bit of a generalisation, but as people in China can't access my blog (Blogger is banned) it's one I'm going to try and get away with!

Beijing has many Shanxi restaurants, and I was taken to one called Datanghong (大唐红) where noodles are the main draw. Indeed, the noodle kitchen is on open view by the entrance of the restaurant. There are many different kinds of Shanxi noodles but arguably the most famous are honeycomb noodles (youmian kao laolao 莜面栲栳栳). Made from a grain indigenous to the province called naked oat, these noodles are intricately arranged in a honeycomb-shape in a bamboo steamer before being cooked. Simply served with a chilli oil-vinegar dip, they were really addictive.

As well as being eaten straight from the steamer, honeycomb noodles are also used in other dishes such as stir-fried honeycomb noodles with egg. Wok frying gave the noodles a slight char, and the texture, if not the flavour, was reminiscent of dry-fried ho fun noodles. It's a tough call to say whether these were better than the standard steamed version.

Other noodles I tried included cat's ears (mao er duo 猫耳朵) and knife-cut noodles (dao xiao mian 刀削面). These were served with sauces on the side such as egg & tomato, which are then stirred into the noodles. I could've eaten these all day, but for the fact that there was loads of other dishes to check out.

Just as impressive as the noodles were the sesame buns served with glass noodles, chillies and other bits and bobs. It was great fun making noodle sandwiches with the soft, spicy filling going really well with the buns that were slightly crispy on the outside.

I would have liked to write more about this restaurant, but alas I was disorientated by jetlag and the unfamiliarity of the food when I ate there. That said, between my camera and Instagram, I can tell you that I enjoyed tucking into Shanxi-style crispy duck, roast mutton, mixed mushrooms in a mini-wok, and some psychedelic multi-coloured buns amongst other treats. I really enjoyed eating at Datanghong, and I hope this first experience of Shanxi cuisine won't be my last.

Datanghong 大唐红酒楼
Address 地址: 北京 安定门外大街2号安贞大厦2楼(近环球贸易中心)
Tel 电话: +86-10-6448-2299

Given the ubiquity of roujiamo (肉夹馍) in Beijing, one might assume that it's a local speciality, but in fact these sandwiches (sometimes nicknamed Chinese burgers) originate from Shaanxi province. The ones at Qin Tang Fu (秦唐府) were damn tasty with strands of moist, slowly braised pork seasoned with five-spice encased in a crispy unleavened bun. These were so popular that it seemed compulsory for every diner to order one. I think these would go down a storm in the UK.

There's also a wide selection of noodles, and I chose a dish that went by the English name of noodles with garlic sauce. This name didn't really do justice to what was one of the best noodle dishes I've eaten in a long time. In one bowl came 'belt' noodles (think pappardelle, but even broader) in an intentionally bland soup with some greens. In a smaller bowl came a quite stunning spicy garlic sauce laced with sesame, bits of tomato, egg, wood-ear fungus and spring onion.

To eat this dish properly, the noodles are transferred into the bowl of sauce, and given a good old mix to make sure that they are all coated. With hindsight, I shouldn't have supersized my noodles, but when it only cost the equivalent of 20p to go large, the temptation was too great. Be warned, the portions very are generous and filling at this restaurant, and I barely made any inroads into my order of stir-fried greens.

I would love to revisit Qin Tang Fu, as there are loads of interesting Shaanxi dishes that I'd like to try. For more detailed reviews of this restaurant, please check out Rice & Pickle and Hungry Female (thanks for the tip, Shu).

There are four branches of Qin Tang Fu in Beijing, and the address below is of the one I visited:

Qin Tang Fu 秦唐府
Address 地址: 北京 东城区朝阳门 内南小街69号
Tel 电话: +86-10-6559-8135


  1. I've just found this blog and love it. I'm a big fan of noodles myself. My question is o/t but since you have made a few post about La Mian noodles.....would you know what the restaurants in the UK use as an additive to make the noodles more stretchy? In China, they use what they call 'Peng Hui' but I don't think it's available in the UK. I'm in China now in fact. I want to make them when I get home to the UK. Love the food here in Chengdu.

  2. This sounds like your ideal region! Those honeycomb noodles are intriguing. But don't those belt noodles look delicious... yum.

  3. sheesh and I thought I knew all the chinese noodles. that honeycomb one doesn't even look like noodles!

  4. The noodles look both different and interesting - i love the idea of dipping the thick sheets of noodle into a garlicky chilli oil dip. I bet they hold the sauce beautifully. And the honey comb noodles are totally different. It's refreshing to find something so different made from something as familiar as noodles. Shame it's so far to go.

  5. So glad you made it to Qin Tang Fu! I loved that place. And those honeycomb noodles look intriguing at the very least.

  6. Anon - I'm sorry but I don't know what shortcut is used in the UK to malke la-mian so stretchy.

    Frank - of the two, I really want to find out more about Shanxi cuisine.

    Shu Han - noodles come in all forms!

    Gworm - it's a bit depressing when you realise that there are so many different noodles (and other dishes) that are out of reach to us in the UK.

    Sharmila - I really wish that I could have checked out more of Qin Tang Fu's menu.

  7. Wow! Those honeycombe noodles looks so weird and bizarre! I wonder if you can get them here in london? And those sesame buns with the glass noodles - noodles burger, I need to try them, sounds strangely delicious.

    1. J - sadly, I reckon honeycomb noodles would be very hard, if not impossible, to find in London. For starters, I'm not sure if you can find naked oat flour in London.

  8. I am seriously glad you did this post with Chinese so I can actually know that what I ate last time I was in Shanghai was the honeycomb noodles (youmian kao laolao).

    I should have reminded Jen that you were in BJ and posting about it as she has just been there for work...

    1. Tom - that's why I put in the Chinese so I can at the very least print out the name of the dish to show waiters/waitresses.

      I saw Jen was in Beijing through Instagram, and I passed on some resto tips on e-mail!