Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles in Chinatown

Beef Stew Noodles / Seafood Noodles
Noodle Master (of the day) / Boiling Noodles / Reclaimed Noodles

The picture above is from Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles Restaurant on Doyer Street (an extremely discreet alley-like street) in New York Chinatown. The noodles were wonderful, but I admit the beef stew was mediocre to sub-par. For this dish, I am used to chunky beef stew (nee-ro-mein), rather than the thinly sliced beef that was in it -- needless to say, this was not what I had imagined. However, the soup was TaStY and the fresh noodles were amazing! There are over 15 different topping choices, so you will have many options; traditionally, hand-pulled noodles are served in soup with some meat and vegetables and can be ordered stir-fried. I'd probably go again, but I'd like to try the noodles with duck (friend had this and said it was fantastic) or pork chops. On average, dishes start at $4.00 (vegetable hand pulled soup) and can go up to $7.00. You really can't beat this incredible deal.

So what exactly is hand pulled noodles, or also known as Lamian (La Mein; literally translated to pull (la) noodles (mein)). Lamian originated in northern China and has been around a long time - but just how long? We don't know for certain, but in 2005 at an archaelogical site named Lajia, scientists found a well preserved upturned bowl with these noodles. Scientific research says its been around for over 4,000 years, potentially making these the oldest known noodles. Incredible isn't it? As you eat these hand pulled noodles, you can appreciate that the art form has not been lost even after all this time!

Just a little bit about the restaurant -- the staff spoke minimal English, but was quite helpful (have no fear, the restaurant has an English menu hanging on the wall and a menu with pictures). The restaurant is small, and even though the food can be served FAST, I wouldn't suggest walking in there with a large party of 6+ unless you are going during off-peak hours. The chef who made the noodles allowed me and other patrons to watch him make the noodles -- the process is incredible and that alone would likely entice you to visit the noodle shop -- below is a glimpse into how the noodle master "whips" up the noodles!

chef prepares the dough

like pizza, you have to knead the dough
then comes a series of what looks like jump roping / thrashing / twirling moves with the noodle ( a slow methodical dance between an artist and its canvas)

and its ready to be cooked; whether you have it fried or in a soup - the lamian noodles are made the same way

There is an extensive list of Asian noodle types -- those with different textures, sizes, and tastes -- and I would almost bet you've probably had many different types of Asian noodles in your life without even realizing it ... white flat rice noodles (used in "beef chow fun"), egg noodles (used in wonton noodle soup, crispy noodles/chow mein, lo mein), ramen (this needs no explanation -- even I've had Maruchan for $0.25 a bag! and cup o' noodles), vermicelli (used in Singapore noodles) and the list goes on and on ... So Lamian is yet another example of noodles. Just think about all the different types of pastas that are available, there is probably an equal amount of asian noodle varieties. We won't get into the debate of who created pasta/noodles first; but it is believed that in the 13th Century, Marco Polo learned the art of noodles through his expeditions in China and then brought it back to Italy.

One thing is certain, noodles have found a place setting to many dinner tables worldwide -- doesn't matter if its Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German, Italian, Hungarian -- we've all had a tailored made noodle in each respective native country.

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