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Sometimes a dish can live or die by its name alone.
The other day I was eating with my friend who owns a Chongqing noodle restaurant in London. We were talking about how to spread awareness of Chongqing cuisine, which has a food identity proudly independent of Sichuan cuisine, yet it is often engulfed under the greater Sichuan umbrella. Since Chongqing was a municipality that underwent secession from Sichuan in 1997, I guess a similar analogy for this confusion would be the way in which Ethiopian and Eritrean food is often lumped together. I tried to get my friend to come up with a pithy slogan to describe Chongqing’s flavours, but as soon as I posed the question I felt awfully guilty. How could you ask for such a reductive approach to Chongqing cuisine, which has such a complex flavour profile that - as Noodle & Beer boast - uses more than 10 different spices to season each dish? Sadly complexity does not sell, and as everyone’s favourite adman Don Draper said: “Make it simple, but significant.”
Perusing his menu, even I, a mediocre Chinese speaker, needed a prompt to remember the different noodle dish names. As I read the romanised Chinese names out loud - xian jiao niu rou, su jiao mian, fan ke niu nan mian, tian shui mian - it struck me: “You need your own dan dan noodle!”
This is the story of how every ethnic regional cuisine needs a heroic archetype in order to assimilate. The unassuming hero of Sichuan’s food has the whitest white-boy name ever - reader, meet dan (dan).
Chinese food onlookers in the gastronomic West cannot have missed the ubiquity of dan dan noodles since the start of the millennium, especially in the last decade. We start tracing its immigrant story over two decades ago from its first few mentions in the early days of Google; at first gingerly encased in inverted commas as ‘dan dan’ noodles or ‘dan dan mian’, sometimes elided as dandan, sometimes hyphenated as dan-dan - all the way to its unanimously agreed spelling today: dan dan. Two first names, no surname required. A bit like Madonna.
There is no doubt that the internet-ification of recipes and food trends has helped our hero dan dan along the way. Everything kicked off in the early 2000s when Sichuan food expert Fuchsia Dunlop published her seminal ‘Sichuan Cookery’. At the time, Sichuan cuisine was niche and for Chinese gastro-specialists, and hard to find outside of cosmopolitan cities that didn’t have large Chinese diasporic populations. The first Sichuanese restaurant had only opened in NYC in the mid-1960s, but over the following decades new waves of immigrants from different regions of China started to arrive, concurrent with an influx of wealthy mainland Chinese international students and business people who possessed heat-seaking palates.
By the mid-late 00s, popular Chinese food writers such as Ken Hom and Ching He Huang were covering off dan dan noodles via pan-Chinese cookery books such as ‘A Taste Of China’ and ‘Chinese Food Made Easy’. Most importantly, over in the US a decades-long ban on Sichuan peppercorns was lifted in 2005, driving renewed interest in the ingredient so vital to Sichuan cuisine and a reassessment in authentic Sichuan recipes. (Side note: if you could identify a slightly depressing example of how dan dan noodles lost their way in their migration to the States, it’s PF Chang’s single serve ready meal).
Through the 2010s recipes for dan dan noodles started appearing on websites that catered to earnest home cooks, from Serious Eats and Bon Appetit to Jamie Oliver and Food52, while English-language Chinese-authored food blogs such as Red House Spice, The Woks Of Life, Omnivore’s Cookbook and China Sichuan Food all touted their own versions. These recipes promised authenticity, while also reassuring the home cook of the accessibility of ingredients, by suggesting the occasional substitute for noodles, for example. Crucially, dan dan noodles started appearing on TV shows such as Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’ (2016), so even if you hadn’t travelled to Chengdu you could at least recreate its seemingly mouthwatering backstreet snacks.
Coming into the 2020s, we start to see dan dan noodles picked up by the unstoppable health food and vegan revolutionaries. It’s the age that spawns a slew of copycat recipes, which show no sign of stopping. Recipes modified for vegetarian, vegan, paleo and keto diets abound. The BOSH! duo offer a vegan version in their Speedy BOSH! cookbook (2018). Dan dan noodles’ chameleonic appeal means its comforting, calorie-denying factor could also be amped up to the max. When MOB Kitchen did a cheat’s version with peanut butter during the pandemic lockdown, the average UK household must surely have gone up a waistband size. In some instances, the Sichuan peppercorn is dropped entirely from the ingredients list. In others, the noodles cease to be ‘dan dan’, and its Sichuan backstory is written out of the recipe blurb. And now dan dan noodles have achieved stratospheric god-tier fame through the phenomenon of viral TikTok recipes, aided by one young young Taiwanese vegan chef-influencer George Lee. Going by the handle @chez_jorge, Lee’s 60 second video has been viewed almost 10 million times - clearly the proportionate reaction for a noodle dish that “could be the best thing you’ve ever slurped in your life”. (His second most viewed noodle video for scallion oil noodles comes in at a paltry 800k views).
Let’s not forget what’s happening simultaneously offline. The past decade has been marked by a slight waning in the established old guard of Cantonese restaurants, while Chinese regional representation continues to flourish and find a receptive audience, with Sichuan holding firmly onto its crown as king (or queen) of the bunch - an ascendant trajectory detailed beautifully by Dunlop herself. How much of this ascent was helped along by household names like mapo tofu and dan dan noodles? Surely the fame of these heroic archetypes, and the fiery spread of the cuisine itself, are intertwined.
Today in 2021, dan dan noodles slot effortlessly into Chinese fast casual concept menus from those of Dumpling Shack in London to Nice Day in NYC, nestled alongside Mongolian beef, kung pao chicken, sheng jian baos and the ubiquitous smacked cucumbers. Like the guy at school that everyone gets along with, dan dan noodles have successfully assimilated into the Western appetite. Not only that - they make an important contribution to a 21st century canon defined by a pan-Chinese food identity.
China’s spag bol
The truth about the dish is that there is no singular dan dan identity. Originating as a humble snack on the streets of Sichuan, the ‘dan’ refers to the bamboo pole ( 扁担) carried across the shoulders of street food vendors, who would balance a bucket of ingredients on one end, and the cookware on the other. In its most essential form, dan dan noodles is wheat noodles with meat sauce, flavoured with typical Sichuan spices including mouth numbing peppercorns, chilli oil, sesame paste and yacai (pickled mustard greens). Interestingly, dan dan noodles outside of the Sichuan region has two identities. If you ever find yourself eating a soupier version of the dish, then you are probably tasting the Hong Kong style interpretation, a metamorphosis story expertly told by Michelin Guide. What everyone can agree on, however, is its name: 担担面 - dan dan mian, or dan dan noodles. Its name is so snappy, so marketable, that it has created its own mythology without having to do much of the groundwork.
As noodle sauvants will point out, noodles with minced meat sauce is hardly a genre-breaking combination; indeed almost every noodle cuisine will have its own version, including the closely related Chinese re gan mian (Wuhan hot dry noodles), zha jiang mian (Beijing fried sauce noodles) and - further afield - spaghetti bolognese. I have often seen dan dan noodles described as China’s answer to spaghetti bolognese - or should that be that spaghetti bolognese is Italy’s answer to dan dan noodles? In most cases, regional noodle + meat sauce dishes were never given convincing English translations, so you end up stumbling across the rather unhelpful ‘Taiwanese/Vietnamese/Thai [insert ethnic identifier] minced meat noodle’ on menus. On the other hand, within the Sichuan noodle family there is an equally delicious, yet unappetising-ly named, glass noodle and ground pork dish called ‘ants climbing a tree’. But we can all speculate as to why that hasn’t been so successful in the West; even with such an arresting English translation.
Just out of interest, I did a tally for various noodle hashtags on Instagram:
#dandannoodles - 56,000
#zhajiangmian - 11,000
#hotdrynoodles - 1,400
#reganmian - 600
#antsclimbingatree - 600
Ultimately, as one internet commentator dared to point out behind the figurative noodle Emperor’s back, “There are many, different recipes for dan dan noodles, and they do vary by region across China, Taiwan, and other places in Asia with Chinese populations… So, you see, traditionally they were a dish made using just whatever ingredients one had on hand. Some use meat; some use sesame paste. The seasonings vary a lot.” If the only constant in dan dan noodles was the method by which the noodle sellers were slinging them, then should we even call them dan dan noodles? After all, the bamboo pole has long been used across all of Asia as a makeshift carrying device for heavy loads - not just for street food.
Are dan dan noodles’ fame blown out of proportion? I bounced the idea with Jonathan Nunn, food and city writer and editor of Vittles, who lamented the lack of interest in equally delightful noodle dishes such as char kuay teow, wat tan hor, jjajangmyeon and la mian - “There's something about the simplicity of la mian that isn't marketable compared to ramen” (more on this later) - as well as “all Pakistani stew dishes (nihari, karahi, haleem)”. Nunn points out that a vada pav “always has to be called something stupid for people to order it, like a Mumbai burger”, which is a similar lensing treatment that rou jia mo gets (AKA the Chinese hamburger).
It’s becoming clear that there are two important roles that play a part in our hero’s ascent to global fame. The role of the translation, and the role of the translator. The former in its intrinsic digestibility: is the romanised name easy to pronounce? Does it have a palatable English translation? The latter for their power to disseminate a dish’s popularity.
Exotic but not too alien
In an alternate life I might be a menu consultant for an ethnic food establishment with hopes of breaking into a mainstream market. In which case, I would patent a formula for guaranteed successful uptake of a menu item, designated to be the iconic bread-and-butter (or dan dan noodle) of said establishment. Very simply, the formula would be:
AAB - where A is a single-syllable foreign signifier and where B is an English word for an established genre, such as noodles, tacos, pies and so on. This combination is crucial - A must be exotic but not too alien. B must be familiar yet exotic enough.
The AA repetition of ‘dan dan’ or ‘biang biang’ (also of noodle fame) is rooted in the charming idiosyncrasies of Chinese language, typically in informal speech, one of which is the pattern of adjectival reduplication. This repetition of single syllable adjectives is used to enhance its descriptive role, as in 今晚 的 月亮 圆 圆 的 - ‘the moon is round tonight’, in which the word for round (圆) is reduplicated to emphasise the moon’s very roundness. Reduplication is not just a technique of enhancement; it is also heard in use as a diminutive or to indicate smallness or less of something. Chinese nicknames and pet names often deploy this technique; in the way that English names might be informalised by adding -y to the end (James/Jimmy, Katherine/Katy), the Chinese form of hypocorism tends to be reduplication of the given name (see Chinese supermodel Sun Fei Fei 孙菲菲).
For the most part linguistic reduplication - whether intended as a form of enhancement or diminution - has the effect of softening and familiarising, almost a kind of cutesification. Arguably this softness translates across into English; the playfulness with which it hits the non-Chinese speaker’s ears signals that dan dan noodles are friendly, fun and non-threatening. Snackable sounding names are important when it comes to sell-ability: when I hear Kit Kat or Tim Tam, their hard consonants offer me a promise of the crunchy goodness to come. It’s part of the fun of biang biang noodles - not only do they taste great, but it’s fun to say and has an onomatopoeic origin story.
Like it or not, these single syllable romanised Chinese words lend themselves to puns, both clever and crude. How many ‘dim sum’ or ‘bao’ puns have you come across in food marketing? You dim sum you lose some… Take a bao… Thinking bao you… Although cringe-inducing, you cannot argue deny that it doesn’t work. Now exploring further afield in Asia, the popular Korean rice dish bibimbap has the same AAB pitter-patter to it, while Japanese shabu-shabu is just pure joy to verbalise. Meanwhile basic ingredients like udon, miso and tofu have a distinct absence of diphthongs that would otherwise require tongue-twisting dexterity - cf. Nunn’s previous comment about la mian not landing as well as ramen. I challenge anyone to make a workable pun out of tian shui mian.
You cannot argue with the democratising role that laminated menus with pictures of food items play. In today’s globalised dining scene, we forget that the average Chinese food consumer does not speak multiple languages and has not visited China, let alone Sichuan. We cannot expect everyone to know the subtle difference between gyoza and jiaozi - and let’s be honest, both look terrifying to pronounce. In the spirit of generosity we ought to permit them to call everything a dumpling. But I also have hopes that one day, we are as curious to eat the unpronounceable as we are to articulate it.
What are Dan Dan noodles made of. This scrumptious Sichuan speciality contains: A thick sauce made of Chinese sesame paste, chilli oil, ground Sichuan pepper, soy sauce, black rice vinegar, etc. It delivers a distinctive nutty, hot & numbing taste.What does dan dan noodles taste like? ›
Dan Dan Noodles are a spicy, savory, nutty flavor bomb, SO addicting, and easy to make at home! This Dan Dan Noodle recipe packs a fiery, nutty, aromatic punch you will CRAVE plus you can easily adjust the heat level to suit your own tastes.What is another name for dan dan noodles? ›
The name translates directly as "noodles carried on a pole", but may be better translated as "peddler's noodles". A variety of English spellings are used. The first word may be either dandan, dundun or tantan, and the last word may also be spelled mein (Cantonese pronunciation).Why is it called dan dan noodles? ›
Dan dan noodles started out as a street food in Sichuan. In its earliest form, it was carried by hawkers on a bamboo pole (dan), from which the name of the dish is derived. The pole was attached to two baskets, one holding the ingredients, the other holding the cookware.Do Dan Dan noodles have meat in them? ›
In Sichuan restaurants in China, the dan dan noodle dish is more of a snack than a main and is usually served in a small bowl. The noodles are mostly immersed in a thick red broth made with chili oil, with a small amount of pork on top. The dish can sometimes be more soupy and very spicy, but it depends on the chef.What is the best noodle brand in the world? ›
- Indomie Mi Goreng. At my Australian boarding school, these endlessly riffable Indonesian instant noodles were the ace card: they trumped all other food trades in the dormitory. ...
- Ichiran. ...
- Nongshim Shin Ramyun. ...
- Sapporo Ichiban. ...
- Nissin Demae. ...
- Maggi Asam Laksa.
After gobbling up half the dish, your tongue will go slightly numb and start to tingle a little, thanks to the hydroxy-alpha-sanshool molecule present in the Szechuan peppercorn.Do you eat Dan Dan Noodles hot or cold? ›
“Not only is [dan dan noodles] a hot dish, but the spice level helps to warm up your body. The spice for our chili oil comes from red Sichuan peppercorns and red pepper flakes.What does dandan mean in Chinese? ›
dàn dàn. faint dim dull insipid unenthusiastic indifferent.What is a dandan? ›
A dandan or dendan is a mythical sea creature that appears in volume 9 of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights).
|Meaning||English: "valley" Hebrew: "to judge" Japanese (檀): Euonymus hamiltonianus|
|Variant form(s)||English: Dann, Dane Chinese, Korean: Tan|
XF Diao Diao Noodle 西府调调面
Chewable Noodle topped with Stewed Beef, Stir Fried Tomato/Egg, Meat Sauce, Baby Bok Choy and Scallion.
Tan Tan Ramen is quite similar to the original Chinese Dan Dan Noodles in that both dishes are spicy and include toasted sesame paste, ground pork, blanched greens, and noodles. The key difference is that Dan Dan Noodles is a drier dish, involving a sauce rather than a soup broth.Are Dan Dan Noodles served cold? ›
Dan Dan Noodles are a quintessentially Sichuan dish that in simple, rustic and SPICY! Often served cold, these noodles are often served as a small snack because they're so fiery.What is Dan Dan in Chinese? ›
“Dan Dan” refers to the type of carrying pole that street vendors would use to sell the dishes to pedestrians. The pole was carried on the shoulders of the vendor with two baskets on either side, one carrying the noodles and the other with the sauce. The name translates to “noodles carried on a pole.”What is a DAN in Chinese? ›
Dan is the general name for female roles in Chinese opera, often referring to leading roles. They may be played by male or female actors. In the early years of Peking opera, all dan roles were played by men, but this practice is no longer common in any Chinese opera genre.Are Dan Dan Noodles Japanese? ›
Dan dan noodles, pronounced "tan tan men" in Japanese, are noodles topped with spicy, stir-fried ground meat. They can either be served in a rich soup, or dry as with this recipe.What is the mystery meat in cup noodles? ›
The firm confirmed the meat used is made from a combination of soy and minced pork. “Our mystery meat is a futuristic type of meat, a hybrid of flavoured soy-based meat and animal-based meat, combined with vegetables,” Nakai told us.
good news ~ leftover dan dan noodles reheat beautifully, right in the microwave. Noodles and pasta are notorious for not making good leftovers, but these Asian noodles are the exception.What is the most popular Chinese noodle? ›
Rice noodles are one of the most popular types of dish eaten for a typical Guilin breakfast, and you can find these noodles for sale on almost every street.
- Whole-wheat pasta. Whole-wheat pasta is an easy-to-find nutritious noodle that will bump up the nutrition of your pasta dish. ...
- Chickpea pasta. ...
- Veggie noodles. ...
- Red lentil pasta. ...
- Soba noodles. ...
- White pasta.
When you eat chillies, capsaicin induces a burning sensation known in Chinese as là. Sichuan peppercorns produce a phenomenon called paraesthesia, in which the lips and tongue feel as though they are vibrating and go vaguely numb – known as má.What ingredient makes tongue tingle? ›
A compound found in Sichuan peppercorns called hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, like capsaicin, binds to receptors in your tongue, convincing your brain of a “tingly” sensation.How do you make your tongue stop being numb? ›
For example, if you notice tingling or numbing of your tongue after eating certain foods, especially if you are allergic to pollen, avoid eating those fruits and vegetables raw. Cooking them, or even peeling them, can often reduce the reaction. Oral antihistamine medications can help too.How do you eat Dan Dan? ›
With the traditional method, we serve dan dan noodles with fried soy beans or peas. They present the highest level of crispness. Usually we fry a larger batch each time. You can simply mix the remaining with salt and sugar, serving just as a snack.Are Dan Dan noodles salty? ›
Dan Dan Noodles are a classic Sichuan street food made with ground pork and spicy chili oil. These noodles have the perfect balance of flavors and textures! I had my first taste of dan dan noodles many years ago at a trendy Sichuan restaurant in Philly. They were super spicy, salty, and crazy addictive.Are Dan Dan noodles an appetizer? ›
This recipes is part of Chinese Restaurant Appetizer Week Perhaps the biggest key to making excellent Dan Dan Noodles is to make your own roasted chili oil.Is Dandan a male or female name? ›
Dandan Girl's name meaning, origin, and popularity.Is Tan Tan the same as Dan Dan? ›
Tantanmen is the Japanese variation of sichuan noodles known as Tan Tan. It's also known as Dan Dan, which tends to be served with less broth than Tan Tan noodles. The noodles can be served dry (with no broth) or in a spicy, chili flavored broth that's made creamy with the addition of peanut butter and/or sesame paste.What language do the Dan people speak? ›
They speak the Dan language, a Southeast Mande language. The Dan are known for their art, especially their mask rituals (Ge or Gle), as well as their secret society, Gor. Gor (Dan for "leopard") is a peacemaking society, not to be confused with the brutal Ekpe (leopard) society of Nigeria.
Modern artists use the "scales of justice," a pagan symbol, to represent the Tribe of Dan due to Genesis 49:16 referencing Dan judging his people. However, more traditional artists use a snake to represent Dan, based on Genesis 49:17. The most famous Danite was Samson.What does Dan name mean in the Bible? ›
The text of the Torah explains that the name of Dan derives from dananni, meaning "he has judged me", in reference to Rachel's belief that she had gained a child as the result of a judgment from God.What is doo dee noodles? ›
Thin rice noodles with ground pork, fish balls, bean sprouts and crushed peanuts in a hot and sour broth. Bangkok Noodle - CLOSED. $$ 7022 B Commerce St, Springfield, VA 22150.What is drunken noodles called in Chinese? ›
Pad Kee Mao, also known by it's trade name Drunken Noodles, is a delicious, spicy stirfrty that generally includes red bellpepper, broccoli, Chinese kale and can often include other vegetables like snow peas, baby corn, and Thai basil.What is drunken noodle called? ›
Drunken Noodles is the literal translation of Pad Kee Mao because the theory is that these spicy Thai noodles should be eaten with an ice cold beer and that they are a great cure for hangover.What are the brown Chinese noodles called? ›
The noodles in a Chow Mein dish are fried on both sides until they turn brown, which is why the dish is popularly known as 'twice-browned” noodles. You can also have chow mein varieties that are steamed or crisp.How many carbs are in Dan Dan Noodles? ›
Size: 1 bowl (332g), Amount Per Serving: Calories 550, Total Fat 26g (33% DV), Sat. Fat 3g (15% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholest. 0mg (0% DV), Sodium 890mg (39% DV), Total Carb. 58g (21% DV), Fiber 4g (14% DV), Total Sugars 13g (Incl.
The typical ingredients used to make diablo sauce are serrano peppers, tomato, and chilli powder. Diablo sauce's characteristic flavour is a subtle smoky tomato that makes it easy to distinguish from other hot sauces, as well as that unquestionably spicy kick.Are PF Chang's dan dan noodles spicy? ›
While these P.F. Chang's Dan Dan Noodles are not truly that spicy they do have the slightest of kick to them and that comes from the chili paste. If you don't like spicy foods, leave the chili paste out entirely. The dish will still be super flavorful but it will remove any of the spicy aspect of it.Is diablo sauce discontinued? ›
Taco Bell Diablo Sauce 7.5 oz- (Discontinued/Read Description)
The hottest of Taco Bell's five hot sauces cranks up the heat meter with a special blend of peppers for true chili heads. Diablo Sauce was introduced on Cinco de Mayo in 2015 as a limited-time-only product and was soon discontinued.What is Taco Bell's diablo sauce made from? ›
Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Water, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Spices, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Natural Flavors, Onion Powder, Dehydrated Garlic, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Extractives of Paprika.How do you eat dan dan noodles? ›
With the traditional method, we serve dan dan noodles with fried soy beans or peas. They present the highest level of crispness. Usually we fry a larger batch each time. You can simply mix the remaining with salt and sugar, serving just as a snack.What does DĀN mean in Chinese? ›
dàn. dawn morning daybreak day dan, female roles in Chinese opera (traditionally played by specialized male actors) Example Usage Strokes. 但Are dan dan noodles eaten hot or cold? ›
Often served cold, these noodles are often served as a small snack because they're so fiery. Traditionally made with pork or ground beef, cooked with a delicious blend of sesame paste, chili oil, vinegar and Sichuan pepper, this dish is surprisingly great as a vegetarian dish!Why are Dan Dan Noodles numbing? ›
It packs an oily punch with dried red chiles, but is balanced with sesame paste and soy sauce. The addictive, lip-numbing zing comes from the piquant, floral Sichuan pepper, a member of the citrus family.Are Dan Dan Noodles salty? ›
Dan Dan Noodles are a classic Sichuan street food made with ground pork and spicy chili oil. These noodles have the perfect balance of flavors and textures! I had my first taste of dan dan noodles many years ago at a trendy Sichuan restaurant in Philly. They were super spicy, salty, and crazy addictive.What should I not get at PF Changs? ›
- Long Life Noodles and Prawns. P.F. Chang's. ...
- Hot and Sour Soup. P.F. Chang's. ...
- Thai Harvest Curry with Chicken. P.F. Chang's. ...
- Walnut Shrimp with Melon. P.F. Chang's. ...
- Crispy Green Beans. ...
- House-Made Pork Egg Rolls. ...
- Mandarin Crunch Salad. ...
- The Great Wall of Chocolate.
Szechuan style cold noodle (Vegan version) is known as Szechuan Liangmian. With a long history, it is been known as one of most famous Szechuan street snack. Generally, this can be known as a simplified and cold version of Dan Dan Noodles. However it will never disappoint you by the taste.