Sunday, 13 June 2010

Noms reprised.



Everything revolves around food and/or drink. Chatting over coffee in the morning, grabbing food to eat on the go, experimenting with tastes now that B is weaning, making lunches for Alfie, having a constant supply of snacks on hand for Alfie, browsing in Deli's writing about food, talking about food, planning and shopping for the goes on and on. I love it. I adore cooking, it warms the soul. Convinced I was a big Italian Nonna in a previous life, I am content when I feed people. Not in a creepy Channel Four kind of way...but in a nurturing and loving way. I thought I could cut and paste recipes in here either of things that we eat during the week or recipes I just fancy but on Googling a few recipes it seems that the act of passing on recipes or presenting them to people has a whole politic of its own. The bookshops are saturated with cook books. I can remember a time (adjusts housecoat and comfy slippers) when a serious cook only needed a copy of Elizabeth David's books, a copy of Larousse Gastronomic and one of the Leith's cookbooks as her arsenal. Now every Tom, Dick and Jamie bring out a cook book on the back of a TV programme and as much as I love reading and watching things about food, of late I have been avoiding these like the plaque. I am fed up of being told what to eat, how to eat it and I think I would  punch Gordon Ramsay in face if I ever met him on the street just for being an arsehole and generally offensive to my eyes.

This all started when I Googlised a recipe for Dan Dan Mian, a dish that we had in the week. I don't need the recipe as I make it using some kind of noodle making reflex that jerks various ingredients and spices and bungs it in a bowl at the end. I came across a cyber slanging match involving Jamie Oliver and some new book he's hawking regarding his travels across America. I thought to myself, well if a turkey twizzler makes him go pale, how would he survive in the South of America? So back to the argument...JO had apparently made and published a version of Dan Dan Mian on telly/in this book that ignored the tenants of good Dan Dan Mian etiquette. All of a sudden JO was no longer a sainted chef and several irate Chinese people wrote things that really shouldn't be repeated on this site. So should I beware of posting a recipe, could I be opening myself up to a torrent of abuse if I leave out an egg or fry my onions too long?

Not that I'm bothered but it does raise the point of posting recipes and how I want them to be received. The recipes that I post here, I have tried myself and probably changed. I try to present them in a do-able manner and aim to give hints and tips about the recipe probably geared towards busy people like myself or occasionally I tend to go the other way begging you to make your own stock because sticking a Knorr stock cube in would just make it taste shit (I also suspect that MPW is a big fat liar or his food tastes shitty, oh and P.S he is now the face of Bernard Matthews!). If you have any recipe secrets you wish to no longer be kept secret regarding a dish that I've posted or hints and tips on ingredients, such as sourcing or shortcuts by all means comment away.

Now to that controversial dish...

Dan Dan Mian.

I love Chinese cuisine. It started when I was 10 and my mother found a cookbook by a woman called Yan Kit So that sought to teach the Westerner how to cook Chinese food and properly. I've used the book so much that I've memorised the recipes (which are quite labour intensive and fiddly, let me tell you standing in the kitchen preparing 50 cloves of garlic into 'silken threads' isn't fun or clever...)

So here I present my version of Dan Dan Mian (Peddlers noodles). There are as I said several tenets of this dish, components that must be included to be an authentic dish. A dish from the Sichuan region, it requires sour elements (pickled vegetables) and spicy elements (toasted Sichuan peppercorns) and noodles. Dan Dan Noodles are named after the bamboo shoulder pole (dan) that the street vendors used to carry their stoves, noodles, and secret sauces. Given the history of the dish, I believe that there are elements that can be changed. The ya cai is perhaps the most intimidating ingredient in this recipe for Westerners. Asian grocery stores have shelves full of a dizzying array of pickled vegetables, and it's hard to know which kind is the right one to use. You can't go wrong with mustard greens. Look for air-tight sealed plastic bags of preserved mustard greens. These need to be chopped and then cooked before eating. Or you can get small jars of pickled chopped mustard greens, which are ready-to-eat and can even be served over plain rice as a snack if you're into that kind of thing. Failing this I have on occasion used chopped up cornichons. What matters is that you use pickled veg and this also meets the requirements. The recipe here calls for pork mince but I have made versions of this using beef mince (because it's cheap and there are only so many things you can do with a packet of mince), if you do this add some pepper and salt after the frying stage and if you wish, a little garlic and ginger. Another thing I've tried is adding 1 tbsp of tahini to the sauce to make it richer. So look upon the recipe below as a staring point and feel free to use and abuse it as you wish.

12 oz fresh Chinese noodles (or 8 oz dried)
1 Tbs peanut oil
4 Tbs Sichuanese ya cai (preserved vegetables. Look for preserved mustard leaves)
3 spring onions , green parts only (erm...there's a recession on, use the whole thing)
1/2 Tbs dark soy sauce
2 - 3 Tbs chilli oil or to taste (depends how hot you like it, add one at a time)
1.5 Tbs Chinkiang vinegar (or black Chinese vinegar)
1/2 - 1 Tbs Sichuan peppercorns
Pork Topping
a little peanut oil
500g minced pork (I used more and adjusted the soy sauce and wine accordingly)
1 tsp. Shaoxing rice wine (or med. dry sherry)
2 tsp. light soy sauce
  • Heat 1 Tbs of peanut oil in wok over high flame. Add the ya cai and stir-fry for about 20 seconds, until it is fragrant. Set aside. Add another Tbs of oil to wok and reheat, then add the pork and stir-fry. As the meat separates, splash in the wine. Add the soy sauce and salt to taste, and continue to stir-fry until the meat is well-cooked but not too dry. Remove from the wok and set aside.
  • Dry fry the peppercorns and grind using a mortar. 
  • Finely slice the scallions.
  • Put stir-fried ya cai and other sauce ingredients into a serving bowl and mix, add the pepper according to your taste.
  • Cook noodles according to the instructions on the package. Then drain and add them to the sauce. Sprinkle with the pork and serve immediately.
  • If serving from a big bowl, mix sauce and noodles and meat until evenly distributed. Otherwise, assemble each portion in individual serving bowls and allow people to mix their own.


  1. That looks very delicious!

    That's a great story on how you've memorized the recipes found in the book :) I'm still at a stage where I need to follow steps!

  2. Awesome! Out of curiosity, where do you get your Chinese ingredients from? Since I've moved up here from Brum I've really been missing a proper Chinatown where you can find almost any Chinese ingredient under the sun. For the moment I get my stuff from a Chinese place on Leith Walk, but I could do with something bigger with more range.


  3. I usually go to the big supermarket near the bottom of Leith Walk for certain bits and pieces. They have a good fresh section, stocking everything from Chinese shallots to frogs and snake.

    Unfortunately, we don't have anything near the size of the one in Birmingham or in such a concentrated area. Near the university there is another little shop (next to Live music, around from the Green Mantle). I usually end up in Asian grocers for the rest. xx

    @Rice Palette: Thanks, although I warn you it did take about a decade...

  4. brilliant, I didn't know that one, thanks! xx


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