It’s been raining and we haven’t eaten anything chilli-fied at home in ages. I thought it’s time to put the chilli hiatus on hiatus just for a day. Enter…Dan Dan Noodles!
Okay, let’s be honest. I didn’t know they were called Dan Dan Noodles until I googled “la mian spicy chilli oil, peanuts”. Years ago, when I had some spare time before teaching class in Toa Payoh, I’d look for something to eat at the Toa Payoh branch of Banquet food court. I spotted a stall where a Chinese guy (from China, not Singapore), was hand stretching noodles. I don’t often get the opportunity to eat hand stretched noodles, and up til then, I think the last time I did was in New Delhi as a 7 year old when a chef friend came round to my parents’ house to demonstrate the method to friends. Needless to say there was a lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing, and the images have stayed in my head til now. Anyway, back to Toa Payoh, I pointed to a picture of what I wanted as the man didn’t speak any English and I don’t speak Mandarin and what I got was a massive bowl of noodles in soup that had a huge layer of chilli oil on its surface, sprinkled with more chilli, fried anchovies, and fried peanuts. I usually like to sit outdoors to eat so I don’t end up smelling of foodcourt myself, but I regretted it that day; I was sweating bullets like crazy!
Very soon after my wonderful discovery of these wonderful noodles that I’d never eaten, I walked up to the foodcourt only to discover that it was under renovation. Devastation. But after a long wait, when the renovations were finished, I went there only to find now that the stall holders had changed, it was now a KopiTiam not Banquet, and there was no clue as to where the La Mian stall had disappeared to. Deep Devastation. Since then, I’ve not had these hot, soupy noodles again, but it’s been, literally, burned into my memory.
Recently, I was day dreaming (again) about that dish, and decided, I should see if it’s doable at home, and hence the googling of “la mian spicy chilli oil peanuts” and after some reading, I realised that what I’d eaten was a variation of Dan Dan Noodles. Even when Jamie Oliver came out with his American tour cookbook that featured dan dan noodles in it, it didn’t click, because it looked nothing like what I’d eaten. I mean, yellow noodles??
Technically speaking, what I ate, which was very soupy, is not Dan Dan Noodles either, because Dan Dan Noodles aren’t soupy, it’s more of a sauce that sits at the bottom of the bowl underneath the noodles and gets mixed up just before devouring everything. But what’s important I think are the flavour combinations. I think, either way, one could enjoy the sauce version and adapt it just as well into the soupy version.
I read quite a number of recipes, more than I can remember for me to tell you, but I mainly gleaned information from Serious Eats on Sichuan food (I need to try the mapo tofu and the long bean dish, it looks too good), and vegan dan dan noodles. Then I found it on Food52, which is really this recipe on Lady and Pups (I love her anger) and truth be told, in terms of how her dish looks, it’s the most similar to that Toa Payoh one I had years ago. And, finally this recipe from Yi Reservation.
I liked the suggested flavours of Lady and Pup’s recipe but wasn’t entirely sure of cooking the mince in the sauce as I was really looking for something a bit more caramelised. I liked the simplicity of the recipe in Yi reservation and that the meat was separate from the sauce, as well as the fact that there was preserved vegetable in it, too, not sure why, but I liked that. Apart from that and one having douban chilli bean paste and the other not, the two recipes didn’t differ much. Still I couldn’t decide and I went out and bought chilli bean paste, real chilli oil with all the chunks in it, and the preserved vegetable, just in case I decided to put EVERYTHING in at the same time.
In typical fashion, I forgot to add in the douban. Next time I will add everything in.
(As I made this dish, I realised how similar it is to another noodle dish I often do when I’m lazy, because it’s so quick and easy. A recipe I got off a friend and a neighbour, as I was moaning about what to cook for dinner. I should make a post on that too, and confirm if that recipe is Teochew, or Hakka…?)