Few dishes can claim a greater status to street food royalty than Dan Dan Noodles. The words Dan Dan refers to the bamboo carrying pole street hawkers would wear around their shoulders. The visual of a hawker with a pole strapped across their shoulders balancing massive bowls are a quintessential element of Asia’s collective memory – for this recipe to be known as THE hawker noodles should be an impossible feat. Yet it’s incredible balance of flavors, textures, and colors has made it the ultimate street noodle in the imagination of a 4000 year old food culture. Dance with us in that thought for a while.
The anonymous nature of it’s humble origins make it hard to trace in official records. Legend has it that it was created by a hawker named Chen Babao in 1841 who migrated from his home village to the Sichuan city of Zigong for better opportunities. Witnessing dan-dan hawkers on his way, he decides to also sell noodles, using his best recipe.
In a true hawker fashion, the dish masters humble ingredients and creates luxurious flavors almost out of thin air. Homemade inflused oils and fatty sesame pastes are balanced with the acidic vinegars, and served atop perfectly hand-made springy noodles. As this is a hawker recipe, it is done by individual servings, which ensures each bowl has the correct amount of every flavor and spice.
The noodles are served “dry” without a soup, so hawkers could carry more servings on their shoulders at a time. The mountainous landscape of this area prevented a lot of fresh vegetables or livestock-rearing, which is reflected in the simple recipe. It’s likely that the recipe didn’t receive the mince-meat topping until it entered the wealthier region of Chengdu. Though there are endless variants of Dan Dan Noodles, we’ve created our own recipe that captures the true street-flavors in Chengdu – just like we enjoy on our Chengdu Food Tour. If you’re ever in town, check it out.
Many recipes online say that just about any wheat-based dried noodle will do. They’re lying, and they don’t care about you. Don’t bring spaghetti to a knife fight. In a dish as layered, nuanced, and close-to-the-heart as Dan Dan noodles, you can’t underscore such a central component of the dish. The texture of the noodles, the way it’s surface binds to the sauces, how it’s bite contrasts with the rest of the toppings – not something to mess about with. Everyone in their heart has a dish that needs to be done right, every single time. Make some room in there, because this is definitely one of them.
Our Dan Dan Noodle Recipe
Serves: 1 Bowl, Hawker Style.
Just like local restaurants in Chengdu, we always prepare bowls of noodles individually to ensure every serving has the correct amount of flavors and spices. If you’re making these noodles for more than one person, prepare the sauce in separate bowls for each person. Adjust the meat and noodle portions depending on how many bowls you are making. The recipe below is for each bowl, other than the chili oil which prepares a plentiful bowl of chili you’ll be able to keep in your refrigerator for weeks.
prep: 20 mins + cook: 20 mins
Items marked with a * are included in our Sichuan Recipe Box.
For the Chili Oil:
1 cup oil (we always use canola oil, and peanut oil also works very well)
2 thin slices of ginger, about a 1cm knob
1 spring onions
1/2 tsp whole sichuan peppercorn *
1 whole star anise *
1 small cinnamon stick *
1/3 cup chili powder/flakes *
1/3 Tbsp sesame seeds
1/3 tsp five spice powder *
For the Meat:
2 Tbsp oil
4 oz or 120g ground pork
1 tsp cooking wine
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp five spice powder *
For the sauce:
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame sauce *
2 tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp Sichuan peppercorn powder *
1 ½ Tbsp of your prepared chili oil (adjust the amount base on your spice level)
1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 cup hot cooking water from the noodles
For the Noodles & Veg:
175 grams dried white Dan Dan noodles *
1 small bunch leafy greens (spinach, bok choy, or choy sum)
2 Tbsp chopped peanuts
1 Tbsp chopped scallion for garnishing (optional)
1. To make the chili oil: In a small pot, add oil, ginger, spring onions, Sichuan peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and star anise. Over medium low heat, slowly fry until the ingredients turn from brown to black, and then turn off the heat. Remove all of the ingredients from the oil – the best way is to use a strainer while pouring the oil. Pour the oil on top of the chili powder, 5 spice powder and sesame seeds. Chili oil should be kept in a glass jar and leftovers can be refrigerated for weeks once cooled. It makes for a great dipping sauce for steamed veggies, or adding a kick to any fried rice or stir fry.
2. To make the meat mixture: In a wok, heat the oil over medium heat, and brown the ground pork. Add the cooking wine, dark soy sauce, and five spice powder, cook for 2 minutes, and then set aside.
3. To make the sauce: Mix together all the sauce ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning if you like. You can thin it with more hot water, add more Sichuan peppercorn powder, etc. Note that the meat is already seasoned as you make adjustments.
4. To prepare the noodles and veggies, boil the water first, add some oil and salt to the water to prevent sticking. Add dry noodles and veggies in the water over high heat. When the water reaches a boil again, add another cup of water to cool it off. Wait until the water reaches a boil again, turn off the heat, and drain the noodles and veggies.
5. Add the cooked noodles and veggies in the sauce bowl. Add the cooked pork over the top. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and scallions (optional, but highly recommended).
6. Mix everything together and enjoy!