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Jul 26, 2001 02:57 AM

Best Zha Jiang Mian?

  • m

Even though this has been an unusually cool summer, zha jiang mian tastes best this time of year. Inspired by Samo's impassioned plea on the LA board, please tell us who makes the best in the SF Bay Area.


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  1. I guess it depends on what type of zha jiang mien you are talking about, black sauce or red. I heard a lot of people like this place called "San Dong" (excuse the direct pinyin i don't remember the english name) restaurant on irving, there are two locations. One on 23rd and one on 11th. Most people i talk to prefers the chef at 11th street which serves the black sauce zha jiang mien. There are other places that offer the red sauce zha jiang mien that are good. For instance, the new hing lung on noriega has good red zha jiang mien. Other places i heard was good was little bei jing on noriega between 21st and 20th that also serve a nice black sauce zha jiang mien.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Mike Lee

      The house-made noodles at San Tung are good - slightly chewy and springy. I've eaten mostly (but not recently) at the Irving and 11th branch.

      There is a little known good cheap Szechuan place on Kirkham and 12th that has a fairly good version as well, although I prefer their excellent Szechuan-style liang2 mien4 (cold spicy noodles).

      Shanghai Restaurant on Judah and 9th also has a version, made with thin flat rice noodles, instead of the thick round wheat ones.

      1. re: Limster

        OK -- For those of us who don't know -- what is "zha jiang mian? -- and what's with all those other dishes with a few letters followed by numbers in Limster's posts? Please translate. Thanks.

        1. re: marcp

          Zha Jiang Mian is a noodle with a dark or red bean paste, along with a variety of ingredients, and topped with julienned vegetables, usually and mostly cucumber.

          The letters and numbers are in "pinyin" which is a system of romanizing Mandarin - check out Nancy Acton's post, where she suggested I try that for getting dishes across. The number refers to the level of intonation/inflection. I've translated all those into English in my posts - they are in parenthesis.

          Sorry about the language/translation, but it's the most accurate way to point to a dish, as there aren't standard translations for these dish names, sometimes we confuse one dish for another post-translation.

          1. re: marcp

            To add to Limster's comments, this dish will often be listed on menus as bean sauce noodles, meat sauce noodles, Chinese spaghetti, minced meat and bean paste noodles, etc. The confusing part is that another restaurant will use the same English translation for a dish that's completely different, so it's hard to know exactly what you're getting. In the summer time, I will usually ask that the noodles be served cold, topped with warm temperature sauce.

            I really appreciate the effort by Nancy and Limster to be specific, maybe this will help me pick up a little culinary Mandarin!

            For pronounciation help, here's a snippet from the 'net -

            "The main challenge is getting the tones right when ordering. For those familiar with pinyin, here we go: Zha2 Jiang4 Mian4. For others, try Zha with an ascending tone, Jiang and Mian with sharply descending tone. This is really tricky; personally, I’ve spent more time than I care to admit trying to communicate my desire for this dish. (I just started carrying the characters for this dish on a little card)."

            1. re: marcp

              To add to the previous replies from Limster and Melanie... as a child who grew up with Zha Jiang Mian.
              I'm a second generation Chinese who grew up in Korea and then St. Louis.
              Zha Jian Mian is a noodle dish from the ShanDong (Northern China just south of Beijing) where my family is from. As a side note, this region is close to the China Sea so many China emigrated to Korea. That is why you may find this dish in some Chinese/Korean Restaurant. This noodle dish is familiar to Koreans as this is a very popular noodle in Chinese restaurants in S. Korea.

              I have also seen this dish referred to as "Plum Sauce" noodles. The "Zha Jiang" refers to a paste made out of a type of fermented soybean. (As you know, there are hundreds of products made out of soybeans... Tofu, Soy Sauce, Miso, beanpaste to name a few).
              That Jiang (soybean paste) is sauteed (Zhia) with some onions, meat (beef or pork), zuchinni and some other vegetables I can't remember. Then that sauce tops the noodles (Mian). I can write several pages about the importance of the texture of the noodles but I won't bore you with that. Each region may have some variations to this basic recipe but I'm not biased when I say that Shandong makes the best noodles.

              Anyway, this is one of my favorite noodles and crave it alot... so I appreciate the previous postings that recommend places around the Bay Area. Unfortunately, I don't get home very often so I will definitely try some of those restaurants.

              Hope this helps,

              P.S. If you happen to get to St.Louis, you might try Mandarin House (my parent's restaurant). People come from miles for this noodle and it is very authentic!

              1. re: Anita

                Great info, Anita! Our local chowhounds had a group dinner at a local Shandong restaurant recently. I hope you'll join us next time. Please tell us more about this regional cuisine and feel free to share your noodle knowledge.

                Michael Yu has written some incredible posts about the style of Chinese food served in Korea. Those might be of particular interest to you, given your background. You can search for them from the Chowhound main page.

                1. re: Anita

                  > I'm not biased when I say that Shandong makes the best noodles.

                  I will whole-heartedly agree as this is a well-told fact in Chinese culinary culture. :)

                  > If you happen to get to St.Louis, you might try Mandarin House (my parent's restaurant). People come from miles for this noodle and it is very authentic!

                  OK, Anita, please post address/directions. I am going to be in St Louis for a friend's wedding this coming weekend! We will be staying at the Hilton Frontenac at 1335 South Lindbergh Blvd. Didn't think anyone would take up your offer so soon, did ya?! ;)

                  1. re: Nancy Acton

                    That's a lucky coincidence!

                    Anita, pls. post the details on Chowhound's Midwest board. I'm sure that the locals in STL will want to hear all about this. You can use the link below.


                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Thanks Melanie,
                      I will...

                    2. re: Nancy Acton

                      Hi Nancy,

                      Hope this is not getting to you too late. From the
                      Frontenac Hilton, take Hwy 40 East and then 170 North.
                      Then take the Page Exit. Make a left and you will
                      see "Overland Plaza". We are at the western side of
                      the shopping center near "Blockbuster Videos"... You
                      can't miss it. The phone number is 314-427-8070.
                      Ask for the Plum Sauce Noodles.
                      Or you should try the Soup Noodles with Sautee'd
                      shrimp and vegetables (Chow Ma Mien).
                      Hope you have a good time in St. Louis! Don't forget
                      to visit Ted Drewes for the best Frozen Custard.


              2. re: Mike Lee

                Mike, I'd thought I'd post a recipe to make it clearer to others what we're talking about.

                This is adapted from Pei Mei, who is/was the queen of TV cooking shows in Taiwan. Her romanization is Pei Fang Cha Chiang Mien and in English, Noodles with Minced Pork and Bean Sauce.

                10 oz. ground pork (or beef)
                6 oz. bok choy cabbage
                2 Tb. dried shrimp
                2 Tb. green peas (or diced green beans)
                8 Tb. peanut oil
                1 lb. fresh Chinese egg noodles
                1/2 c. soup stock
                1 Tb. salt
                3 Tb. soy bean paste
                2 Tb. dark soy sauce
                1/2 Tb. fresh ginger juice
                1/2 tsp. sugar
                1 tsp. pure sesame oil
                3 Tb. chopped green onions
                1/2 c. shredded cucumber (or combination with blanched bean sprouts, daikon, carrots, shredded omelet)

                Cut cabbage into 1/4" dice. Soak dried shrimp in warm water for 10 minutes, then chop finely.

                Combine the bean paste, soy sauce, sugar, ginger juice and seseame oil.

                Heat 5Tb. of oil in wok. Stir-fry pork and dried shrimp for 30 seconds, then add cabbage, peas, stock and salt. Cover and cook another minute over low heat. Remove from wok and set aside.

                Return wok to heat. Add remaining 3 Tb. oil to stir-fry the chopped green onion. After 10 seconds, add bean paste mixture. Stir-fry another 10 seconds, then add meat mixture. Cook over high heat for about a minute.

                Meanwhile, boil noodles until tender (less than 2 minutes for fresh noodles). Drain noodles, plunge in ice water, drain until ready to serve.

                To serve, apportion noodles in individual bowls. At the table, ladle a couple tablespoons of meat-bean sauce on top of each bowl and add some of shredded vegetables. Each diner will mix the sauce and noodles before eating.

                Serves 4.

                1. re: Mike Lee

                  Discovered this website not too long ago and been reading the restaurant and food tips and comments but didn't have a topic I could put my 2 cents into until now.
                  Just caught this thread on Zha Jiang Mian today. Hope it's not too late to suggest a place in SSF called New Mandarin Garden on 744 El Camino Real. Been there quite a few times and their Zha Jiang Mian has a really good beany flavor. It's different flavor from Shanghai Beach in the Ranch 99 shopping center which has a red sauce and peas/carrots???? vs. dark sauce at New Mandarin Garden. $5.95 per dish seems reasonable.
                  They got delicious little dragon buns and on the weekends, sweet soybean milk and the deep fried donuts are especially tasty. Got to dip the donut into the milk while it's hot to enjoy the flavor. Most of the good stuff is written in the Chinese menu. Oh by the way, there's a beef brisket type noodle soup on the Chinese menu (chern mei ngoh yuk mein) that's really got a good flavorful broth. Got a little spicy peppery kick to it but if you tell them they can tone it down a bit if you're sensitve to spice.

                  I've got to check out some of those other places you've been to. Shan Tung on Irving and 20 something has really good pork dumplings. Their version of chapchae noodles is very good also.

                  If you're into noodle soup, there's a place called New Hai Ky at 2191 Irving, cross street is I think 24th?? it's in that block where they sell the tapioca ball drinks. They should rename that street Tapioca Ball Row. Anyway, didn't mean to digress but that's a whole different thread. Their Chiu Chow noodle soup is pretty good.
                  The best one I've tasted is in Oakland, called Vien Hoang on 712 Franklin, cross street 7th or 8th. It's in the middle of the block. If you see a whole mass of humanity milling outside at 11:30am-1:30pm on any given day, you've found it. It's not Fifth Floor, but the Chiu Chow noodle soup is the tastiest I've ever had. Some people I've spoken to while sharing tables have come as far away as Lodi to get their weekly fix. But please don't let my own subjective taste buds overhype too much. The proof of the pudding is when you take that first sip of that broth with the noodles or ho fun and come back and tell me whether it was good or not. I prefer the ho fun (fat noodles) it seems to blend the taste of the broth better than the egg noodles or try it both ways and see how you like it.
                  Re: Stinky tofu, I know which place you're talking about on Jackson across from Great Star Theater. It's called Star Lunch or New Star. You can always tell when you're getting close, just follow the smell. It's the best I've tasted. By the way, they've got some really good Chinese beef stew.

                  1. re: AJ

                    Wow! That's a lot more than 2 cents worth, AJ.

                    I love beef brisket and beef tendon so have made a special note for NMG and the Chinatown lunch counter (if I can handle the smell).

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Nice to meet you all, Mel, Limster, you've all got great suggestions for different cuisines.

                      Here's a dime more.
                      New Mandarin has a lunch buffet Monday-Friday only. $5.75 now, use to be $5.25 but last time I went, about 6 months ago, they had a pretty good selection. They had this chinese fried chicken cut up in pieces that had really good flavor. It's more deep fried KFC type than traditional Ja Gee Gai. I kept going back for seconds and thirds and got my money's worth but you got to get it when it's out of the fryer. That and some other meat and vegetable dishes altogether comprising about 6+ dishes but I was always scoping out the kitchen to see when they brought out a new batch of chicken. It seemed to be the outstanding dish off the buffet but some of the other dishes were pretty tasty. They seem to be busy during lunch hour.

                      I've barely plumed the depths of their menu as I tend to stick to their specialties like their beef stew and Zha Jiang Mian. They don't use that star anise flavoring in their beef stew. I got adventurous one time and tried their tofu beef but it wasn't Cantonese style, more sweeter and they deep fry the tofu so it's got a chewy texture just FYI. After that I retreated back to familiar flavors. Everything else that I haven't mentioned, you're on your own.

                      Oh, one more dish that you might want to try is the vegetarian chicken. It's like that veggie duck but they call it veggie chicken or at least that's what it says in Chinese (So Guy). It's tightly wound bean curd and sliced like baloney resting on a bed of sliced tomatoes but the flavoring is from the specially blended soy sauce. More of an appetizer served cold. Without the sauce, you might as well be chewing on a Firestone. If you get a chance, check it out and let us know what you think of the flavor.

                    2. re: AJ

                      There were 2 new openings in that area recently. I've eaten at both but can't remember the names. The first is right next to Tian Tian (previously Just Like Home, a middle eastern place). This place is decent, but not exceptional, serves up a number of the usual Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. I got the 7 kinds of meat last week. It was interesting for the range of things, but the shrimp cake was the most memorable. The rice was advertised as broken rice, and had smaller (half-sized?) grains with a cous cous-like texture.

                      The other place is further down, near 25th on the south side of the street and is virtually identical to New Hy Kee as far as the menu and food go. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

                  2. I just read Samo's quest, and about his plea for good cong1 you2 bing3 (green onion pancakes). I will whisper very quietly, and only to those who recognize and appreciate good hearty Shanghainese food: the tiny Sweet Temptations on Balboa and 36th.

                    I was just there for the first time last week with friends. *If* (big IF) my schedule frees up, I might organize a trip there.

                    For those who can't wait, the xiao3 long2 bao1 (steamed dumplings in a basket) are the best I've had in SF. The cong1 you2 bing3 are very good, fragrant with lots of green onion. We've discussed typical Shanghainese dishes a couple of times here and on the general board - order them. Keywords: small plates, eel, lion's head, gluten, and bread (man2 tou2 and yin2 shi1 juan3 - steamed and fried). Good stuff on the walls - in Chinese, unfortunately. I haven't had them, but would also willingly bet that the guo1 tie4 (potstickers) will be good too.

                    If you don't know what to order, ask for the set menu on the wall - the choices are pretty good. Just please don't order basic Cantonese dishes there - you can get those dishes at most other good places in town that are not as small.

                    18 Replies
                    1. re: Limster

                      Your stage whisper caught my attention. (g) I hope our paths cross before your graduation if you're leaving The City.

                      Maybe you could clear up something that was puzzled over on the Manhattan board. There's a Shanghainese cold dish called something like kau fu on menus. The debate is whether it's gluten or soybased.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I wish I could help, but kau fu doesn't ring a bell, especially without the right intonatons.

                        1. re: Limster

                          I've figured it out from the romanization in a Taiwanese cook book. It's a Shanghai gluten dish. If you are familiar with it, maybe you could help us with the right tones. I'd like to be able to ask for it.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            To say it, think "Here comes" in Here Comes The Bride.
                            Kao means to roast, Fu means "wheat skin", although I'm not sure exactly how it's made.

                            1. re: HLing

                              When I was growing up in Salinas, we had some Cantonese instruction in the Gordon Lew (now retired prof. at City College of SF) method. Our Cantonese phrases each had a tune that was played at the piano to achieve the right intonation.

                              For Mandarin, we're trying to indicate which of the four tones for each word.

                              Gluten is derived from wheat. My dad described watching the old ladies do this when he was a child. The flour is rinsed with water until all the starch in gone and only the protein remains. Takes a huge amount of flour to make a small quantity of gluten. The gluten balls are deep-fried and then braised.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                "Kao" is the 3rd inflection, "Fu" is the first. In Mandarin, too, it's best to learn a phrase musically because the 3rd inflection changes to the 2nd inflection when it's followed by another word. If you say Kao-fu with pure inflection for each word separately, if would sound wrong because it would sound like you've inserted a word in the middle. Stick with the interval of the perfect 4th. Here comes the bride!

                                My mother has made the wheat gluton as you described it, but that is called "Mien Jin"(literally "wheat flour tendon"), or in Taiwanese "Mi Ti". Kao fu has a different texture, almost sea-sponge/coral-like, with tiny holes.

                                1. re: HLing

                                  "...because the 3rd inflection changes to the 2nd inflection when it's followed by another word..."

                                  Sorry, that was wrong. I should have said "Only the first part of the 3rd inflection is toned when it is followed by the first inflection".

                                  Still, go with ..yes...Here Comes the Bride.....

                                  1. re: HLing

                                    You've reminded me of one dinner in Taipei where we were squeezed into a table at a Taiwanese-cuisine place where everyone else was attending a wedding. Yes, the ceremony, not just the dinner. "Here Comes the Bride" was piped in, then a tape recording of firecrackers popping!

                                    But I'm still confused. If not kao3 fu1, then...?

                                    I think this has a rougher texture because it's deep-fried rather than boiled, braised, etc. That would swell up any air pockets in the interior.

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      That's funny, the firecracker recording....

                                      By the way, it is Kau3 fu1. Be confused no more.

                                    2. re: HLing

                                      I believe kao3 fu1 is a gluten product, not soy based. The holey spongey texture really allows it to soak in sauce and flavor. Yum.

                                      And apologies for this WAY off topic note, but... The 3rd to 2nd tone intonation change you mentioned occurs when two 3rd tone characters appear in a row, for example, shiao3 jie3 ("Miss" so and so) becomes shiao(2) jie3 when spoken. This is because it is too difficult to pronounce two 3rd tone sounds in succession. There is no such difficulty when going from 3rd to 1st tone (as in kao3 fu1). Examples: ma3 bien1 (horse whip), lao3 tien1 yieh2 (old man sky - "god"). Hence the 3rd tone is not changed.

                                      1. re: Nancy Acton

                                        You're absolutely right about the consecutive 3rd tones! I corrected myself but thought I had better not get into this whole pronunciation thing other than to just use a musical clue....but here goes:

                                        What I'm talking about has to do with the 3rd tone's "down-up" glide, just like its check mark symbol. (It's usually a major 2nd interval in musical terms). A word by itself, using your example, "lao3" from the phrase "lao3 tien1 yeh2" will have a gliding sound from low to high. When lao3 is used before tien1, lao3 doesn't travel up before the tien1 is said. The 2nd half of the 3rd tone is not sounded. You just go right to tien1, which will be higher than lao3. So, yes, the 3rd tone is abbreviated.

                                        It's all about tonal relations when speaking more than one word. Since that's usually the case in real life, it's easier sometimes to just get the interval down, and then look back to see what's been changed, rather than the other way around.

                                        Hope this makes sense.

                                2. re: HLing

                                  I'm not sure what the most orthodox way of writing kao fu is, but I think it's best written with a pair of unusual characters: the first combines the element (known as a radical) meaning wheat (mai4; xiao mai de mai) with the element meaning roast (kao3; kaoshi de kao); the second combines the same wheat element (on the left) with a character meaning man (zhangfu de fu). Even the Shanghainese I consulted are none too sure about this, I'm sorry to say.

                                  1. re: Samo

                                    I wonder how long it will be before this gets kicked off to the not about food site....

                                    Actually before I posted last time I also thought that "Kao" has a different left side as the conventional "huo"(fire) side, so I looked in the dictionary, but couln't find that word that you're describing. Now I'll need to go to a library to get a more comprehensive dictionary to find out the origin of this mystery word.

                                    As for "fu", it was in the dictionary. And I was thinking of the same character that you described. Although it is the character of "wheat" combined with "man", it might be using the "man" for its pronunciation, rather than for its meaning. The definition in the dictionary is, as I'd posted early, wheat skin. (Mai4 de. pi2 xie4; pi2 as in skin, xie4 as in crumbs)

                                    1. re: HLing

                                      Ok, now that we've got the right word (sort of) and pronounciation settled, where can we find this in the San Francisco Bay Area?

                                      Link below to description on Manhattan Board.


                          2. re: Limster

                            Ahhh... the sweet temptations. My friend lives right by this place and mentions really good stuff about it. But i never got a chance to go. Looking at previous threads, you seem to have went to many Shanghai restaurants. My personal preference for shanghai food is the Shang Hai beach at Ranch 99 at Daly City. This place is the only place i encountered that have Beggars Chicken, an ancient chinese dish that i always wanted to try when i was a kid. Although this chicken was not very traditional, it was still a joy to eat as for other dishes as well. And since you mentioned the ShangHai restaurant on 9th and Judah, i will use it as my comparison. I think Shang Hai beach offers more variety and it also wins my taste buds. I have been to 9th and Judah and consider it good but not as good as Shang Hai beach. One thing i do think 9th and Judah was better was the cheap set dinners they have to offer. Shang Hai beach has gone up in prices (but food stayed consistent and thats why i go back) which makes Shanghai restaurant a cheaper resort.

                            1. re: Mike Lee

                              I'm a big fan of Shanghainese food, but actually I've only been to 3 Shanghainese places in the city: Shanghai Restaurant, Chinese Harvest and Sweet Temptation. Haven't noticed that many. Shanghai 1930 is on my list, but haven't made it there because it's pricier.

                              Unfortunately I don't drive and so it's been hard to follow up on places outside the city, but I'll make a note of Shanghai Beach.

                              It's been a long time since I've had beggar's chicken (last in Singapore). I believe the original had the bird rolled up in mud before the baking process. Most places use a more hygienic clay these days.

                            2. re: Limster

                              Oh dear, I almost drooled on my keyboard reading your message. Good thing it's past 10pm else I might have gotten in my car and driven up to SF right now. ;)

                              1. re: Limster

                                man2 tou3 (or without tone)
                                yin2 si1 juan3
                                guo1 tie1

                                Sweet Temptations, nineteen short blocks from my pal Levon's new house, is a place I'll be visiting as soon as my sister's baby summons me north from Los Angeles. That neighborhood near the Balboa Theater has long had a number of Chinese restaurants, but this is the first one I've been tempted to descend on.