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Oct 17, 2006 09:45 PM

Fuchsia Dunlop's 2 versions of Dan Dan Noodles

I just made F. Dunlop's Traditional Dan Dan Noodles. I was hoping for a taste similar to the old Sam Lok restaurant in San Francisco's downtown chinatown. Instead, it was quite different. And, even though I reduced the soy sauce by about 1/2, it was too salty. What has been your experience?

Fuschia offers a second Dan Dan Noodle recipe, called Xie Laoban's Dan Dan Noodles. The recipe calls for ground beef, instead of ground pork. Is this correct?

Do chowhounds prefer one Dan Dan Noodle version over the other?

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  1. I have been trying the EXACT same thing! I've been trying to replicate Sam Lok's dan dan noodles with those two recipes in Land of Plenty.

    Sam Lok's is heavier on both the sesame paste and the chili oil than either of Dunlop's recipes. Also, I think Sam Lok puts a lot of cilantro in the ground pork, which Dunlop doesn't. I haven't gotten it close by any means, either, but I haven't been back to Sam Lok since I started to try to make it at home. We should join forces!

    1. Have you tried using light soy sauce? (the one with the green cap) Just as much flavor with less saltiness.
      Mrs Chiang, who I idolize, uses 2T soy sauce per serving, plus Szechuan and red peppers, and massive amounts of garlic for her dan dan noodles

      1. I've made both recipes from Dunlap's cookbook, and found that both were delicious...but I do use low-sodium soy. Interesting that you should mention dan-dan noodles; I recently had dan-dan at Grand Sichuan International on 9th Avenue in Manhattan, and the dish was nothing more than noodles afloat in chili disappointing! Can you describe the Sam Lok noodles to me? There are no chinese restos offering dan-dan noodles in my corner of the deeper-than-deep south.

        16 Replies
        1. re: Hungry Celeste

          elise h, Melanie Wong, and I dissected the dan dan mien yesterday at Sam Lok (a.k.a. Z&Y, 655 Jackson near Kearny in SF).

          First, the description. There is a deep pool of chili oil at the bottom of the bowl. On top of the thick noodles is a schmear of thick dark Chinese sesame paste. On top of that is a pile of ground pork cooked with Szechuan pepper and what we thought were fermented soybeans. On top of all that are finely chopped preserved yellow vegetable, peanuts, and scallon greens.

          Relating this to the recipes in Dunlop's book:

          1. Fuchsia Dunlop has one beef version and one pork version.

          2. There is no cilantro, contrary to my earlier hunch.

          3. Fuchsia Dunlop neglects to mention that Tianjin picked vegetable in the earthenware pot needs to be rinsed to get all the salt off. We surmised that that omitted instruction contribued to elise h's salty at-home rendition. The vegetable the Sam Lok version was not salty.

          4. No traces of ginger or garlic, neither of which Dunlop uses, either. But the fermented beans in the meat aren't part of either of Dunlop's recipes.

          5. Sam Lok uses much more chili oil and ground Szechuan pepper than either of Dunlop's recipes.

          So much for the research. We tossed it all together, which was a many-minutes gentle activity, given the thick sesame paste and my fear of getting chili oil all over my shirt. The noodles were slick from all the chili oil, a bit creamy from the sesame paste, gritty from the vegetable, peanuts, and ground pepper, and nubbly from the ground pork. Consensus was that it was very good, though perhaps too much sesame paste.

          In previous visits, I've had it with even more sesame paste and much less chili oil, which I've liked much less. Too much sesame paste quickly overwhelms the taste and the texture. I think Melanie pointed out that the Taiwanese version of dan dan mien doesn't use sesame paste, which is a key difference from Sam Lok's Szechuan version.

          I'm going back today for more.

          1. re: david kaplan

            elise bought some sesame paste yesterday with me in Chinatown, maybe the next iteration will be out soon.

            Correction - Taiwanese interpretation's of dan dan mian use lots of sesame paste and/or peanuts.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Thanks for the correction. Would you say that Sam Lok's amount of sesame paste is typical for Taiwanese interpretations, or are Taiwanese interpretations even more sesame-y than Sam Lok's?

              Sam Lok's, btw, was more sesame-y than one of Fuchsia Dunlop's versions; her other version omits sesame paste altogether.

              1. re: david kaplan

                Thanks to you all for such a detailed description! Now I'm looking forward to another try at the recipes.

                1. re: david kaplan

                  Sam Lok/Z & Y uses more sesame paste now (as in any) than I'd expect from a Sichuan-Sichuan place and less than a Taiwanese-Sichuan place. Here are some older threads with descriptions of how dan dan mian is presented in different areas.

                  We should go to New China Delight in Mountain View...

                2. re: Melanie Wong

                  This thread of posts is fabulous. To me it's better than a Dick Francis mystery (but not a Tony Hillerman). There's good sleuthing, bum leads, clues, and, we hope, at the end the solving of the Mystery of the Dan Dan Noodles!

                  I love these descriptions of what's missing and what shouldn't be in the dish. Thank you guys.

                3. re: david kaplan

                  I make both of F.D.'s recipes, like em both a lot. I always rince the Tianjin picked vegetable in all recipes where I use it and increase the sichuan pepper to at least double what is called for in the recipe. I find that the amout of sichuan pepper called for in cookbooks is never enough to get the numbing taste, I suspect because of the USDA required heat treatment. I also increase the amounts of dried red pepper and home made chili oil cause I like an extreme burn!

                  The only recipe that I have not found to be excellent in F.D.'s first book is the one for 'Boiled Beef Slices In a Fiery Sauce' on pages 226-228 of the American edition, which ends up with a tasty brown sauce but I was looking more for the water boiled beef and/or fish that I eat in local sichuan restaurants. If anyone has a better recipe for 'water boiled ______' fill in the protein of choice; I'd be grateful!

                  1. re: sel

                    I found that using significantly less corn starch than the recipe calls for resulted in the consistency I was expecting in the Boiled Beef Slices in Fiery Sauce. Probably half of what is called for. Good chicken broth/stock is essential, too.

                  2. re: david kaplan

                    In the pantry section of Revolutionary Chinese where she discusses the Tianjin pickled vegetable in the earthenware pot, F.D. says that you need to rinse it. I wonder if she says the same in the pantry section of Land of Plenty, too? Still, it would be nice to have a reminder to rinse the Tianjin pickled vegetables in the recipe itself.


                    1. re: david kaplan

                      The Boston-area (and highly excellent) mini-chain Lao Sichuan claims to use Yibin preserved vegetable (also known as ya cai, 芽菜) in their dan dan noodles, cooked with the ground pork. I',m surprised Dunlop's recipes don't include it, because she claims it's "a vital ingredient in dishes like dry-fried green beans 干煸四季豆 , dan dan noodles 担担面 and dry-braised fish 干烧鲜鱼."



                      1. re: KWagle

                        Are you looking at an internet recipe? Because the recipe in her book does call for 4 tablespoons of ya cai. She mentions "The City of Yinbin is one famous producer; another prized variety is made in Nanxi", but that Tianjin preserved vegetables "is an acceptable substitute". Traditional Dan Dan Noodles/dan dan mian on page 87 in "Land of Plenty". Recipe link:

                        I make both versions quite often ever since her books were COTM:
                        DUNLOP March Cookbooks of Month: Noodles, Dumplings and Rice

                        1. re: Rubee

                          Ah, thanks for the correction. I didn't check the book, I just read the thread, which seemed to imply she called for the Tianjin vegetable.

                          1. re: KWagle

                            I think she may recognize that the ya chai is sometimes difficult to come by and offers tian jin preserved vegetable as an alternative.



                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              For what it's worth, I don't think Tianjin preserved vegetable and ya cai are all that similar. The former is a pungent, salty pickle; the latter is dried and earthy. In my experience, they yield very different results in dan dan noodles. Tianijin preserved vegetable is much stronger and has a greater presence in the finished dish. While it may be inauthentic, it's by no means inferior. If you do use Tianjin preserved vegetables, it's very important to soak it to remove salt.

                              1. re: AlkieGourmand

                                I learned that "soaking it to remove the salt" lesson the hard way, alas. Thanks for the info! Very helpful!


                        2. re: KWagle

                          'preserved vegetable' can be confusing. Looks like this Yibin version is a green. Is it hot? Tianjin version is a garlicky sauerkraut. And a canned 'Szechuen Preserved Vegetable' has been available for years. This is a hot spiced tuber.

                    2. Sam Lok, aka Z & Y in San Francisco, has cilantro leaves as garnish, which adds nicely to the taste. Thanks for the deconstruction, guys! This is making me hungry.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: crowsonguy

                        Here's a link to the lunch post on the SF Bay Area board.

                      2. I just finished making the second of the two Fuchsia Dunlop Dan Dan Noodles recipes, for the second time. The first recipe is inadmissable in our household, because it doesn't contain peanut or sesame. I'll have to try it out when my wife is on vacation.

                        I do love this second ("Xie Laoban's Dan Dan Noodles") recipe from the Dunlop book (British Edition, if that matters). However, I love it even more with some changes from the first time I made it. Here's what I did:

                        - I used 1 lb of fresh egg noodles in place of the 300g dried flour-only noodles specified in the recipe, and a 1 1/2 times recipe of sauce and meat. I did not use salt in the noodle cooking water.

                        - I used fresh-roasted and ground Sichuan Pepper in the meat mixture in place of the specified whole peppers. When I used the whole peppers the last time, I wasn't too pleased with the crunchy whole peppers in the final result. With the peppers being ground, I was careful to not heat the oil too much before adding the spices, and I was also more restrained with the heat to the beef (I used flank steak, which I would definitely recommend), so that it would be more juicy then crisp.

                        - I added 1 tsp of sugar to 1 sauce mixture recipe. This made the sauce seem less salty, and really brought out the sesame flavor. I'm somewhat surprised that the original recipe has no sugar; I'm so used to there being some sugar in a recipe like this, to liven flavors, and that's exactly the effect it had when I added it.

                        I did not find the final result too salty. Sichuan recipes' saltiness can really be affected by what brand of ingredients you choose. I used:

                        - Pearl River Bridge light and dark soy sauces
                        - Lian How brand Sesame paste

                        Lian How is a brand I almost always prefer when there's a choice. It's possible that it's significantly less salty than other sesame pastes, I don't know.

                        I have not eaten at Sam Lok. It sounds as though I need to remedy that. I've had a number of different restaurant renditions of Dan Dan Noodles, but my archetypal favorite is the version served at Szechuan Chonquing restaurant in Vancouver, BC. It's actually a soup noodles dish with an optional pork topping, but as you eat, the noodles soak up the soup and turn it into a thickish sauce. I like to use fried bread to soak up the extra sauce.

                        The Dunlop second recipe doesn't really resemble the Szechuan Chonquing version...except that there is a sort of spiritual resemblence in the richness, piquancy, savoriness of the two dishes.

                        So while I've made versions that seemed to come closer in flavor (Kenneth Lo's, IIRC) to the Vancouver noodles, Fuchsia Dunlop's is nevertheless my preferred Dan Dan Noodles for making at home.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: SoupNoodles

                          Good point about the ingredients. I think you really need to take Ms. Dunlop's recipes with a grain of salt (no pun intended). She doesn't explain, for example, that you need to soak Tianjin preserved vegetable before using them. If you don't do this and you follow her recipe, I think the dish will be oversalty regardless of what soy sauces you use.

                          More generally, it's important to taste as you go.

                          1. re: AlkieGourmand

                            I think Dunlop mentions the soaking of the Tianjin preserved vegetable in the ingredient/glossary section, rather than in the recipe itself. As I mentioned above, I learned this the hard way...