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Dan Dan Noodles in J&L Food Court

a
Arete Dec 31, 2006 02:48 AM

If you've ever eaten street food in Chengdu, Szechuan, you will know what I'm talking about: those bowls of white noodles, innocently decorated on top with peanut powder, scallions, and the staple of Szechuan cuisine -- Szechuan peppercorn powder. Stirring it up a little with your chopsticks, however, reveals the firey red goodness hiding underneath the noodles, the addition of which completes the dish.

I am, of course, talking about dan dan noodles, perhaps the most famous of all Szechuan street food, and certainly the dish that convinced me, at first bite, that Szechuan cuisine is really that -- a cuisine, not just a regional style, and that Chengdu is a food lover's paradise.

Alas, my trip to Chengdu last year lasted a shabby 3 days, and included only 3 tastings of the heavenly noodle. I have been missing it ever since.

This afternoon, however, I had the good fortune of eating in the J&L Food Court, at 41-82 Main St., Flushing, and found the perfect bowl of dan dan noodles that tastes exactly like they make it in Chengdu.

I'll start with the noodles -- they were not too thick, about the thickness of the Lanzhou hand-drawn noodles I recently had at Super Taste (in Manhattan's Chinatown). I did not ask, but my guess is there were not hand-drawn, as they were less chewy than they were, how should I describe it, doughy/floury. By which I mean more like the Northerner's type of noodles, with that satisfying substantialness that warms a Northern girl's heart when you bite into it, despite the relative thinness of the noodles (I generally prefer thicker or wider flour noodles). They were perfectly cooked -- not undercooked but not overcooked and lifeless, as the noodles sometimes are at the otherwise decent King 5.

The noodles were topped with a mixture of what I believe to be peanut powder, Szechuan pepper power, and minced ya-cai (a kind of pickled vegetable that is very typical in Szechuan cuisine, often seen on the Szechuan string beans dish, if the place is authentic). They also threw in some spinach, which was blanched along with the noodles.

The bottom of the dish was spicy, but not overpoweringly so. And by that I don't mean it wasn't spicy -- I like spicy -- I mean that, when mixed together with the noodles and the toppings, you get a very balanced, very complex flavor in your mouth. Your tongue tingles, but does not burn. A fragrance covers your taste buds, and the textures -- the doughiness of the noodles, the chuckiness of the ya cai, the smoothiness of the red chili oil, and the almost undetectable graininess of the peanut powder -- work together like magic. One bite, and you think you've gone back to Chengdu.

The humble stall sells not just the famous dan dan noodles, but indeed most, if not all, of the Chengdu street food standards: fu qi fei pian (spicy beef organs), ma la niu jin (spicy beef tendons), ma la tu ding (spicy diced rabbit), suan la fen (hot and sour mung bean noodles), zhong shuei jiau (Zhong's spicy dumplings), long chau shou (Long's spicy wontons), etc. The stall also makes its own Szechuan-style sausages, 1 link for $3, which I plan to try on my next visit.

It may not have the ambience and cleanliness of Spicy and Tasty, but the food is darn good. I'd say the dan dan noodles is better than S&T, as I had recently sampled this dish at the much-adored establishment, and had felt impressed, but was not transported to Chengdu as I was today. I guess you have to have the crowded alleyway environment to replicate the pinnacle of street food.

Where to find it:
Szechuan Chengdu Xiao Chi
In the J&L food court (41-82 Main St., Flushing, between Sanford and Maple)
Go all the way to the back (just past the Muslim place to your left with the yellow sign), and it's where the alleyway turns left. If you find yourself at the hand-drawn noodle/lamb soup stall, you've gone too far.

There is, unfortunately, no English on the sign hanging over the stall, not much English spoken by proprietors, nor, at least while I was there, any non-Chinese people in the food court other than my eating companion, who was very conspicuously caucasian (which explains why the lady sitting next to us stared at the spicy noodles in front of him with surprised curiosity). To aid fellow chowhounds in stall-identification, here's a picture of the sign/menu hanging overhead:

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/139/339206207_df60f1ad30_b.jpg

And here are our best shots of the unforgettable dan dan noodles -- it was hard to stop eating and take any pictures, when such yumminess stares you in the face. As a result, the photo quality is not great... but leaves much to the imagination:

Noodles, before mixing:
http://farm1.static.flickr.com/144/339206216_4ec0ebc924_b.jpg

Noodles, mixed:
http://farm1.static.flickr.com/131/33...

  1. Joe MacBu Mar 23, 2007 07:24 AM

    Sietsama has an article out now on J & L. Due props given to chowhound.
    http://www.villagevoice.com/nyclife/0...

    2 Replies
    1. re: Joe MacBu
      Polecat Mar 23, 2007 12:31 PM

      Let's face it, it was only a matter of time. Congratulations to "Eade", who was given his due for this post: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/33964...
      P.

      1. re: Polecat
        Brian S Mar 24, 2007 09:22 AM

        Yes, quite a few reviewers get tips from Chowhound, but Mr Sietsema joins a very select and honorable club of reviewers who admitted in print that they found a place because of Chowhound. I just wish he'd post on the Outer Boroughs board the way he used to. (Just one example: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/236197 )

    2. spchang Feb 23, 2007 01:25 PM

      Went today to try the dan dan noodles. I ordered in Chinese and the lady asked me if I wanted it spicy. I said really spicy to which she asked if I could actually eat it. I said of course. It turned out to be very good, but not too spicy, with great sichuan peppercorn flavor and not overly greasy (not that I have anything wrong with that). When I paid she asked how it was, I said it was very tasty, but it could have been spicier. She kind of apologized and said she would make it hotter next time. So maybe she toned it down for me? Has anybody had stuff that was extra spicy here?

      4 Replies
      1. re: spchang
        Polecat Feb 23, 2007 01:27 PM

        I've posted about the hot and sour soup. If they toned it down, then I wouldn't survive the pumped up version. Plenty of heat for me. Then again, it's a matter of taste and tolerance. Some of us can breath more fire than others.
        P.

        1. re: spchang
          Dave_G Feb 23, 2007 07:01 PM

          I have a theory that Szechuan food here in the "authentic" places is served spicier than it typically is in Chengdu. I've only spent a few days there, but the food wasn't as firery there as I was expecting.

          The Dan Dan Noodles at J&L are not the hottest in town, but they're virtually identical to the version I had in Chengdu. If my theory is right, this may be the one cuisine that gets spicier outside the mother land.

          1. re: Dave_G
            l
            Lau Feb 24, 2007 07:21 PM

            not sure where you ate in chengdu, but the food there is generally much spicier (and much better!) than any of the places I've eaten at in the US

            1. re: Lau
              Dave_G Feb 24, 2007 09:23 PM

              Well, I ate at Zhong Shui Jiau which was excellent and not toned down for wai guo ren's. I was only there a few days but the food was wonderful, and spicy...just seemed a little more balanced, fragrant and had less of the lasting burn than most places here. And I agree that it's better than just about everything I've had here, but this stall is damn close.

        2. c
          cervisiam Feb 22, 2007 05:56 AM

          sorry, also ma po tofu

           
          1. c
            cervisiam Feb 22, 2007 05:55 AM

            some pictures of the food:
            1.cold dish assortment of tofu skin, cucumber, and bamboo skin.
            2.twice cooked pork
            3.mixed dan dan noodles

             
             
             
            1. m
              micheal Jan 29, 2007 08:17 PM

              I have the greatest admiration for the hardworking people and respect for their most difficult journey to get here and even after all that friendly but damn it the grease quotient is genuinely horrific for the DanDan noodles and the tofu-peanuts.
              Still, there was a couple sitting down enjoying a noodle dish that seemed light and not fatty at all but unfortunately I did not know what it was.
              My question: is the price of the Szechuan experience immense grease?
              Thank you.

              1 Reply
              1. re: micheal
                Dave_G Jan 29, 2007 10:16 PM

                A bowl of Dan Dan Noodles at this stall probably has about the same amount of oil as a typical side of french fries and imho is a much more rewarding experience. It's hard to add anything else to Arete's post except to say that I've been there (and by there I mean both J&L and Chengdu), and the Dan Dan noodles at J&L are exactly as I remember them -- delicious.

              2. l
                Lau Jan 29, 2007 04:52 PM

                wow i dont have much to add here other than this place sounds pretty damn good. I went to Chengdu once with a friend who had some relatives there, food is fricking awesome there...sounds like i'll be speeding up my next trip to flushing.

                1. e
                  ebauchoir Jan 29, 2007 12:07 PM

                  what's the closest subway station., please?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ebauchoir
                    squid kun Jan 29, 2007 01:44 PM

                    7 (or LIRR) to Flushing Main St. Walk south. J&L Mall is on the west side of Main between Sanford and Maple.

                  2. Polecat Jan 6, 2007 08:56 PM

                    Thanks again, Arete, for the recommendation. Finally tried the Dan Dan Noodles today, on my third trip to J&L in two weeks. I agree with you that they are excellent, though different in spiciness from those available at S&T. It is hard for me to compare.

                    Alas, the real thing, in Szechuan, awaits. Anyone got a free plane ticket?
                    P.

                    1. c
                      Chandavkl Dec 31, 2006 05:24 AM

                      Thanks for the report. The Flushing food courts are among the few places where you can actually forget that you're in the U.S. and feel you've been transported to Asia. The only other place I've gotten that feeling is in some of the Chinese malls in Richmond B.C.

                      1. a
                        Arete Dec 31, 2006 05:12 AM

                        Dan dan noodle is number 4 from the middle (fun, noodle, dumplings) column.

                        RE: the spicy noodles that Brian S. originally wrote about, it is #14 from the middle column. We actually ordered that too today. It was good, and every bit as spicy as Brian described it, but outdone by the dan dan noodles, IMHO. We were on a mission to eat as many different things in Flushing as humanly possible in one afternoon, and had to reserve space in our bellies for food at the next stall, and the next, and the next. The #14 (suan la fen, which literally means "sour and hot mung bean noodles") was good in its own right, but being we had already eaten at lot by then, we decided to finish the dan dan noodles and eat only half of the suan la fen. The dan dan noodles were dry (not soup) and had a more complex blend of flavors and textures. The suan la fen, on the other hand, was a noodle soup that was predominantly spicy, and not, as I had expected after having suan la fen on Ching Cheng Mountain near Chengdu, as sour as I had hoped.

                        Next time I want to try the duck. Never seen one quite like it....

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Arete
                          Polecat Dec 31, 2006 06:23 AM

                          thanks, all. anyone have an idea as to whether these guys might be around on new year's day?
                          i have a feeling they will be. P.

                        2. Polecat Dec 31, 2006 03:50 AM

                          Beautiful review, Arete. I can't wait to try them. Another poster, in Brian's above-link, photographed that very same stall and recommended a spicy noodle soup as well. Do you remember which number the Dan Dan is/was on the wall menu? If not, how would I ask for the dish in Chinese? P.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Polecat
                            squid kun Dec 31, 2006 05:46 AM

                            From the thread linked by Brian, here's my post with the (roughly) translated menus from Sichuan Chengdu and Yuan Ji, the hand-pulled noodle stall at the very back (lower in the same thread, you'll find the menu for the Guizhou noodle place on the right-hand side, before Sichuan Chengdu) ... http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                          2. Brian S Dec 31, 2006 03:01 AM

                            Thank you so much for this, and I hope you post more often. I love that food court. Let me link this to that other classic post on that court, for the benefit of future seekers.

                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/339644

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