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Jun 7, 2008 11:36 PM

Chengdu: Bedspread noodles and Buckwheat noodles

Near the Fortune Centre just south of the Chunxi Rd area is a little place selling noodles that are a specialty of the Chongzhou region of Sichuan (near Chongqing, I think.) I went to check them out today because I love the Japanese and Korean versions of cold buckwheat noodles (cold soba and nang myun) and wanted to try the Chinese version. The buckwheat noodle machine was really interesting to watch; they would put a cylinder of brownish dough into a press and extrude the noodles into a big vat of water underneath. The cold buckwheat noodles (liang qiao mian) had the same seasoning as you normally put on liang mian and liang fen (cold noodles, cold bean starch noodles) but also had some chunks of beef.

They were pretty good but most people were getting the bedspread noodles (pu gai mian) - a flat, wide sheet of noodle dough in broth with yellow peas and various other toppings. I adore pu gai mian but have other favourite places to eat it.

Caveat, place is a little grubby even by Chinese standards. It's right across the road from the Fortune Centre KFC.

Shop name: Chongzhou qiao mian pu gai mian
The cold buckwheat noodles, after being stirred up.

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  1. Marvellous! I LOVE it when I do research on some obscure item and my investigations take me right back to CH! There's a local (Chicago) Asian store with a huge range of Szechuanese products that I have been exploring: "strange-flavor" broad beans (horse beans) to snack on, dried hunks of sponge-like cakes (mo yu) which turned out after research to be dried (wild) konnyaku, dried Dictyophora which is one of the most beloved of all Yunnanese/Szechuanese mushrooms and which I fell in love with while exploring the great mushroom hot pot restaurants in Kunming (I still owe this board an account of that trip!), gorgeous jelly-like black/brown noodles made from what turned out to be brake/fern roots (jue gen fen), all kinds of fermented beans and packaged pastes. Just an hour ago, I was cooking up some noodles that I just got called qiao mai (mai = meal, flour, wheat) fen. My Chinese dictionary gave only a general (and to me useless) description for qiao, a word I didn't know: "this is an annual (yi nian seng de etc), with white flowers, black seeds etc" I thought that it was fantastic stuff; rather soba-like (and this coonection is confirmed here with your ID of qiao = buckwheat), not as earthy as the juegenfen but with its own characteristic flavor; the noodles clumped up after the cooking water is drained, but the worm-like strands stayed separate and was never too starchy and "carried" or "took" my condiments (a simple stir-fry) very well; above all there is that wonderful texture-which is chewy and tender at the same time. Long live buckwheat noodles!

    Wow! Could you say something more about the noodle-making process? And also what is pu gai mian: is it also made from buckwheat? From the sounds of it (wide sheet) it sounds a little bit like the northern Chinese ta la p'i (big pull skin/sheet) that I once wrote about. But you say that this one is "in broth"...


    20 Replies
    1. re: RST

      I just took a good look at your photos. On the sign, there are smaller characters under the words Chongzhou Qiaomian: mi hsian and fen and mian ley. Are these the distinct forms of buckwheat noodles available or do they indicate that you could have the regular types of noodles (i.e. mi hsian and fen) as well?

      1. re: RST

        RST, doesn't 'mian lei' just mean something like 'various types of noodles' [served here]?

        1. re: foodfirst

          That was my reading. Including rice noodles and starch noodles (which are definitely distinct from buckwheat noodles.

      2. re: RST

        I did a blog post on pu gai mian here, with a picture:


        I didn't manage to get a picture of the machine while noodle making was in progress, but a quick search found this one:


        1. re: pepper_mil

          Wow! That's an amazing looking machine! I also note that the noodles made by it seem to be finer (thinner) and lighter in color than the ones in your shop, which look more like soba as we know it. The (dried) ones I had were also this thin (like thin wire) and the color of cafe au lait and they sorta curl at the end (like the this pic). Which was why I couldn't be sure at first if it was indeed buckwheat. The package of my noodles didn't mention any other ingredient except buckwheat-so I don't know if and how added gluten (normally, in the form of wheat flour) has affected it. I agree with Xiao Yang above re the words under the main sign: I also think that they refer to "other" types of available noodles. But is there such as thing as buckwheat noodles in a hsian (fine threads) form in addition to the fen form? I imagine that would be impossible given the nature of buckwheat.

          1. re: RST

            Hey pepper mil,
            From your blog it seems like you still live in Chengdu. If so, pls keep an eye out for jue gen fen (brake root noodles) for me. I want to know if there are specialists in town who serve only this or if this can commonly be found in noodle shops and/or as an option for hotpot. I have been experimenting with two kinds available here at the supermarket: one is described as jue gen fen p'i (English: sheet jelly) and has potato starch in it; the second type is (apparently) pure jue gen (it's just fen). I'm still unclear on the diff bet fen p'i and fen (the way it is used from region to region, I don't think there is a real difference) since these two kinds are about the same size-both long flat dried noodles (like the Vietnamese noodles marked with the Chinese words sa/sand, he/river, fen) a little bit less than 1/2 inch wide. The kind with potato starch is a very light translucent brown and is very delicious when cooked. The kind that is pure jue gen is spectacular! Absolutely breathtaking stuff! The noodles curl up a bit from side to side into a roll (like a cassia bark). Uncooked, it's a shiny black/brown on one side and purplish/blue/black on the other. Once cooked, it becomes a very sexy slinky dark blackish-brown. In fact, it looks like and has something of the texture of mu er (wood ear). It's very delicious, ever so slightly earthy, and I can imagine it used in a number of typical Szechuanese noodle preparations. I could find absolutely nothing on item. A Google search for "jue gen fen" takes me in a loop back to this very thread + to a Japanese blog which doesn't say much and to the ff post from some French guy in Beijing (who doesn't understand what it is exactly he is eating):


            There is a reference to it in Fuchsia Dunlop but she just mentions it and doesn't say much. Fuchsia's is a great great book, I have been studying it and have been amazed again and again at how rich and thorough she is (she doesn't mention qiao fen though). Incidentally, foodfirst's review of her new book will be coming out soon in a major food magazine. Watch out for it!


            1. re: RST

              Hi, I haven't cooked or eaten them but we definitely have them here. Saw the flat kind in a package labelled tiao (strips) not pi (skin?) today. The package said you could use them in hot pot but I don't know that much about them. Since you seem to be able to read Chinese it might be better to do your research in characters and use Baidu, rather than pinyin and Google.

              As for the buckwheat noodles, the ones pictured are raw noodles coming out of the press, not cooked ones - that explains the difference in colour and likely also size.

              1. re: pepper_mil

                I can read Chinese, but don't know how to type characters on a keyboard, and don't really even have access to a Chinese keyboard even when using the Chicago Public Lib computers which seem to be Chinese-enabled.

                Do continue to keep an eye out for them. I don't need an answer right away-that's what the website is for-to be there when an answer is finally ready three years down the road. I'll be watching for it. Things take time-many of the cuisines and unique food items and small businesses/storefronts that I advocated and/or fought for five, six years ago on the Chicago Board and elsewhere are just now barely coming into the consciousness of the Chicago public. I'm in no hurry.


                1. re: RST

                  If you use Baidu as a search engine and type a pinyin phrase in the search box, baidu will interpret it (showing you the chinese characters at the top) and give results in Chinese characters.

                2. re: pepper_mil

                  Oh hey - yes, these tiao are exactly the noodles that we had in hotpot in Chengdu in 1991! I've never forgotten their magnificent texture, but at the time (and until this moment, reading pepper mil's reply above) I had absolutely no idea what they were.

                3. re: RST

                  Erm, thanks for the props RST but Gastronomica is a bit esoteric of a publication to be calling 'major'. At any rate I'm glad to have the excuse to reread Dunlop 3 or 4 more times.

                  Juegenfen then is bracken root starch, right? Is it the same thing then as just juefen, the latter a shortened name for the former? My Food Plants of China specifically identifies the fern: eagle fern.

                  1. re: foodfirst

                    I am not really sure which species of fern it is exactly. I have been wondering if it might be the same bracken/brake that the Koreans call namul and which could be found in many Korean restaurants (sometimes as one of the panchan items) here in Chicago.

                    1. re: foodfirst

                      Gastronomica may not be major, but it's important. And expenpensive!

                      1. re: Xiao Yang

                        Yeah, don't dis Gastronomica! ;0)

                        Sorry if the above was a little unclear: what I was wondering about of course was whether namul and jue are the same tspecies of fern. Namul is the fiddlehead of course, while it is the root (rootstarch) that is eaten in the case of the jue.

                        I <heart> Fuchsia Dunlop

                    2. re: RST

                      I have a bag of the fern brake noodles and in all the web, in the 4 years since your post, there are still no references except the ones you mentioned. Do you have any recipes you could share?

                      1. re: jill20

                        Wow! I love it when an old thread like this gets resurrected. A friend alerted me to your query a few days ago. Knowing I would be dining in a few days with a big group at one of our top-notch Sichuanese restaurants, I waited till after that dinner (which took place last night) to reply. I have been using this noodle over the years in all the standard Sichuanese cold noodle (liang mian 凉麵) preparations but wanted to see what the chef would do with it. I picked up a couple of bags of juegenfen 蕨根粉 from the store in Chinatown on my way to the restaurant, handed it to the chef and asked him to prepare it for us. I was not surprised that he sent out one of the simplest, most classic and most beloved of Sichuanese xiao chi 小吃 cold noodle (buckwheat noodle or brake fern root noodle) in a dressing (or "broth" if you wish) of soy, black vinegar, sesame oil, red chile. A picture of a bag of these noodles and what was left of the bowl of noodles after everyone at the table had helped himself is attached. There are hundreds of variations to the dressing recipe; I'm sure that you have your own
                        preferred recipe. I personally would probably add just slightly under double the amount of soy sauce to black vinegar, add some chicken broth or water to dilute (optional), add a pinch of sugar (optional) to balance intensity of black vinegar, add some fragrant sesame oil, a dollop of chile paste or chile oil, as much crushed Sichuan peppercorn (or powder) as you can handle, mix, toss with cooked noodles, garnish with a fine julienne of red pepper, cucumber, cilantro. To this
                        basic recipe, you can add perhaps a smidgen of garlic paste, or ginger, or sesame paste, play with different proportions of light to dark soy. Variant toppings could include a few slced pickled vegetables, or a few wired baby bok choy

                        1. re: jill20

                          Arrrrgh. The website jumped on me and posted before I could finish.

                          Correction: a few "wilted" (not "wired"; idiot iPhone) baby bok Chou, chicken slivers.

                          Anyway. That's a start. There are many other possibilities. I could look up my Sichuan Minjian Xiaochi Daguan (Great Compendium of Sichuanese Popular Snacks) by Mr. Peng Peng 彭鵬 if you need more ideas.


                          Oops sorry can't figure out new CH which is more technical and more complicated than in the good old days. Photo uploading isn't working for me.

                          1. re: RST

                            Thanks Richard! I don't know why I missed your response, but I tried this last night and all I can say is WOW! This was the biggest hit and now I'm trying to figure out all the other noodles that can be dressed this way. For anybody that comes to this thread five years from now, I didn't rinse the noodles after draining because the package didn't specify and it was such an unfamiliar food. I will definitely rinse the noodles next time.

                            1. re: jill20

                              I was cleaning my pantry last night and found a leftover bag of "fen pi" made from a mix of brake fern root and sweet potato flour. It turns out that I had already mentioned this exact package on this thread (July 10, 2008). This noodle is described on the label in English as "sheet jelly for hot pot"; produced in Qing Chuan County; made from "starch of common wild brake root" and "sweet potato starch", under the Quan Zhen brand name. Unlike the " jue gen fen si" (brake root vermicelli) we've been talking about, this is a broad flat noodle (just slightly wider than the standard fettuccine), translucent and light brown in color, with a distinctly different quality of slinkyness and chew, but the same subtle earthiness. I just cooked up the rest of the bag using the basic liang mian concept I described above, but topping the noddles afterwards with a small .59 bag of Szechuanese pickled mushrooms I found at the shop yesterday. Great lunch!

                              Incidentally, while jue gen fen si (Tian Ma brand, Qing Chuan County, Guang Yuan City) has been available here (at different stores) in Chicago over the years, I've never seen that "brake root sheet jelly" again after finding that particular bag.

                              For those who are interested, Mr. Peng Peng's book has detailed instructions for making different kinds of unusual noodles inclg millet, diff kinds of beans, etc There are buckwheat recipes from different Szechuanese counties/districts (not to speak of recipes for spring versus winter buckwheat etc). the recipes for brake root noodles are on pp271 and 982.

                              But moving this noodle discussion away from Szechuan, I'm really excited to discover a source in Chicago for fabulously chewy curly very fine yang chun noodles (I think a specialty from around Shanghai). They're fresh not dried, but alas, not made locally (the shopkeeper says he gets it sent from Toronto!) Five or so dongbei restaurants also opened here in the past year-like morels sprouting overnight!-two of them by natives of Shenyang, and two by natives of Harbin (Ha-Er-Pin). At the latter, I've been sampling quite amazing dishes: chebureki-like lamb meat ping, Russian-influenced salami, lamb offal (yang za) noodle soup, goose with potato, the amazing so-called "year-end pig-slaughter dishes". But I also tried something I had never heard of before: ge da tang which is "pasta" made of wheat dough dropped like irregular pellets to gelatinize in hot broth (a reference on the net descroibes it as dongbei "spaetzle"). Anyone here knows more about this "noodle"?


                              1. re: RST

                                It sounds a lot like German spaetzle except the German type is sauteed after boiling. We used to make it all the time before we were gluten free, and even though we had a spaetzle maker, you can just as easily use a colander or ricer. I never thought about cooking them in broth rather than water, but that would be delicious. I'd also leave out the nutmeg for a Chinese version http://allrecipes.com/recipe/german-s... This is so easy to make, it will quickly become a staple in your kitchen.