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Malan Noodles and the Falsehood of Memory

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Back when I first started posting on Chowhound—back in the bad ol' days before even the Hot Posts feature was available and everything was just a grey blob of threaded discussions—I remember the excitement about Malan Noodles. Hand-pulled noodles! Get a show and then get a bowl of beef soup!

I went, and I was enthralled. It was just five dollars for a bowl of these wonders. You could pick the noodles and they'd make it right there, throw it into a pot of water, then drain it and top it with soup, herbs and beef. It sparked my love for the San Gabriel Valley, a love that was nurtured by years of working in Rosemead.

As I was driving along the 60 tonight, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia, and I decided to have dinner at Malan for old time's sake.

I don't know if it's the same, and I just didn't know any better at the time, or if it's gone downhill, but it was not a good meal at all. I ordered thin noodles—my fault really, I suppose—and there was no way enough time passed for the noodles to be made by hand before the bowl was set on my table. The noodles were totally mushy and overcooked, without a shred of "cui", the toothsome "pop" texture that corresponds to al dente. Moreover, they'd been carelessly whisked out of the water and had drained their water into the weak soup, so that I had to add black vinegar just to get some taste into the soup.

The beef was carelessly cut and incompletely stewed, and the whole thing was covered in cilantro, which dominated the broth.

It was disappointing. I paid—the price has gone up, of course, but not much, to $7—and left unhappy.

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Malan Noodles
2020 S Hacienda Blvd, Hacienda Heights, CA 91745

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  1. Funny, I gave it a couple tries when I worked nearby a few years ago, and a similar experience - underwhelmed. I figured some of the dishes had the good, fresh hand-pulled noodles but unless you knew this going in, you couldn't use the menu to figure it out. Staff wasn't ever much help either. Maybe Taco Bell would taste good if I were watching people hand-pull noodles, I dunno.

    1. Malan has been on my "to-eat-at" list for a long time but has been pushed back in line by others that are closer to home. Anyway, thanks to DU, the thought of going there for fresh hand pulled noodles was ressurected.
      I got there at 2 pm after a long and hot drive from the Valley. As soon as I was seated, came a small cup of ice water in a styrofoam cup and the usual chopstick and chinese spoon.
      From the menu, I ordered the Beef soup using small/round noodle.
      It was certainly a treat to see someone pull my noodle from a small ball of dough cut from a monster size mother dough.
      Although it would have been nicer if the process was done facing the customers, the side view of the hispanic guy working the dough was good enough. I'd say to see this process done "live" was pretty cool. I've only seen it done on TV.
      The beef noodle soup was mildly flavored with chinese aromatics with about 6 pcs of thinly sliced beef. The noodles were, in my opinion, very good. The entire hand pulled noodle was in my bowl, uncut , kept its form but easy to bite into. The soup was garnished with lots of scallions and cilantro. The soup also had a couple of pcs of radish which I found to be interesting since I've never had it in this style before.
      Overall, I was satisfied with the meal and would be returning if I am in the area.
      By the way, the waitress said that they close between 3 and 5 pm.

      1 Reply
      1. re: selfportrait93

        How odd. I got small round noodles too and they were utterly tasteless and utterly textureless... and my bowl came out literally 45 seconds after I ordered it. Maybe I was unlucky...

      2. I've been a big fan the few times I've gotten out to Malan in the last year or two. I hope this was just a one off, maybe the regular noodle guy (there must be more than one, the poor guy needs a day off) wasn't there, or maybe as you said, the thin noodles are not the way to go there. I don't mean to make excuses for them, but I I was there again yesterday, and enjoyed it as much as always. We ordered the Chicken Noodles with spicy chefs sauce (my go to) -- dense, chewy wide noodles, and also the Noodles with fried tomato and egg. They recommended the medium round noodles, they tasted great, and had the usual amazing elasticity, these of course were softer than the wide ribbon noodles, but cooked perfectly, retaining a bit of chew. I'm sorry that your experience wasn't stellar, I always feel like this place is such a gem.

        1 Reply
        1. re: debra

          I agree that Malan noodles are nothing to write home about. It's worth a drive. I would always choose Earthen over Malan and drive the extra exit.

          The restaurant right next door to Malan sells frozen hand made dumplings. They are excellent when you steam them up and very reasonable. I think it's $15 per bag for about 40 dumplings.

        2. I was just there. I never order the noodles that thin for the beef soup. Just the Xi (second thinnest). We had er-xi (third thinnest) for the cold noodles with sesame sauce.

          There are so many choices there - the pappardelle style broad noodles might be more to some people's taste. They tasted fresh to me this last saturday evening. I wasn't sitting toward the kitchen so didn't notice if they were pulled to order, but i've been there looking and have seen them pulled to order in the past.

          I'd suggest trying a thickier noodle and seeing if you liked it better.
          It has changed a bit - they used to serve a delicious cold kao-fu appetizer with mushrooms. They don't any more. And I miss it. The other cold plates we had were fine.

          I don't have a stake in the place - and of course it's a sad experience to be disappointed in a meal. I have been pretty lucky there. Hand pulled or not, i'd avoid the thinnest noodles in soup unless i wanted them to be quite soft and cooked through. That's me. Obviously the OP and other posters here differ.

          14 Replies
          1. re: Jerome

            Sorry to hear about your disappointment, DU. Since the language barrier isn't an issue for you, why would you not have expressed your disappointment and requested fresh noodles, maybe a nice chow mian? That's what I would have done.

            I usually make it to Malan about once a year. Last visit was several months ago, and the noodles were freshly made. Also, we'd never dream of ordering thin noodles there... the broad noodles are just so much more to our textural preference.

            Although I personally wouldn't give up on the place, since it's such a big schlep from OC it would be a shame to take a risk on a lousy meal when there are so many good ones to be had in that area.

            Mr Taster

            1. re: Mr Taster

              I rarely express disappointment in a Chinese restaurant. Perhaps I'm overgeneralising but I have found that there's rarely satisfaction to be had—usually I just get a shrug regardless of whether I'm complaining in English or in my admittedly awful Mandarin.

              I have had the thin noodles in soup before and they weren't nearly as mushy—and not just mushy but flavourless. I'll try it again, with thicker noodles, but not for a while. There are too many other places to eat out there.

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                Ah but DU, you are underestimating the Super Charisma Power™ you have as a Mandarin-speaking white person. (Bear in mind, my Mandarin is mildly conversational at best.)

                It doesn't matter whether I'm speaking Mandarin in the SGV, China or Taiwan. All I have to do is say "ni hau" (hello) or "er wei" (two people) upon entering virtually any restaurant, and the reactions of the people at the restaurant overwhelmingly similar, in this order: shock or surprise, laughter, then curiosity. About 15 seconds later they ask my wife and I if we have any babies. (That's pretty much the way all conversations go when you meet a new person in China or Taiwan.) Some might find that kind of questioning probing (and it is, from an American perspective), but I find it charming in its way. Part of the national character. (I probably wouldn't find it as charming if my waitress at DuPar's asked the same question.)

                Anyway, the upside of this interaction is that I am occasionally given free food (the ladies at Dean Sin World always give me a free red bean cake, and always feel compelled to tell me, in english, "free, no money." By the way, I love their wonton soup. Loads of tasty wontons, seaweed shreds, richly flavored broth, and $4.50.

                I think you'll find that if you establish the fact up front that you speak Mandarin, most restaurant workers will bend over backwards to help you. After all, they're going to have stories to share with their for a week about the white guy who spoke Chinese.

                Mr Taster

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                Dean Sin World
                306 N Garfield Ave # 2, Monterey Park, CA

                1. re: Mr Taster

                  Oy, where's my mind today? Word omissions, unclosed parentheticals...

                  > share with their (friends).

                  And hopefully you know that my asides (translations, descriptions of interactions in China, etc.) were not for your benefit, but rather so that others could more easily follow along.

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    "liang" wei for two people....

                    1. re: eder

                      Whoops, rookie mistake. Don't tell my wife :)

                      The bottom line is that Chinese people love to see white people speak Chinese. Look at the immensely popular Da Shan 大山 (he's a media sensation all over mainland China) as evidence of this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dashan Although to be fair, he's sort of a true curiosity as he speaks with a pitch perfect Beijing accent. It's quite amazing.

                      My point in all this was just to let Das and other non-Chinese Mandarin speakers know that they should not be shy at SGV restaurants. Be friendly, smile, let them know when something's not to your satisfaction (or when something is delicious) and soon they'll be asking you about your future babies too.

                      (For those curious to learn, I borrowed the excellent audio courses from the LA Public Library, Pimsleur Mandarin Courses 1, 2 and 3).

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        It's amazing sometimes when I think about it, how welcoming SGV places can be with a little Mandarin. I remember going to the late Best Szechwan (Jia Wei Ju) in Monterey Park a few years ago. I spoke in Mandarin with the waitress and asked about somedishes and we got great service. the funny thing was as we were ordering the main dishes, she and I are talking and she was pushing one of the dishes (I was there with two other friends, neither of Asian background) - i think it was Gongbao chicken or Lazi Ji DIng or some such, and I said I didn't think so, and she said no, and then pointing at my friends - Waiguo ren hen xihuan zheige cai - foreigners (i.e. non-Chinese) really like this dish..
                        I told her in Mandarin, well, I'm a "foreigner" and I don't want this dish.
                        Oh, not you... them.

                        so there you are.

                        1. re: Jerome

                          Your story really points out what I've observed to be SGV culture shock, as the Chinese restauranteur and the "foreigner" are often operating across purposes.

                          What I mean is that SGV restauranteurs (for the most part) really do want the foreigner to feel welcomed and comfortable in their restaurant by anticipating the foreigner's needs. That's why they offer beef with broccoli and a fork instead of water boiled fish and chopsticks. But for the foreigner, it's different. It's a matter of ego (i.e. "How insulting, they gave me a fork.")

                          For the Chinese, it has everything to do with fulfilling anticipated expectations, (true or not) and really is a show of respect for the customer's anticipated desires, not a show of pandering to the lowest common denominator as it is often interpreted. Also, Chinese is not a mellow language. I can see how the sometimes loud and harsh sounds and tones could convey irritation or anger when that may not be the speaker's intent.

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            I agree. And btw, didn't mean to imly that I (or we) were offended at all. We hd a great time, enjoyed the service and the other table occupied at the time by a non-Asian american couple from Westwood bugged their eyes looking at what we got. One of my dining companions was so sweet (sweeter than I'd ever be) and asked them if thye wanted to try anything we had at our table.

                            They needed to be asked twice, and then happily tried some of the dishes. Very nice really, in retrospect.

                            1. re: Jerome

                              With regard to loud & harsh tones, I was not speaking specifically to your experience. I was actually thinking about my father-in-law (who you can hear through the cell phone across the room when he's whispering.) It's just how he is, and it's endearing in its way.

                              Mr Taster

                              1. re: Jerome

                                Jerome, he's a random off topic spur. Have you been back to Deerfield Garden recently? My wife and I were there a few months ago. I couldn't remember what it was that you were enamored with over there. I've only been a couple of times and both times found it to be fine, but nothing particularly stood out as being exceptional. I'll give it another shot with a few of your ordering recommendations.

                                Mr Taster

                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                  haven't been in a while, long while. Loved their pot sticker guo-tieh which were made with a slurry so the dumplings had a thin skin that stuck them together. Also, liked their shuanyangrou - "rinsed lamb" hot pot. simple but good.

                                  1. re: Jerome

                                    Yeah, speaking of my father-in-law, he does the slurry technique also. I've never been able to duplicate it very well at home. Can you describe the rinsed lamb hot pot?

                                    Mr Taster

                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      Simple beijing style lamb hot pot. Freeze dried bean curd (dong doufu), cabbage, glass noodles, thin-slced lamb, a few dried shrimp in the water, boil up, place in - cook, pull out, five or more dipping sauces. Not the gourmand fare across the way at little sheep but good. I think they have Tonghao (shungiku, crown chrysanthemum) as well but it's been a while and it's too hot now for shuanyangrou )

              2. After having a great meal at Malan (the thickest, flat noodles, made to order as I watched) my last time to LA, I was sad to see this. Is someplace else a good replacement for Malan for handmade noodles? I'm looking this time for closer to LA than OC. JTYH is high on my list again, as is Tsujita. Any others?

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                JTYH Restaurant
                9425 Valley Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770

                Tsujita
                2057 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                1 Reply
                1. re: david kaplan

                  I don't think Malan has really fallen off - it seemed fine the last time I went there, which was within the last 4 months or so.

                  You can also check out Shaanxi Gourmet. Several good handmade noodle dishes there.

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                  Shaanxi Gourmet
                  8518 Valley Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770