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Community Survey: Dan Dan Noodles (Simplified: 担担面 Traditional: 擔擔麵 Pinyin: dàndànmiàn)

Let’s focus on dan dan mian, the fiery Sichuan noodle street snack that has become so popular worldwide it has morphed into many regional forms. This post kicks off an evergreen discussion of the places and reviews the dish in the San Francisco Bay Area. Good, bad or indifferent, “authentic” or not, please post here about any and all formats when you try them.

* * * * *
Some of the varying styles that can be found in the Bay Area.

Western style, 2012 – Sichuan House: “The dan dan mian, $8.50, was not as pleasing. The waiter put the bowl in front of me and immediately started mixing things together without asking me, all the while balancing a plate of food for another table on his left arm. The sauce spattered about and I had to ask him to stop. Made with thickish, soft wheat noodles, this version was meat heavy with a load of ground pork. Nice lift of vinegar and a nutty creamy quality from a bit of sesame paste, but lacking in Sichuan peppercorns, chili heat, scallions, or the earthy complexity and salt of preserved vegetables. And the dish was too sweet. The addition of sautéed pea shoots was a surprising and welcome touch. The dish seemed Americanized to me in the extra sugar and absence of traditional flavor elements. This was doubly disappointing since I’d liked Chef Zhang’s version of this dish before.”

Korean style, 2009 – Tong Su Garden: “The dan dan noodles I found plain weird. Hardly any spice at all, this is the first serving of dandan I’ve ever seen that wasn’t stained with red oil. It almost tasted like yellow bean paste or something similarly starchy. Also the noodles were cooked too soft.”

Bay Area style, 2007 – Little Sichuan Express vs. Classic Sichuan

Japanese style, 2004 – Himawari: “William ordered the tan-tan men, $8, a take-off of Sichuan spicy noodles. The gritty textured ground pork topping was slightly sweetened as well as spiced with chilis. The spice level was low-medium and well-balanced. Some bean sprouts completed the picture. The miso soup base was amazingly complex - the menu says that eight kinds of miso go into the soup. This might be the kitchen's strength and I'll definitely order miso ramen the next time I come here. My brother was very happy with this dish.”

Shanghainese style, 2002 – Old Shanghai (closed): “The search for dandan noodles brought me back to try the soupy style that looked so good my first time here. The version here is a big bowl for $6 with thin chewy noodles. The garlicky broth has a hint of sweetness and is slightly thickened. Some red oil floats on top, but it’s not nearly as fiery as a traditional style. I didnt see any peanuts, but theres a background taste of roasted nuts (sesame, peanuts?) and an almost creamy richness on the palate that a spoonful of nut paste in the sauce/soup might lend. Theres also fermented brown bean paste in the mix and red chili sauce. The chopped pork has a chewy texture with bits of fat. The bowl was topped with minced scallions but no cucumbers. Again, the flavor of Sichuan peppercorns was almost nonexistent and the smoky nuance of dried Sichuan chili peppers was also absent. This serving was big enough to satisfy two light eaters people for lunch. A nice meal, but not the dandan noodles of my dreams.”

Chengdu style, 2002 – House of Yu Rong (closed): “I ordered the dan dan noodles and this was everything I’d hoped for. A small bowl of chewy noodles with a little bit of thin almost soupy red chili pepper-flamed sauce with bits of ground pork, tons of minced garlic, abundant Sichuan pepper corns, and chopped scallions - every element in perfect balance. This is my new archetype.”

Discussions of Chengdu, Hong Kong, Taipei, San Francisco, and Boston style dan dan mian.

Vancouver style

Home Cooking: Fuchsia Dunlop's 2 versions of Dan Dan Noodles

The photo below is from Spicy Town in Fremont (2009).

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  1. I'm no connoisseur, but the best I've tried around here were at Z&Y. My all-time favorite was at Wu Liang Ye on 48th in Manhattan.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Connoisseur-ship not required! What makes Z&Y's version special to you?

      I'll mention that when the clock struck midnight and the close of voting for DoM, dandan mian was in a three-way tie. So I started pulling together the initial post to start this thread.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Complex, spicy, porky sauce, good noodle texture.

    2. In September I stopped by Golden Bowl in Albany for the first time in a long time to find it desserted at peak lunch hour. A glance at the menu showed dandanmian at $5, a clue that this might be the snack size that I prefer.

      The small bowl of intensely seasoned noodles packed a wallop of flavor and did not disappoint.

      Topped with a mince of fatty-ish, gristly, gritty pork and scallions to be stirred in to blend with the red chile oil-based saucing.

      A bit of creamy sesame paste rounded out the sauce flavor and texture, plenty of garlic and Sichuan peppercorns, and as can be seen in this photo, bits of preserved vegetables.

      One of the best versions I’ve had in many a moon. Very satisfying.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I can't find Golden Bowl in Albany on Yelp, are you talking about Happy Golden Bowl, 10675 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito?

      2. My favorite is also Z&Y, though they can be inconsistent. At its best, Z&Y's dan dan mien is oily rather than watery; spicy (both heat and numbing); and not overwhelmed by raw garlic. The worst versions of dan dan mien I've had elsewhere have been watery/soupy (a matter of preference, perhaps, but not mine), overshadowed by raw garlic or raw scallion, or too sweet.

        Most of my dan dan mien intake is now at home. With chili oil on hand, it's a very fast and easy home prep, with latitude to experiment with the balance of flavors. I start with Fuchsia Dunlop's second recipe, use pork instead of beef, and add an almost imperceptible touch of sugar and chinkiang vinegar. I underboil the noodles slightly and prefer West Coast Noodle's "vegetarian" noodle -- which is thinner than the Shanghai noodle but thicker than most dan dan mien noodles. When I remember, I add peanuts, but by the time I've assembled the bowls I'm too excited to eat and forget about the peanuts.

        Z&Y used to be near my office, but I'm now just South of Market during the day. I'd love a great nearby dan dan mien lunch option. Any finds?

        6 Replies
        1. re: david kaplan

          Was going to ask if you'd been to M Y China yet to try the dan dan noodles . . . but looks not your cup of tea based on this description from "hyperbowler".


          Searching menupages under two spellings turns up few choices among its universe anywhere in the City.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I've tried three versions, all basically similar, in the last week:

            • Z&Y: decent, I suppose. Balanced and flavorful. But too much sesame for my taste.
            • Sichuan Fusion (Pacific East Mall/Richmond): Similar to above, less sauce, a bit less sesame...but the noodles were almost mushy...not acceptable.
            • Happy Golden Bowl (El Cerrito): Perfect, chewy noodles, still sesame flavored, but overall balanced...not quite "ma la" enough for my taste...next time I'm gonna ask for more heat and numbing flavors, no sesame...let's see what happens...that could be perfection!

            Guess we have to wait for China Village to open again...soon, it looks like, but not soon enough!

            Thanks for your work on this, Melanie. I've had those soupy Dan Dan in Vancouver, and though they can be tasty, are somehow not right in my book. But maybe that is some regional variation from Sichuan? I'm still partial to the style I've found in NYC/Flushing. If I can find photos, I'll post....

            1. re: sambamaster

              Please do post to the Dish of the Month thread too, as will I.

              DDM was not one of my go-to dishes at China Village, but it may have changed in style since my earlier go's at it. I'm excited that it will be reopening, and couldn't imagine a discussion thread about dandan mian or any other Sichuan specialty without including an example from CV.

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              Here's the recipe adapted from the DDM I disliked at M.Y. China. It "uses thin dried noodles in a traditional sweet but potent dan dan sauce."


              Granted there's no one recipe for DDM, but this version, which has a staggering 26 components to measure out, is far from any version I've encountered in person or in decent cookbooks.

              Some interesting quirks of this 4 servings dish:

              6 Tbs. of sugar, no Sichuan peppercorns, shredded carrot and cucumber, only 1 tsp. of "Sichuan pickled vegetable" for 8 oz. of ground pork, 2 Tbs. "chili sauce" whatever that is (I think she means "chili garlic sauce" but see common usage http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/844052 )

              1. re: hyperbowler

                Just read thru the recipe from M. Y. China . . . no attempt to be Sichuan is my take. Now that you've seen the recipe, is this what the dish tasted like to you? Or was this a throw away for publication leaving out any ingredients that might be hard to source at Safeway?

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Nah, those ingredients seems to pretty much match what I ate. They may have tweaked the proportions---- the version I ate was undersauced and didn't have a large quantity of meat. I hadn't noticed the large amount of sugar.

                  One problem with M.Y. China's dish is that it lacks a potent source of umami beyond meat and soy sauce. Ya cai or broth do the trick nicely in other recipes, and I would imagine oyster sauce, as suggested in Cooks Illustrated's DDM recipe, would work nicely as well.

          2. Agree that Z & Y can be variable but they are almost always excellent. We had them at Z & Y on Saturday and they were fantastic: the noodles were perfectly cooked and toothsome, they had the perfect texture, the sauce was savory with a good balance of umami and spicy chili and numbing Sichuan peppercorn flavor.

            1. I'm a fan of the Dan Dan Mian at Golden Bowl as well. It's certainly the best version I've had locally. But my alltime favorite is my homemade version from Land of Plenty, the Xie Laoban version.

              1. This discussion made me crave dan dan noodles but Happy Golden Bowl is closed Tuesdays, so I Googled and found references to the dish at Mandarin Garden.


                1. Dan Dan Mian is the SF Dish of the Month for January 2013. So if you try any great versions this month, you can post your reports here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/884466

                  1. Dish of the moment or not (and I have a favorite current place for them too -- in a moment), these noodles have been around the Bay Area in so many variations for decades that a while ago I read up on the subject in standard Sichuanese cookbooks for insight. They characterize dan dan mian as a genre (as, say, meat sauce is a genre), rather than a precise dish.

                    Dunlop, in "Land of Plenty," notes that "dan dan" originally connoted no actual recipe, but the noodle vendors' bamboo shoulder poles. Her "traditional" recipe uses spicy seasonings, hua jiao (of the annoying because misleading nickname "Sichuan peppercorn"), and Sichuan pickled mustard green (ya cai) tossed with the noodles -- no sesame paste -- and a little meat to finish. Dunlop also shows one chef's variation, with sesame paste. Of the early (1970s) wave of US Sichuan cookbooks, which have useful details on some dishes that Dunlop doesn't, the venerable Chiang/Schrecker book appealingly describes the dish's origin, giving a recipe with sesame paste and hua jiao.

                    A good current source in silicon valley is Chef Zhao Bistro, opened last year (replacing Trend at 400 Moffett Blvd) by a former cooking instructor from Chengdu, who makes all sorts of major and minor Sichuan specialties, and offers to do more exotic things on request. That restaurant renders the name as tan tan noodles (variant spelling I saw more in past decades) and serves smallish, individual portions (listed as "appetizer" on menu?) in an older style per Dunlop -- spicy and citrusy flavors, fairly dry, no heavy sauce. Noodles just lightly dressed in a very savory sauce with a hint of sesame paste, green herbs to one side, finished with spiced meat on top. Glorious.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: eatzalot

                      Good to see you treading this board once again, eatzalot. I was just going to suggest to sambamaster that he hie himself to Mountain View and Chef Zhao to taste how the chef's version is since his return. Here's bbulkow's post of its revival in Trend's space,

                      While I was not thrilled at the version served when Trend opened 4+ years ago, what you have described is quite different than what I had then.
                      "Next Installment of Find the Sichuan Chef"

                      Unfortunately, I'm not entirely sure of the chef's name nor if Chef Zhao is indeed he. But I would recognize him if I saw him. I have my hopes up, as a long time server at Sam Lok and then Trend confirmed that he had worked at China Village and Grand Szechuan, as well as Sam Lok. Sam Lok was part of the House of Yu Rong group (see the 2002 description in my initial post). One of our chowhound pastimes back in the day was keeping track of which of the restaurants in the group was on the upswing (and which had slipped) because the head chef, that is, the original chef at Trend, had rotated there. I'd love to go full circle and taste the House of Yu Rong version again.
                      Finding Mr. Wong

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Thanks Melanie. (If the heavy ad downloads weren't such a nuisance, you'd have seen me here steadily.) Yes, bbulkow is writing well, here and elsewhere, about some of these restaurants. (We both are among several people a certain former silicon-valley restaurant journalist, who is now much missed, contacted about taking over his duties -- I knew the guy through other channels.) Good also to see bb visiting MV. Chef Zhao is in my own backyard. In 6-8 visits so far, I'm learning some of its menu and consistencies and personnel. Regardless of earlier history, this chef has made a bold stand for real Sichuanese dishes since mid 2012, and is attracting a strong local following already.

                        As I write, I'm trying a fresh take-out portion of Zhao's dàn dàn miàn. The noodles themselves this time are ordinary -- I recall something thicker and chewier, these are simple spaghetti-class noodles -- but it has been months (months!) since last try of this specialty, and this instance might even bespeak expediency (evidently the place was busy last night, certain items were unavailable today). The d-d-m seasonings, though, are as I described above -- aromatic, intensely savory, numbing with hua jiao, and only a barely perceptible trace of any seed or nut paste. Incidentally Zhao's ma po tofu [customary Bay Area spelling] today is utterly classic and exquisite. Dusted at the end with ground roasted hua jiao in moderation. No frozen carrot bits or any other such junk with which the non-Sichuanese cooks tirelessly expand the range of preparations served under that name in these Nine Bay Area Counties.

                        1. re: eatzalot

                          OK, it's down south I must clearly head! Thanks for this great sounding recommendation! Will report in when I've had a chance to get down there.

                          1. re: sambamaster

                            If you're making a DDM trek to the Peninsula, do drop in on Spicy Empire in San Mateo too.

                            I've been felled by food poisoning and remain on a soup and tofu diet for the time being. Just typing about Sichuan food is giving me tummy twinges right now or I would join you.

                          2. re: eatzalot

                            Those round shape spaghetti-like noodles are what I recall from the first time I had DDM at China Village eons ago.

                            Please do ask after Mr John Wong, the server, when you return to Chef Zhao.

                            (P.S. Yes, I miss SH's voice too.)

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Spicy Empire indeed has gotten lots of buzz, not just here. I need to try that place too.

                              Will inquire re John Wong. Front personnel since Zhao opened last summer have been mostly female, except chef's college-age son, who seems the Internet-savvy staffer -- and whose excellent English has aided more than one gringo, in a US Chinese restaurant, which (per McCawley's famous 1984 book which ALL serious US Chowhounders presumably own, if not otherwise fluent in Chinese characters), like most Chinese restaurants, translates maybe a third of its menu to English. At Chef Zhao's Bistro I have now picked up at least four different printed English menus in five months open, about 0.7 new menus per visit (average). Whatever anyone has posted online about its menus is likely obsolete, though to be fair, they do seem to be stabilizing now.

                            2. re: eatzalot

                              I can also confirm that in a visit this week (our first), the noodles were quite banal, the spaghetti type and overcooked. Having had Chef Ma's DDM the night before, I'd strongly give the nod to Chef Ma for a sauce that's deeper, more aromatic, heavier on the spice but at the same time, balanced. Their noodles aren't hand pulled, but they are the fatter, springier type. Zhao's sauce wasn't *bad* (it's not a messup) but was comparatively simplistic and slightly sweet.

                              But that was the only "miss" at Zhao's on my visit. Everything else we tried was excellent, especially the assorted meat slices in chili oil. The place was absolutely packed on a Thursday lunch by mainland Chinese expats and tech workers.

                        2. I find it intriguing that in many of the older threads it appears that a peanut/sesame heavy sauce was a commonly found form of "dan dan noodles". I moved here in 2007 and haven't been served such a dish (and I generally order dan dan at any Sichuan place I go to.) I can tell that my threshold for sesame-heavy contains much more paste than others (I would draw the line between mostly liquid and mostly paste, which generally adheres to the noodles), but from the old descriptions I'm picturing something like the "cold sesame noodles" served (often as a free item with large order) at many New York American Chinese restaurants geared toward takeout. I like these, but would be confused and likely horrified if they were served to me as dan dan noodles. I'm curious if the difference was just the liquid/paste ratio, or whether the other incarnations included strips of cucumber, more soy, and low spice (and certainly no Sichuan peppercorn or preserved vegetable). Frequent addition of peanuts/peanut butter seemed common.
                          I'm wondering whether there has been a general change in the conception of the dish or whether there has been an influx of immigrants from the Sichuan province or whether these noodles were being ordered in places that ere Szechuan in name only, or whether my conception of their exceptional sesame/peanut-ness is overblown.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: ...tm...

                            Certainly in the Bay Area, over the past few decades, I've seen MANY nut- or sesame-paste based d-d-m variants, the term has been broadly applied in random, non-Sichuan Chinese restaurants for almost any kind of spicy, often thickly sauced, noodles.

                            Like so-called "Bolognese meat sauce," which exists in a hundred interpretations around Europe and the US (I've encountered a few dozen), none recognizable to people around Bologna, which has a much more specific perception of that specialty.

                            Wanted also to enthusiastically endorse David Kaplan's comments above, the more so since Dunlop's recipes liberated me from memories of heavy goopy d-d-m travesties, but at the same time, showed how EASY it is to make your own superb d-d-m. Keeping on hand some chili oil, vinegar, crunchy Sichuan preserved vegetables, fresh green herbs for garnish, hua jiao that you can grind and roast -- and presto, you can almost effortlessly turn out complex interesting variations far closer to the spirit of its Chengdu street-food origins than the perfunctory goopy glop so many non-Sichuanese restaurants have sold.

                            1. re: ...tm...

                              I've been wondering the same thing. Is the peanut sauce version, served cold/room temperature with cucumber strips and chicken a variation on DDM, a bastardized American dish, or something else?

                              In particular, I used to love the cold noodle salad from the lunch menu of the old Sichuan on Kerney that closed after Loma Prieta. A poor approximation of that dish is still offered on the menu at all Henry's Hunan locations that are descendants of the Kerney restaurant. But I find the current incarnation to be bland, unlike what I remember. I'd be very interested to seek out places that offer better versions of the dish.

                              1. re: ...tm...

                                I vote for "or whether my conception of their exceptional sesame/peanut-ness is overblown." I'd say none of the examples that I included in the original post were more paste than red oil. And the inclusion is small enough that I wouldn't be able to swear just from the taste that one is peanut vs. sesame. But I would say that the ratio does seem to be creeping up even in Sichuan restaurants which is reason to call it out. In non-Sichuan places, anything goes and the peanut butter seems to hold sway.

                              2. We have learned from Fuchsia Dunlop that the original dan dan mian was a very simple street snack and that, even in Chengdu it has evolved, mainly to include some sesame paste, and there are significant variations. Seems like away from Chengdu the evolution has been even broader. Another poster here reminded me that I used to think of dan dan noodles as having very much a sesame and even peanut butter based sauce and often being served at room temperature. That memory probably dates back a long way to the (great) Chinese places on upper Broadway near Columbia in NYC in the late 1960s. One of our Professors, almost as famous a Chinese gourmet as for being a Nobel Prize winner, used to take us out for Friday lunch. So, I am sure that version was not, in his informed Mandarin view, Americanized

                                More recently I have sampled the dan dan main at all the usual Sichuan restaurant suspects, including Little Sichuan, China Village, Spices II, Z&Y, and also on at least one occasion in Taipei. But, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that though all were pretty good, and this is a standard dish in our ordering repertoire, none of them has resonated in my memory. I think this says something not particularly positive about how this dish is presented. I realized this when this topic came up on this thread and hesitated to post.

                                So, to refresh my memory, we headed over to Spices II, ended up finding parking on 8th Ave and realized the new Z&Y spinoff Chili House, which I had learned about on the dan dan mian thread(s), was around the corner. We decided to give it a try. The dan dan main was fine, the spinach on the top (like at Z&Y as previously noted) does not replace the preserved vegetable, as, on detailed dissection, I found some. The noodles were not hand pulled but were also not overcooked. Good, but like all the others recently, it did not sing (to me). (The other night at Beijing Restaurant, I was impressed by the hand cut (pulled?) noodles in the zha jiang mian, which we had because they don’t have dan dan mian, offering only the dish more common in Beijing.)

                                Chili House is a good competitor for Spices. The ma po tofu was equal -- and that is saying a lot as these two remind me most of what we had years ago at the original Mother Chen place in Chengdu. If anything the presentation at Chili House, with very neatly ordered tofu, cut in the dish rather than jumbled about, was closer to Chengdu. We also had a very fine, well balanced (and generous) cold “Spicy jalapeño, cucumber and cilantro in Garlic spicy sauce” and an excellent (if deboned) Chicken w/ Explosive Chii Pepper. Lots of other interesting things on the menu. “House Cold Noodle” (in Chinese: Sichuan Cold Noodle) might be the more sesame oriented version [???] and is certainly worth a try. Maybe this place merits a Chowdown?

                                I am sure we had dan dan mian at least a few times in Chengdu, but I just don’t remember it. Probably at the Shufeng Snack Restaurant which was then on the shopping street, probably at Gingko, maybe also at Mother Chen’s, I remember the ma po tofu clearly, fiery hot, complex, one of the 5 best dishes of my life, and the bon bon chi, the best I ever had, but the dan dan mian at Mother Chen’s I am not so sure about. I think it was complex and more interesting than anything I have seen here, but I honestly am not sure.

                                Somewhere in Chengdu I picked up a box of DANDANMIAN sauce with four 50 gm packets, each to be mixed with 100 gm noodles (“or for cold noodles”). It may have been at Chen’s, where I did pick up a box of their ma po tofu seasoning. The dan dan mian spicing is from Forchun Foods. Their website www.chinafuchuan.com is still alive but would seem to indicate they no longer make the dan dan mian seasoning. A month ago, with some left over noodles I pulled out a packet and mixed as directed, except I think I had twice as many noodles as the box instructed. It was incredibly intense, a dark red paste. I felt I needed to help it along with some sesame tahini I had around and more Sichuan pepper corns and a little light soy sauce, all influenced by Fuchsia. It turned out quite interesting, but nothing like what we see around here, and if I had gotten something like that in Chengdu, I would not have forgotten it. It was good cold the next day. I have 3 more packets ...

                                So, I remain confused by dan dan mian.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: Thomas Nash

                                  A related class of Sichuanese specialty has cold or at least non-hot noodles, chicken in slivers or shreds, a spicy sauce with sesame paste (+ chili oil, vinegar, soy sauce, scallions, sugar, garlic), and typically bean sprouts as a crunchy vegetable. I've long suspected cross-polination between that and true d-d-m in _US_ restaurants (especially under non-Sichuanese cooks).

                                  I first made that cold chicken dish at home over 30 years ago from Lo's 1979 "Chinese Regional Cooking." (Kenneth Lo at that time was popular, like Dunlop more recently, in both his adopted UK and also US. Like Dunlop's, his recipes came directly from China, but he was not focused specifically on Sichuan.) Almost the same recipe appears in Dunlop, pp 95-97 of the US hardcover edition (2003), as "Spicy Cold Noodles with Chicken Slivers" and Dunlop calls it "distinctively Sichuanese." Lo's 1979 "Cold Tossed Noodles with Shredded Chicken" substitutes black pepper for the hua jiao, and doesn't even appear in his Sichuan chapter -- Lo attributed his specific recipe to a Peking dining room. But glancing at his Sichuanese recipes, it seems Lo despaired of his UK/US readers having access to hua jiao -- unlike some US books published earlier, which did specify it and describe its uses.

                                  Other Sichuanese cold dishes too use thin chicken pieces and spicy sauces -- the aforementioned lower-Peninsula Chef Zhao Bistro for instance serves an exquisite "boneless chicken with heavy spicy seasoning," $6, no noodles as I recall [incidentally I may have misled people earlier in an offhand statement -- every one of the 15 or so dishes I've tried from that restaurant is menued in English, though it is not always obvious from the English what something like "heavy spicy seasoning" denotes].

                                  A side point to all this is that when so-called "Chinese" chicken salads (typically using shredded iceberg lettuce and a mustardy dressing with sesame oil and peanuts, a dish attributed to somewhere in California, not China) appeared, and quickly became the cliché 1970s silicon-valley business lunch, I guessed it had at least inspirations from Sichuan, if not yet another Chinese chef creatively adapting to local ingredients.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    The shredded chicken dish you refer to is called bon bon chi or bang bang chi (chi=chicken), apparently because the best way to shred the chicken was supposed to be to bang it with the side of a cleaver. Yes, I agree that the sesame/peanut saucing on the traditional version of bon bon chi is very much like one version of cold noodles (which I believe I have heard described as dan dan noodles at some point in the past).

                                    Most of the Sichuan restaurants here have bon bon chi in one version or another. Spices II does not shred the chicken but has slices and has an amazingly complex sesame based sauce. One of my favorite dishes. Other places in the area shred or cut into strips the chicken and have less spectacular sauces, with less sesame than Spices. Little Sichuan and Z&Y are more like this and are very good. Mother Chen in Chengdu had a fiercely spicy properly shredded version much like Spices which stays in my memory of the meal along with the ma po tofu.

                                    I believe there is also a cold chopped rabbit dish like this in Sichuan, but I haven't had it.

                                    Bon bon chi was a while back a staple of mall Sichuan restaurants around the country until it got usurped by the unfortunate "Chinese Chicken Salad" that you refer to.

                                    1. re: Thomas Nash

                                      These cold spicy chicken dishes are a whole genre. (N.B., From the characters, Chef Zhao's "heavy spicy seasoning" dish is its version of bang bang chicken.) Dunlop does give such a dish (pp. 144-146 same ed.), lumping it together with guai wei ji si, Strange-Flavor Chicken, "otherwise known as bang bang chicken, bang bang ji si." more about all that in a moment. The literal shredded chicken dish I cited above (with noodles) is a different one, "ji si liang mian" in Dunlop.

                                      As "Strange-Flavor" or "Strange Taste" Chicken (from the wide mixture of flavor elements) guai-wei ji is in most Chinese cookbooks and common in Bay Area Chinese restaurants.

                                      But it's only one of the genre. Delfs's US Sichuan cookbook (1974, narrow in scope but deeper on some details than Dunlop) presents as two distinct specialties "ban-ban ji" or shredded chicken "with sesame and spice sauce" (p. 46) vs. guai-wei ji (p. 51) with bite-sized chicken and emphasizing the "Strange-Taste" balance. Delfs also gives two other related spicy cold chicken dishes, jiao-ma ji (or jiao-ma ji-pian if sliced), "cold chicken slices with sesame and Sichan pepper," with sesame oil but not paste; and hong-yu ji ("cold chicken with red oil sauce"), and also some related hot chicken dishes and others.

                                      When Delfs wrote in 1973, and even a few years later when I visited China the first time, it was less easy than now for foreigners to enter or travel in the mainland (we were still novel enough to cause gross astonishment in small towns), and there weren't today's frequent reports from visitors there. But it must have been delightful to dine at Mother Chen's original restaurtant. The 1976 Chiang-Schrecker cookbook quotes someone who got ma po tofu from Chen herself there, must have been early 1900s: "You ordered by weight, so many grams of bean curd and so many grams of meat..." I wonder if it's still done like that?

                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                        I bow, gratefully, to both of you for you're encyclopedic answer to my query. Now I know that that I'm looking for ban-ban ji, which could fall loosely in the dan dan umbrella. The preparation I'm craving definitely used shredded chicken with julienned strips of cucumber with a nice, intense, spicy sauce. Sounds like I should head to Spices II. Information like this is why I spend so much time reading here. Thank you!

                                        1. re: BernalKC

                                          So you don't get disappointed, here's what to expect. The Spices II bon bon chi is not shredded but has slices of chicken in an intense complicated sesame sauce that I have not seen elsewhere. I think there are usually some few transparent noodles mixed in.

                                    2. re: eatzalot

                                      Is that China Village's #206 Szechuan-style spicy cold noodle w/ chicken?

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Greetings Robert -- can't say, I haven't tried that restaurant -- but the name certainly fits with the standard Sichuanese dish ji si liang mian described above.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Yes, I found my old note on that dish. Don't know if the style has changed over the years, don't think I've ordered it again from China Village.

                                    3. To clarify or summarize from above, in Sichuanese cookbook recipes I cited, the only NOODLE dishes are dan-dan mian (DDM) -- this thread's topic -- and Ji si liang mian (JSLM, spicy cold noodles with shredded, or slivered, chicken). The rest, including bang-bang (or bon-bon or pong-pong) chicken and several related dishes, are spicy cold chicken dishes only. Some of what follows applies to them too, but I'll focus on Sichuanese noodle dishes here:

                                      Sesame paste dominates many US restaurants' DDM variations. Yet it's just 25% of liquid condiment content in the one Dunlop DDM recipe that uses it at all, and it's also barely perceptible in the version I mentioned from Chef Zhao's Sichuanese chef. (His bang bang chicken too had a complex sauce, with chili oil more prominent than sesame paste.)

                                      Below I've compared sesame-paste proportion.in the cookbook noodle-dish recipes cited earlier.

                                      Approximate sesame-paste content per SERVING using 1/4 lb. or 125g uncooked fresh noodles:

                                      DDM, Dunlop "Traditional" recipe: None

                                      DDM, Dunlop Mr. Xie's ("modern") variation: 5ml (1 tsp), with 15ml other liquid condiments

                                      DDM, Delfs: 30ml, with 60-90ml other liquid condiments

                                      DDM, Chiang-Schrecker: 20ml, with 30ml soysauce, 5-10ml hot pepper flakes in oil

                                      JSLM, Dunlop: 15ml, with at least 60ml other liquid condiments

                                      JSLM, Lo: 2ml, with 20ml other liquid condiments

                                      In contrast, Monday at a non-Sichuanese Chinese restaurant I got a typical US "DDM" variation whose generous sauce looked like peanut butter with additions -- at least 2-3 ounces (60-90ml) sesame paste per portion size above. That's much more than either any of those Chinese recipes, or the more authentic local restaurant versions (from Sichuanese cooks) reported here on Chowhound.

                                      IMO, trying the more traditional Sichuanese DDMs with either no sesame paste, or a little of it among the flavorings, was a revelation. A much fresher, clearer, more complex flavor experience. And as others have testified, these more authentic DDMs are remarkably easy to make

                                      10 Replies
                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                        I prefer the non-sesame versions. I seem to recall the many bowls I've eaten in NYC/Flushing are sans sesame, so in my experience, those are more "authentic", particularly in this post-Dunlop era! Does anyone in the area do this, other than the slightly less sesame reposter from Chef Zhao? I'm gonna go to Happy Golden Bowl when I return from Oregon and ask for a non-sesame, slightly more 'ma la' version and see what we get...I've noticed the sesame paste is often dabbed into the bottom of the bowl before the noodles, but not necessarily mixed in with the sauce, so it should be easy. Can't recall if China Village did theirs with or without. Anyone remember???

                                        1. re: sambamaster

                                          Melanie's summaries above show some restaurant DDM versions. Online reports of Bay Area restaurants serving DDM (on CH and elsewhere) often have photos revealing DDM style. Authentic versions typically have distinct groups of ingredients, not a single "sauce" for the noodles.

                                          From my reading, and experiencing Sichuanese chefs, classic DDM fundamentals are: Sichuan crunchy preserved vegetables such as ya cai; chili oil; hua jiao (Sichuan "peppercorn"); fresh greens such as scallions; meat in moderation; and other condiments usually including soy sauce(s), sometimes vinegar or sesame paste. Sesame paste isn't out of place at all in Sichuan cooking; the issue is when it dominates DDM instead of contributing to the complexity, as it does in ALL those Chinese recipes I summarized above.

                                          Sesame paste is versatile stuff. A friend with bad general nut allergy (uncomfortable at even the sight of peanuts) finds it agreeable, and I've used it in things like basil pesto sauces and as an (arguably more flavorful) peanut butter substitute even absent allergy issues. It's easy to make, in a pinch, if you keep fesh sesame seeds: they easily grind or mash (toasted or not) to a paste.

                                          Dunlop's cookbook is good, diverse, and currently popular, especially among newer US fans of Sichuan cooking. Compared to the pioneering US Sichuan cookbooks of 25-30 years earlier, it is not uniformly better. E.g. Dunlop likes categorical claims; thus innocent readers have assumed that her ma po tofu recipe was definitive (not just the version of the school where she trained), unaware that it's one of several major variations on a basic recipe as Delfs showed in 1974. Dunlop's presumption in a DDM recipe that fresh flour-and-water noodles are unavailable "here" for home use contradicts not just longtime Bay Area reality, but Delfs and Lo's much earlier cookbooks which allowed that fresh noodles could be found commercially in the US, and if not easily found, then made.

                                        2. re: eatzalot

                                          "... Monday at a non-Sichuanese Chinese restaurant I got a typical US "DDM" version..."

                                          Please name names! We're trying to keep track of who does what whether authentic or not.

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            As you said Melanie, "anything goes" at non-Sichuanese restaurants (that's where I've see 'pasty' DDM variants -- generally sesame paste, not peanut butter -- around silicon valley, my main beat). At least these knock-offs are more recognizable than preparations sold in non-Sichuanese restaurants as "ma po tofu" -- which has four fundamental ingredients, three of them routinely missing in far-flung versions of the dish.

                                            DDM I cited above was at Chef Liu on Mountain View's Castro St. restaurant row. I hesitate to specify it because I did not expect authentic DDM, Unlike two nearby restaurants (one, Chef Zhao, named above), Chef Liu isn't a Sichuan kitchen: chef and many offerings are Taiwanese; restaurant happens to be known for various bowls with thick fresh noodles. Plastic models of cooked dishes are in the entryway, and DDM model looked less paste-y than what was actually served (described above). In a large (meal-size) serving for around $8 with thick chewy noodles, sauce and shredded cucumber separately on top.

                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                              Ah, Chef Liu. Have not been there, but had frequented the previous occupant of that spot. . . was that Chef Wang? Are the noodles hand-pulled?

                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                HAND made I can't say for sure, but definitely irregular thick pulled noodles in various dishes, resembling variously West Coast Noodle's "vegetarian" or "Shanghai" commercial fresh noodles sold at Bay Area grocers.

                                                Though Chef Wang rings a bell, Chef Liu has been at 236 Castro, Mountain View, a good decade or so. (Locally, the address is famous because a longtime Greek restaurant, connected to a bar behind, operated in earlier decades, evolving to present Chef Liu, still with the bar, Mervyn's, tucked away behind. No visible bar signage; open 6AM to 2AM; accessible also from a nondescript side door like a speakeasy. Tiny, charming dive bar with regulars, last vestige of downtown MV's more hard-boiled past, full of bars and other comfort establishments.)

                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                  So you inspired me to look for an old post . . . found this one from 2003 that indicates that Chef Wang's moved six years earlier from Mountain View to Los Altos. Later it moved to Cupertino, and then to Millbrae for a spell.

                                                2. re: Melanie Wong

                                                  The regionality of hand-pulled and DDM aside, do DDM ever come with hand pulled noodles and would that be a desirable, undesirable, or neutral thing? Especially with the more sesame heavy versions, I think you'd want a bit more bite to your noodles. Kind of like certain Italian dishes going better with dried than fresh pasta.

                                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                                      I had always thought of the traditional noodle for DDM being a relatively soft flour type. But when I heard about knife-cut noodles with DDM, I queried a friend who had lived in Chengdu for a while and she said that can certainly be found there. Maybe you saw this post,

                                                      But don't know about pulled noodles though when I was in Fresno last month, Chef Liu at Hunan Restaurant said he would make DDM for me with them if I give him some notice. However, he is from Beijing and might be crossing genres.

                                                      I have a new example for DDM with la mian (hand-pulled noodles) once I dig out the photos.

                                            2. Thanks for this great discussion! This is a dish that has always confused me with its different preparations - and since I'm not a peanut fan, gambling as to whether the sauce is peanut or sesame based is not my favorite activity.

                                              The description of Chef Zhao's Bistro is spot-on - really delicious, light, with a good cumulative numbing hit. I'm not an expert on noodle styles for this dish, but these were pretty soft, way past an al dente Italian style.

                                              Now I've got to try making Mrs. Chiang's version at home - though I see several other promising noodle dishes in that book to try out as well.


                                              1. Chef Ma, a newish Sichuan place in San Jose, serves up dan dan mian made with hand-pulled noodles, as described here,

                                                When this "tall food" presentation was walked over to my table, a number of heads turned to ask my waiter what this might be. Never seen DDM heaped high like this before. Nor with bean sprouts. The various ingredients were somewhat segregated to be mixed in to taste.

                                                The pile was topped with chopped garlic in reg oil and a blizzard of white sesame. Then, a blob of ya cai,

                                                The noodles were completely obscured by the pile of bean sprouts, shreds of cucumbers, scallions, and heavy sprinkle of sesame seeds. I'd stirred things together, took the first bite, and was amazed by the texture of the noodles. The chewiness made me excavate to uncover what looked like la mian, and I confirmed with my waiter that they're hand-pulled.

                                                The coarsely ground pork was moist, juicy and plentiful, and like everything but the hot noodles, cold in temperature.

                                                The red oil pooled at the bottom of the plate showed some meat juices, but did not seem to be mixed with sesame paste or peanut butter. Besides the white sesame, some nuttiness might come from sesame oil. While I could smell the tell-tale Sichuan peppercorns, none were visible to the eye nor numbed the palate. With less sugar as well, the chile heat came through more directly, and after steeping for a bit, the noodles were too hot for me to eat.

                                                Much more substantial than a snack, Chef Ma turns out a high quality and formidable dan dan mian for only $6.95.

                                                1. Some recent reports:

                                                  Dan dan mian with machine-pulled noodles at Happy Noodle in San Mateo, "mr_darcy"

                                                  Tantanmen at Ramen Shop in Oakland, "singleguychef"

                                                  Spicy dumplings in a creamy peanutty sauce at Panda Dumpling in Redwood City that I've dubbed dandan jiaozi

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    Happy Noodle version doesn't seem to have changed since mr_darcy's post, but I'll link my report since there's a pic:


                                                  2. Happy Golden Bowl varies their versions. It varied between the first and second time I had it, most notably due to the addition of red chilis on top the second time at a Chowdown. The noodles seemed a bit thinner and less chewy the second time too. At that same Chowdown, Melanie commented that it was very different from when she'd had it before (see upthread), but I believe there had been a chef change in the interim. Either way, I've not had better versions of this dish elsewhere.

                                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8406... versus

                                                    Mandarin Garden, a soupy version of DDM

                                                    Crouching Tiger, a non-Sichuan version dominated by sesame or peanut butter and heat. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8844...

                                                    Spicy Empire, a non-Sichuan version with no numbing spice. Boring.:

                                                    Sichuan Fusion, too much sesame paste, didn't coat overcooked noodles well. No numbing spice:

                                                    Hot Pot House, same owners as Spices III, basically chili oil and overcooked ground meat, no sesame or peanut butter:

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                                      Yes, the chili paste dabbed on top at Happy Golden Bowl at our dinner was different than my earlier experience and less sesame paste too. At first I'd thought it might be the due to a different crew at lunch vs. dinner, but then I saw that your first time had been at dinner as well. Reading Jonathan Kauffman's follow-up, I can't tell which version he had.

                                                    2. I really like the Japanese version of tantanmen at Halu Ramen in San Jose, their's is a noodle soup with sesame & chili level of your choice!

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: winodano

                                                        How good to see a post from you, winodano, after far too long away! And thanks for including a photo.

                                                        I had the tantanmen at Halu when it was the seasonal special. Will have to return to enjoy it again now that it has earned a regular spot on the menu.

                                                        I noticed that Orenchi has added tantanmen to the menu, limited number of orders per day. I'm curious why it's $12 vs. $9 for the regular tonkotsu. Anyone tried it?

                                                      2. A month ago, we tried the DDM as part of a dinner at Fey Restaurant in Menlo Park. This confirmed for me that the chef from Classic Sichuan is indeed here now . . . and reminded me of how awful Classic's version had been. To see the family resemblance, here's the gloppy mess at Classic,

                                                        At Fey, the waiter starting mixing the bowl of noodles furiously as soon as it was brought to the table. What is this obsession with flinging sauce droplets and abusing noodles at these places that cater to non-Chinese? Or perhaps he didn't want us to get a good look at the glop.

                                                        Nonetheless, below is a close-in shot of a serving on my individual plate. Nearly pure peanut butter, the thick and creamy sauce was flecked with red chile flakes and some garlic. Instead of steeping chiles and Sichuan peppercorns in oil to bring out the oil-soluble flavor compounds, this version had a bit of peppercorn powder that added a faint citrusy scent and little numbing power. No ya cai either. The pork was cut into clumsy strips. At Little Sichuan where this chef used to work, the pork's cut into threads that are finer than the width of the noodles. This is a far cry from that knifework. And one final blow, the noodles were mushy and water-logged. We flagged down our server who took the dish back to the kitchen to be redone. She soon returned with an apology that all the noodles were like that, implying that the noodles are pre-cooked. This was taken off the bill.

                                                        Fey's is the worst version of DDM I've had in years.


                                                        1. At South Legend Sichuan Restaurant in Milpitas, another weird one for the record books.

                                                          The dan dan mian not only had no sesame paste or peanut butter, it was without chiles and Sichuan peppercorns too. The ground meat tasted more like beef than pork, and the brown-colored brothy sauce seemed beef-y too. No garlic, no ya cai, no sesame, no peanuts, no Sichuan peppercorns, no red chiles . . . the overly soft thickish noodles and a sprinkling of scallions were the only other ingredients.

                                                          Here's what the bowl looked like as presented. I dug down to the bottom to stir up any hidden bits but none to be found. A somewhat pleasnt and inoffensive bowl of bland noodles, but dan dan mian it ain't.

                                                          More about South Legend here,

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                            No Sichuan peppercorns or red chiles? Sounds like my ma po tofu at South Legend, one of the worst ever. I've had no desire to go back since that experience.


                                                            1. re: mdg

                                                              Wonder where their chef is from?

                                                              1. re: mdg

                                                                It was very strange to have this chile-less dish served up at the same table as the very ma la rabbit appetizer I described in my linked post.

                                                                Here's Stett's review from 2005,

                                                                Then the owner/chef was Bill He from Chengdu. The ABC license lists Wei He as the president, might be the same person.

                                                            2. It's not a dish I order often, precisely because it gets so often localized and generally messed with that it's hard to tell the real thing when you see it, but I do like the version at Z&Y Restaurant, which I presume has some grounding in authenticity.

                                                              It starts out a mild-mannered appearing dish, with mostly a tangle of fresh, yellowish alkaline noodles topped with crushed peanuts and mustard tops visible at first glance. They sit, however, in a fiery puddle of chili oil and ground pork, just enough to coat all the noodles upon stirring Once stirred, you get a very satisfying dish of springy, al dente noodles bathed in a ma and la sauce with bits of ground pork, crushed peanuts and crushed garlic clinging to them.

                                                              Side note: if you are a chili-head and the noodles aren't spicy enough, get a side order of wontons in chili oil which, if anything will upstage the noodles.


                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: soupçon

                                                                Thanks, very appealing description. I'm curious now because upthread, sambaster cited lots of sesame paste at Z&Y, but your description didn't mention the ingredient.

                                                                On a separate point: After having read several scrupulous cookbook accounts, from China, of the dish's origins (diverse street purveyors each offering their own favorite version, the dish being rather a wide genre than any specific recipe even during its original heyday in Chengdu itself -- per my first post to this thread), I gain the impression that US fans of DDM sometimes veer toward unwarranted assumptions when they get to mentioning "authenticity" or regional "styles" of DDM -- unless, indeed, some regions away from Chengdu have gravitated toward narrower interpretations of DDM than it had on its home turf.

                                                              2. I liked the rendition of dandanmian from Millbrae's Yi Yuan restaurant recently.

                                                                More traditional Chengdu/Sichuan styled. Not too heavy on the vinegar.

                                                                I think there are Taiwanese versions of this dish too at other chinese restaurants but never wanted to try them.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: Cary

                                                                  Good to talk Sichuan with you again, Cary. I'd forgotten about Yi Yuan. Yes, I've had the DDM there, one of the better dishes I had there.

                                                                  The photo:

                                                                  1. re: Cary

                                                                    Is Yi Yuan still there? Seems to me that they represented the food as Shanghainese when it first opened. I recall some wretched xiao long bao and hearing that they had closed. Maybe different owners?

                                                                    1. re: soupçon

                                                                      It sounded to me the front of house staff (not sure if they are owners) are taisan/canto, while the main chef (never seen him) in the back won medals for sichuanese food. Women cooks in the back do a lot of the prep and cooking as well.

                                                                      They almost only specialize in sichuan dishes now, although they offer the obligatory xiao long bao as well as sheng jian boa, which are average offerings at best.

                                                                      1. re: Cary

                                                                        Sorry, I was confusing it with Yi He Garden (Yi He Yuan in Chinese), which did close. http://goo.gl/zJOCZ

                                                                  2. Chili House on Clement in SF is the sister restaurant of Z&Y and has an identical menu. The Dan Dan noodles were great. The surplus of red sauce on the bottom of the bowl was a little bit thick, had an appropriate amount of spicing, and had lots of brownish flecks of ya cai. I got a slightly nutty flavor, but couldn't tell if it was from a paste or the sparing amounts of chopped peanuts and sesame seeds spread throughout the dish. The noodles were topped with ground pork and some greens.

                                                                    Once the noodles were finished, there was a pool of sauce about 3/4" high left in the bowl. I should have brought it home to dump on spaghetti ...

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                      Thanks for the report, those look good!

                                                                    2. Da Sichuan in Palo Alto delivers a bowl of delicious DDM. I started by sipping a spoonful of the sauce on the bottom of the bowl. The sauce must have had some kind of broth or infused base beyond just chili oil--- it didn't have anything suspended in it, yet was complex and well rounded. The flavor of sichuan peppercorns is mellow, but the numbing properties are in abundance.

                                                                      The noodles are topped with a generous amount of ground meat, ya cai, sesame seeds, and slices of green onion. I didn't detect sesame paste at first, but as the noodles disappeared, the increasing thickness of the sauce made me reconsider. A small puddle of red oil remained once everything got eaten.

                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                      1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                        Glad to read your report. I've liked the version at Da Sichuan in the past, but after one slip up haven't had it again. Sounds like it's time to return.

                                                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                          Pictured above is the N108, "Spicy Tan Tan Noodles." I wonder if you got the N107, "Tan Tan noodles." The Chinese characters list it as Qing Dang ("clear pond"???) DDM, and the pics on the website don't make it look very appetizing.

                                                                          1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                            I didn't know there were two versions. But no, it had heat, but too much sugary sweetness.

                                                                            The non-spicy photo on the menu looks rather like what I was served at South Legend in Milpitas.

                                                                            1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                              I just looked at their Web site as well as their takeout menu. The N107 is "Clear Soup" Tan Tan noodles, which make no sense since Tan Tan noodles shouldn't be served in soup anyways.

                                                                              1. re: vincentlo

                                                                                The menu at China Village reads: Spicy Tan Tan Noodles(Sesame Spicy Sauce in Soup Base). Is that the same thing?

                                                                        2. At our year-end chowdown at Grand Hot Pot Lounge in San Francisco, the tan tan noodles were one of the all-round favorite picks. Could have used more Sichuan peppercorns and less mushy noodles, but the complexity of the seasoning, inclusion of preserved vegetables, and a light hand with sesame hit the spot. It's an outsize portion, not snack size.

                                                                          1. Himawari in San Mateo is still making Tan Tan Ramen, and a few varieties of it. According to the server it's their most popular item.

                                                                            The aroma that first hits you is of roasted sesame, probably from sesame oil. Whatever it is, the bold sesame flavor works great with the complex and spicy miso soup base. I didn't get a sense of what the ground meat added, but the dish as a whole is quite good.

                                                                            It's an adaptation, so my expectations were fulfilled when I realized there were no preserved vegetables or Sichuan peppercorns. But unlike lots of lame peanut noodle adaptations, the miso was a smart alternative for preserved vegetables. Sichuan peppercorns would still be a good addition though.