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Dan Dan Mian - SF Dish of the Month (Jan 2013)

The dish of the month for San Francisco for Jan 2013 is dan dan mian. Here's a link to the vote: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/884029

The goal is to collectively try as many versions of dan dan mian as possible during the month of January! So let's start exploring and eating—report back with reviews and photos.

For more information on this dish, and for some ideas of where to try it, see this current discussion: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/884365

Dave MP

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  1. Had this on New Years Day at Sichuan Fortune House in Pleasant Hill. We informed the waiter we would like the Dan Dan Mian "spicy." Came with coarser ground meat than some versions I had and a significant amount of gravy. There was the pleasant tingle of the Sichuan peppercorns but the overwhelming spicy flavor was from the red chilis.

    A perfectly tasty version but not my favorite.

    1. I recently tried the dan dan mien at Spices 3 in Oakland Chinatown and it was awful. Don't eat it. The bowl looked really beautiful when it arrived with the beautiful color and sprinkling of meat bits in the sauce of the cold noodle dish, but it had a really funky vinegar smell in the sauce and the noodles were overcooked and spongy. I was disappointed given that I had an wonderful pickled vegetables and pork noodle soup there a few weeks earlier.

      3 Replies
      1. re: singleguychef

        So sorry to hear; I've enjoyed dan dan from Spices! 3 numerous times and had intended to revisit, inspired by this thread.

        Thanks for the tip; I'll steer clear for a bit. I do find their kitchen a bit inconsistent from visit to visit.

        1. re: Pius Avocado III

          Interesting. I had their zha jiang mein recently, and the noodles were also overcooked. The rest of the food was varied in quality, but their ma po tofu was top notch as always.

          1. re: Pius Avocado III

            Spices!3 changed hands last year. Reportedly more vegetarian-friendly, as you'd expect from the name of the owner, Vege House & Spices LLC.

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5049...

        2. Had them at Z & Y last Saturday. This is a dish we get here often. It can be variable here but is almost always excellent. We always order too much food and end up with lots of food to take home. These noodles are also excellent as take out. The noodles we had Saturday were fantastic, one of the more memorable versions we had had in a while. The noodles were perfectly cooked and toothsome with a perfect texture. The sauce was savory with a good balance of meaty umami and ma la spiciness from chili and Sichuan peppercorn. Very satisfying.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ridge

            Tried Chili House's version, Z&Y's sister restaurant in the inner Richmond. Noodles were on the soft side, but really well seasoned. It was difficult to slurp these without coughing from the chili & peppercorn bits. Good amount of ground pork, spices, and chili oil. Almost too much chili oil for me, but I think that is the style of this dish, and cuisine in general.

            1. re: DezzerSF

              I had a chance to try them recently at Chili House as well. Found them just as you described except the noodles were just right and I enjoyed the amount of heat. Spicy, but not so much so that you can't taste anything after a couple of bites. I really liked their version.

              Although supposedly hand-pulled, the waitress admitted the noodles were not made in house.

          2. Sampled Z & Y's version on Sunday...they were very flavorful, but not the classic Dan Dan I've had in NYC/Flushing, or the versions from Land of Plenty. More sesame than I'm used to, but the balance was good, a nice bit of spinach (?) on top, but no preserved cabbage. The noodles did no seem overcooked, but were not at all chewy either. No great "ma la" sensations, but, like I said, decent.

            Then today, inspired by Melanie's post in the other Dan Dan thread, (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/884365) I hopped over (not literally) to Happy Golden Bowl in El Cerrito and had a bowl for lunch...of Dan Dan Mian. Well, the noodles were "toothsome", nice and chewy, properly cooked in my opinion, very nice texture. They were not soupy as some are, and the sauce, again, was well balanced. I should have asked them for more "ma la", but forgot. For about five bucks including tax, it was quite a bargain. I'd go back, but again, more sesame than I like in this dish. Highly recommended, even over Z+Y...

            The photo is from HGB...

             
            6 Replies
            1. re: sambamaster

              After reading about Happy Golden Bowl, I decided to give it a try on Saturday. I was there for a very early dinner/snack (around 4:45 PM), which meant I was the first customer after they reopened from afternoon break.

              I thought the rendition was quite good. Noodles weren't very hot (temperature), and they were much thinner than I expected...somehow they looked skinnier than in Melanie and sambamaster's photos. There was a nice kick from the chili oil, and a good amount of sesame. The pork topping was also cold (i.e. straight from fridge) when it was served, so the overall temperature of the dish was just about room temperature when I mixed it all together. There wasn't much ma-la kick, but I sensed a bit.

              I also got a small plate of kimchi when I sat down, and I liked it quite a bit. Sweet and spicy.

              There's a large menu with several pictures, and it's easy enough to identify the Sichuan stuff and separate it from the less-interesting menu items. I'd definitely return, and I'm curious to hear what else is good here!

              Dave MP

               
              1. re: Dave MP

                That almost looks like a different dish! The noodles do seem different, and that you experience some components cold or room temp is disturbing...mine were nothing like that, though your description of the flavors is the same as what I experience. Try the water-boiled dishes and the stir fried tea smoked duck with chiles! Wow!

                1. re: sambamaster

                  Dave, did you request extra chili oil or something? Like sambamaster, the version I had there didn't have much chili oil. Damn good though. The link below includes my report and photo:

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

                  Are there two versions on their menu? The one I had was $5 and was in a random section, not listed with the noodles.

                  1. re: hyperbowler

                    On the printed menu (which had lots of pictures), dan dan mian was only listed once. It was in the dim sum section, or something like that. And yes, it was $5.

                    I did not request special anything....but mine did have plenty of chili oil. It was spicy enough to make my nose run, and I probably wouldn't have wanted it any spicier.

                  2. re: sambamaster

                    It may have had to do with the time of day I was there....the kitchen had just re-opened from afternoon break, and mine was literally the first dish cooked since lunch.

                    1. re: Dave MP

                      I tried the Dan Dan noodles at Happy Golden Bowl recently at lunchtime and enjoyed them very much. As others say, well worth the $4.99. I really enjoyed the noodles. They had a good texture and seemed to be fresh-made, in a machine much like an Italian pasta roller, as the noodles were flat (but a bit thick), and a few were still connected at the end.
                      The balance of flavors was quite good, even though I couldn't detect any Sichuan peppercorn. It is possible my senses were a bit off, as I did have a cold, but there was certainly no powdered peppercorn, and I didn't detect any numbing or characteristic scent if Sichuan peppercorn oil was added. And yet, I really enjoyed the bowl.
                      The meat topping was cold, and the preserved vegetable was mixed in with it. I wouldn't have noticed it was cold if I hadn't tried a piece on its own before mixing it in to the warm noodles.
                      I'm definitely the sort of poster who thinks that dan dan noodles are easily and best (especially with Yuen Hop noodles) made at home, but I like to sample restaurant offerings to see if there is some other balance of flavors I might find interesting. This non-Sichuan peppercorn version surprised my by keeping my interest..

                       
                       
              2. Following a tip from Robert Lauriston on another thread, I ordered the off-menu Dan Dan Noodles at Mandarin Garden in Berkeley. It's a totally different take than I've had before. The noodles were almost submerged in a liquid consisting of, in part, chili oil. The liquid reminded me a bit of what some fish and meat based dishes are sometime immersed in. No visible sichuan peppercorns but a good amount of invisible ma la. It was topped with juicy bits of ground pork and green onions. No presence of sesame or peanut or salty/pickled vegetable matter.

                Either because I sipped up too much liquid (it's served with a soup spoon) or the noodles absorbed the liquid, it became less like a soup as the meal progressed. I liked the flavor of this dish dish quite a bit, and I also enjoyed the texture of the noodles.

                 
                2 Replies
                1. re: hyperbowler

                  I preferred the leftover noodles I ate for lunch a day or two later. I would not order them again.

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8516...

                  1. re: hyperbowler

                    I can't remember if this fits Melanie's Vancouver-style category, but this is how much of the DDM I've had in the Pacific Northwest (including Vancouver which, I guess, is technically in the Pacific Southwest!!!!) has been...am currently in Portland and will sample a couple places, but this is not my favorite style. When I return to the BA, I'm off to Mountain View to sample Chef Zhou's! Yea!!!

                  2. Crouching Tiger in Redwood City serves a dish they describe as "Szechwan Hot & Spicy Dan-Dan Noodle– mixed with minced pork and green onions in spicy peanut sauce."

                    My previous two meals here have been pretty toned town, so I asked the server for the dish "with lots of ma la." I didn't look closely before stirring the dish, but my first impression was that it came with a daunting amount of chili seeds and sichuan peppercorns. Also, instead of the minced pork listed on the menu, it was topped with stir fried shreds of pork and slices of green onion.

                    Even with the spices on top, this was a very Americanized dish. Something about the reddish-brownish sauce, possibly the large amount of peanut (and/or sesame) butter, neutralized the numbing spice but it still had some heat. I actually got more numbing sensation from their light and nicely prepared Sichuan cabbage side dish.

                    The sauce also had some some bits of soggy, vertically cleaved, and light grayish fermented black beans. I've never prepared or seen that before, so I'd guess they used some kind of canned black bean sauce.

                    But, you know, for $6.95, it's a hell of a lot of food and would go nicely with a Chinese American dinner.

                     
                    5 Replies
                    1. re: hyperbowler

                      I still go to Crouching Tiger a bit. There's something about Sunday Evening that screams "CHINESE TAKE OUT". But I have problems getting them to make non-american-ized food. See previous discussion about "chinese hot" and such.

                      I tried Chef Zhao last time, and I think it might be the same door-to-door time from my house -- and now I have the menu. Will give it a few more shots.

                      I miss the perpetually changing chinese place near the target in RWC - has that space reopened to something new yet?

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        Yeah, between their substitution of slivered pork for the ground pork listed on the menu and way overcooked fish and vegetables in the Sichuan Salty Pickle Fish Soup, something seemed off tonight. I hope that's not a trend as I return to duck out of traffic on 101. But unless I'm on carb overload already, I'll probably stick with I-Dumpling just a few doors down.

                        They do seem to have a knack for simple vegetable side dishes. The winter melon with dried shrimp knocked my socks off once.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          Re the changing Chinese place near Target in RWC, I believe it is now another El Grullense...

                        2. re: hyperbowler

                          Spicy Empire in San Mateo serves "Tan Tan" noodles. There haven't been a lot of reports here, so I didn't give the server any special requests (e.g., make it very spicy, etc.).

                          Topped with a some greens, sesame seeds, scallions, and preserved vegetable of some sort (salty, dense, dark brown). I think I ate a few bites of dense pieces of pork, but they were far and few between if in there at all.

                          The noodles sat on a sesame heavy sauce that also had chili oil and chopped peanuts. Lots of heat spice, no detectable numbing spice. Based also on my experience at Crouching Tiger, I think that sesame paste neutralizes sichuan peppercorn's numbing properties and flavor. I'm gonna play with Fuschia Dunlop's recipe soon enough, but does anyone know if this actually is the case?

                          Given the two version with heavy sesame, I think I preferred Crouching Tiger's version. I really liked the preserved vegetable in Spicy Empire's, but CT wins out for being a wetter noodle dish.

                          1. re: hyperbowler

                            The dan-dan mian you had is more of a Taiwanese style rendition. In Taiwan is almost always served with some type of spicy peanut/sesame sauce.

                          2. Z&Y has been my favorite, but when it gets too crowded there, I head to The Pot Sticker at 150 Waverly Place. Very similar to Z&Y in amount and style of sauce, but they also add pickled veg as well as some greens. I really like the noodles in the version at Happy Golden Bowl too. I've been disappointed in the dan dan at Sichuan House in Walnut Creek, which is otherwise a great restaurant.

                            1. Had the version at Z&Y last weekend, and thought it was good, but not as good as what I had at Happy Golden Bowl.

                              It was made with thicker noodles, and had lots of sichuan peppercorn. Maybe even slightly too much for my taste. It was also pretty spicy, and serving size was large.

                              We also tried the Crossing the Bridge Noodle (which is only on the weekday lunch menu, but we were still able to order it on the weekend). Somewhat plain, but I really like the rice noodles. I ended up using the same small bowl for eating both dishes, and enjoyed mixing the remaining ma-la/spicy broth from the dan dan mian with the rice noodles.

                              1. tried a couple of places:
                                hot pot house(aaktown)
                                -ground beef on top of noodles, salty sauce on bottom
                                -commercial noodles, disappointin
                                village house (fremont) "little potato/little shen yang"
                                -lots of noodles, spicy brown sauce with hotness thruout.
                                -some ground meat in the sauce
                                chili house(s.f.)
                                -firm and mushy noodles together
                                -mala sauce very hot, peppercorns also.
                                -very little meat.

                                1. Just ate Tan Tan noodles from Sichuan Fusion in the Pacific East Mall (Richmond). Topped with ground pork, lots of ya cai, green onions, and some kind of a green. Underneath the noodles was a huge glob of dark sesame paste and a scant amount of chili oil.

                                  Overcooked noodles combined with lack of oil made it impossible to stir properly. I requested more chili oil. Pork was tender but bland, too much sesame paste, and no sichuan peppercorns whatsoever, not even remnants of powder.

                                  Thankfully an order of ya cai chicken with steamed buns saved the meal from being a total flop.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                    H'bowler: my experience with Sicuhan Fusion's DDM was similar...mushy, gummy noodles, way too much sesame...no thanks....

                                  2. I tried the dan dan mian at Chef Ma in San Jose. The pay-off here is that the dish is made with wonderfully elastic hand-pulled noodles. Mostly red oil with scant Sichuan peppercorns, the sauce seems to be peanut butter-free and less sweet than others. Ya cai, garlic, cucumbers, bean sprouts, white sesame, all in abundance served on hot noodles with cold ground pork.

                                    More details here,
                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/888746

                                     
                                    1. Iyasare has a relatively new squid ink udon dish that is like dan dan mien. It's not an "authentic" dan dan mien, but an interpretation that is tasty and very interesting. It includes squid, kimchee (on the side), sichuan peppercorns, cucumbers, and probably a few other ingredients I've forgotten already. It may be the most memorable version of this dish that I've had.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: felice

                                        mmm... all parts of that sound good. I wonder if they're inspired by Korean Jajangmyeon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jajangmyeon