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In Chinese culture, the term “dandan” refers to a person carrying a pole. Its history goes back many years to when vendors in China carried sauces and noodles and tried to sell them to people on the street. People outside of China call the tasteful and popular dish dan dan, a name which seems a bit peculiar until a person stops to consider its history.
Vendors would mix prepared sauces with noodles and place pork on top of it. This ensured that the noodle dish remained thick and not soupy. However, many variations exist and some chefs now prepare this dish so it’s more watery.
A Dish with an Unforgettable Spicy Kick
Four basic ingredients make up a dish of dan dan noodles. In addition to the noodles, this specialty contains toppings, meat, and sauce. The noodles are made from wheat and selected because they’re neither too thick or too thin. Chefs typically cook the noodles until they become slightly tender. Toppings can vary and may include bean sprouts, hard boiled eggs, baby bok choy, or mustard greens. The meat is typically pork or minced beef, although some chefs occasionally choose chicken.
As important as these ingredients are, it’s the sauce that completes a bowl of dan dan noodles. It’s common for the sauce to contain soy, sesame paste, and dried red chili peppers. The Sichuan pepper gives dan dan noodles their famous zing that can literally numb the lips. Some other possible dan dan noodle sauce ingredients include:
- Peppercorn oil
- Chopped zha cai
- Raw peanuts
- Raw sesame
- Black vinegar
The more of these ingredients the chef uses, the hotter the sauce will be for diners. People who have never experienced dan dan noodles may want to start by first trying a sauce made from fewer ingredients.
How Chefs Prepare Dan Dan Noodles
Chefs at traditional Chinese restaurants usually consider this dish a snack rather than a main dish. That means they serve it in much smaller bowls. The noodles come out soupier because chefs immerse them in a thick broth that contains chili oil. They’re also extremely spicy, so spicy in fact that many diners can’t finish even a small bowl of dan dan noodles.
In the United States, dan dan noodles have undergone a transformation so that the dish appears more like pasta than soup. The meat sauce sits on top of the boiled noodles. Additionally, some Western chefs prepare the dish so the sauce has more of a sweet and sour taste rather than a spicy taste. Since Westerns aren’t as accustomed to such hot and spicy food, some chefs will mix a sesame paste directly into the chili oil. This reduces the amount of spiciness and changes the sauce into something creamier.
A typical cooking method of dan dan noodles in the United States is to stir-fry the sesame, deep-dry the peanuts, use oil to thin the Chinese paste, chop and stir the Sichuan peppers, and mix all ingredients with the soy sauce. The noodles are ready to serve once the chef has placed the dan dan sauce on top of them.