Skip to content

Dan Dan Noodles, Redux…

March 2, 2010

I wrote about Dan Dan Noodles a year ago on my photo blog.  The above photo is an early iteration of my recipe.  For about two months after I took this photo I played with the recipe, making different chili oils and tweaking the ratio of sauces to noodles and toppings.  Emily and I ate big bowls of Dan Dan Noodles once a week until I got the recipe right – and, soon thereafter, she was begging me to cook something else.  Eventually, I burned out on them as well and I haven’t made them much since.

I remembered this old flame when I read this week’s City Pages where Rachel Hutton highlights the sudden popularity of Sichuan restaurants in the MSP.  She even goes so far as to say that Dan Dan Noodles are going to be the next Pad Thai.  This pissed me off.  Dan Dan Noodles are something wonderfully humble and dear to me.  They were my culinary version of buying Nirvana’s “Bleach” in the early 90’s, fifteen years before 180g vinyl reissues were being sold at Urban Outfitters (conveniently next to the LP sized picture frames…yutch).  So I found myself frustrated and asking, why would Rachel Hutton declare something “The Next ____”?  Why the hell does it matter?  More importantly, what’s the purpose or necessity of food trends?  If I may, I’m going to go all Malcom Gladwell on this one…  I believe the answer to be that food trends, at their very best, are a double edged sword.  On one hand, a food trend can put the spotlight on dishes, special ingredients, or chefs that are well deserving of the attention.  This gets people in the doors of some very good and very deserving restaurants.  On the contrary, uninspired chefs (or worse, trendy restaurants) prey on the uneducated or apathetic dining public and get a freebie load of customers for lazily schlepping together a half-assed version of the next big thing.  In turn, this steals business from the good guys and, in some cases, harms the reputation of a dish, ingredient, or original chef.

So, before Chino Latino issues their Sriracha-Spiked Tuna Tartare Dan Dan Noodles, I’d like to set the record straight as to who has the best goddamn Dan Dan Mian in town.  These are the guys who really deserve your business:

1. Grand Sichuan (Bloomington) – The new home of the original chef of Little Szechuan.  And, somehow, his food got even better.

2. Tea House (four locations) – Most noteworthy for their departure from americanized chinese flavors with heavy use of Sichuan Pepper and bitter sauces.  Get the scallion pancakes too.

3. Little Szechuan (Frogtown) – The forgotten genesis of Grand Sichuan.  Not as good, but still really good…if that makes sense.  Centrally located on University Avenue and Western Avenue in Frogtown.  The cool kids are still scared to death of Frogtown, which is a bonus in my book.

4. Szechuan (Roseville) – My least favorite of the bunch, but good enough for a quick fix.  They’re the only ones to use fresh Ya Cai, or Sichuanese Pickled Mustard Greens.

Dan Dan Noodles are easy to make at home as well.  They can also be extremely difficult to make if you want to get hardcore about it.  After my dissatisfaction with store bought chili oil, I hunted down a case of dried Facing Heaven Chilies at United Noodle and made my own.  I made the mistake of smelling the dry fried peppers after a quick pulse in my food processor.  The pepper dust left me weeping and wheezing on the couch for an hour and a half.  Simply put, I maced myself.  But, that was a small price to pay for the goodness of homemade chili oil…

I’ll forego a recipe for homemade chili oil since I’m not prepared to handle the liability that comes with macing one’s readers.  As for the Dan Dan Noodles, I use chinese no.8 sized noodles, chili oil, ground sichuan pepper, sesame paste, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and chinkiang vinegar.  You’ll have to experiment with the amounts of these sauces to find what works for you.  But here’s the idea… Mix all of these, except the noodles, in a bowl.  When the noodles are cooked and hot, put them on top of the your sauce and stir it all together.  In some versions, the noodles are topped with ground pork cooked crisp with sichuan pepper, some will add ya cai or thinly sliced spring onions.  Even if you haven’t found a perfect recipe after a solid handful of experiments, at the very least, you’ll be far ahead of the crowds.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah permalink
    March 2, 2010 12:07 pm

    DC and I ate at Grand Szechuan last after he very promptly pounced on Rachel Hutton’s review. And the Dan Dan noodles are DELICIOUS, agreed. I hear good things about newly-Szechuaned Zen on 31st and Lyndale – I’ll have to check to see if they too have the Dan Dan to sample.

    Related, can you explain the difference between szechuan and sichuan?

  2. March 2, 2010 12:53 pm

    Wow. You made the trip out to Grand Sichuan? Very cool… Let me know when you go to Zen. I’ve never been there, even in their previous incarnation, but the name alone makes me skeptical. I know they’re doing both Sichuanese and Hunanese, and the plates seem to be pretty styled. The Sichuan and Hunan combo seems pretty conventional and in-line with most of the restaurants I grew up at – typical Hunanese dishes with a handful of spicy but safe “szechuan” dishes like Ma Po Tofu and Szechuan Chicken. At this point, I put my money on restaurants that specialize solely on Sichuanese food to grasp the cuisine.

    The difference between “Sichuan” and “Szechuan” is etymological, Sichuan being a romanized transliteration and Szechuan is western. I think they’re both considered current and correct.

    We should all go to Grand Sichuan for a hot pot sometime soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: