If you're into a brothy noodle bowl, this dish belongs on your "must-try" list.
It’s no chance happening that ramen has enjoyed an atypically long moment in the Instagram-worthy lighting of the food trend sun. There’s a reason we still enjoy slurping pho from restaurants that wittily utilize the extraordinary pun potential the dish offers on their shop signs. Noodles—particularly noodles of the saucy-brothy Asian variety—are GOOD.
That being said, we need to talk about the next noodle dish warranting your obsessive attention: Dan Dan Noodles. This traditional Sichuan street food consists of fresh egg noodles served in a rich, spicy broth and topped with crispy pork. A soul-warming bowl of dan dan noodles, like all internationally recognized dishes, will vary in composition and flavor depending on where you order it, but one commonality you’ll taste among any authentically prepared dan dan is in the broth—it’s fiery. The deliciously complex layering of flavors in this dish starts with making chili oil, featuring mouth numbingly hot Sichuan peppercorns. While it’s probably not a terrible idea to taste a bite of a friend’s before ordering your own dish of dan dan if you are super sensitive to spicy foods, a number of chefs (especially in the U.S.) tend to intentionally curb the heat in this dish, often utilizing sesame paste to dilute the spiciness and make for a slightly creamier, more widely palatable broth.
Now, if you’re all about a healthy heat level, you’re in luck. Because beyond being warmly spiced, dan dan is intensely flavorful—rich in all sorts of umami goodness. One of the signature ingredients in the dish is a variety of preserved mustard green called Sui Mi Ya Cai, which packs an intensely earthy-sweet and savory flavor. You can hunt this crunchy preserved veggie down at your local Asian market or order it online. The sui mi ya cai is used to season the cherry on top of this noodle bowl—the meat. Typically, dan dan noodles will be topped with a savory meat mixture consisting of ground pork crisped in oil and flavored with the aforementioned preserved green, shoaxing wine, and other spices/aromatics of choice.
Starving yet? (SAME.) If you’re ready to get out and get some dan dan noodles in front of your face, call around to your local Chinese/Sichuan restaurants and see if dan dan is on the menu. Or go the DIY route and make dan dan your next at-home cooking project. You can find super informative recipes for the dish from The Woks of Life and Omnivore’s Cookbook. There’s also this tasty adaptation of the traditional dish that might be a bit less intimidating for the first-timer (or anyone who doesn’t yet have a fully tricked-out pantry, equipped with the necessary ingredients), as well as this equally approachable take that uses ground chicken in place of the pork. And if you’re planning a trip to NYC anytime in the near future, be sure to put dan dan noodles on your eating agenda, as your options will be plentiful.