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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Biang Biang Noodles from Xi'An Famous Foods! #noodsathome

Some years ago, our son Matt and his wife Weina took us to Flushing, New York and introduced us to Shaanxi Chinese cuisine by leading us to a noodle shop, Xi'An Famous Foods -- 

We ordered these scrumptious, fat, spicy noodle dishes for lunch.  Being new to the use of chopsticks, we had some trouble managing the slippery noodles, and our poor lips, tongues, mouths and throats stung from the hot, peppery spices.  But we never forgot the amazing taste experience.

Just this last Sunday, we were reminded of the experience when CBS Sunday Morning featured Xi'an Famous Foods and its CEO, Jason Wang, who explained the cuisine and introduced the audience to the pulling of the unique Shaanxi noodles -- Biang Biang noodles, or:

As it happens, the character, "biang" --

-- is, on the one hand, one of the most complicated characters in traditional Chinese, but also is not recorded in official Chinese dictionaries.  Modern, simplified Chinese does not have this character, and simpler characters are often substituted.

Bi├íng contains within it the characters for speak, horse, grow, moon, heart, knife, eight, roof, and walk, plus a few extra strokes.  It is written with more than 50 strokes.  Some have said that it has been used as a weapon to deter tardiness at a college in Chengdu, the capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province.  According to a local newspaper, students who were late for classes would have to write the character 1,000 times as punishment. Wang Sijun, the instructor who is said to have developed the punishment during a visit to Shaanxi, is reported to believe that it is also a way to promote Chinese culture among students.

Some say it's a mimetic word, echoing the sound noodles make when slapped on a chopping board, or the sound when a person slurps noodles. Other scholars think the sound of biang originates from the sound of a wooden stick beating clothes.  Despite having no definitive origin, this character is still widely used throughout China on restaurant signs, menus, and as a game to challenge Chinese people's writing ability. The closest thing to compare it to might be the made-up supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in the movie "Mary Poppins." Both have an unknown origin, their own Wikipedia page, and follow the rules of their respective languages; and although both have a distinct definition, are often used in a joking way.  Some say that it expresses the idea of someone falling down and feeling surprised, just like the first time Homer Simpson bumped his head and exclaimed, “Doh!” 

According to this website China Simplified, there was once a young Chinese student wandering past a Shaanxi noodle shop around lunchtime. He heard people inside saying “biang! biang!” and feeling hungry entered to see for himself.  ​The student watched the cook pull long strings of noodles and serve fresh bowls to satisfied customers. Excited, he asked for one. After scarfing down the bowl, he realized he had no money to pay the bill. Sensing trouble with the cook, the student thought fast.

​“What do you call your noodles?” asked the student. ​
​“Biang biang mian,” replied the cook.
​​“Do you know how to write the character biang?”
The cook scratched his head, having never thought about it. ​
​“Then I’ll teach you how and my noodles are free!” ​

Before the cook could protest, the student grabbed some paper and wrote a character so complicated that everyone in the restaurant burst into applause. Grinning at being taken so wittily, the cook tore up the student’s bill.

But we digress.

The important thing is that we could order meal kits from Xi'An Famous Foods and prepare our own Shaanxi noodle dishes!  Only three days after we ordered a kit, it showed up on our front porch, and we set out, with some trepidation, to prepare the dish.  Here, Kathy shows the ingredients, along with an excellent cookbook that is also published by Xi'An Famous Foods:

This kit was for a spicy beef noodle dish, so Kathy set about boiling water to cook the noodles (in the big pot at the front in the photo below) and heating the spicy beef and sauce in the pan in the rear:

All the accoutrements were ready, and it was time for us to pull and slap the noodles.  There is no way to explain the process, other than to show you.  So here is a video of Kathy looking quite expert in pulling and slapping the biang biang mian.  An even more entertaining video is this one from Rachel Ray's cooking show!

With the noodles slapped, pulled and split, we threw them into the pot of boiling water and kept them moving so that they wouldn't stick to the pot:

While the noodles were cooking -- only a few minutes -- we set up our bowls to receive the noodles, the spices and the garnishes:

The noodles are they come!

They settled into the bowl and took the garnishes --

-- and the sauces, and now they are ready to slurp!

We're not saying they are unspicy...

...but, Boy! Do they taste rich and zesty and just as we remembered from our visit to the noodle shop with Weina and Matt!

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