Monday, January 26, 2015

Sesame noodles. Seriously yum.

I have adored this simple street food ever since I took my first bite at a little stand on Nanhai Road, just a block or so away from work. It was a very simple affair — just fresh noodles tossed with little more than toasted sesame paste, plus a dash of black vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce — but I always luxuriated over this quiet, solitary lunch.

Over the years I have messed around with this quite a bit, as I found it to be another one of those basic templates that ought to be tinkered with until you find your sweet spot. Peanut butter found its way into the mix to provide another layer of nutty creaminess and more complexity to the flavors. Garlic soon lent its fragrance, as did homemade chili oil with lots of goop, which can make this taste very similar to Sichuan’s Dan Dan Noodles (dāndānmiàn 擔擔麵). Like stone soup, this just gets better as more delicious things get added.
Heat up the nutty sauce

Sesame noodles
Májiàng miàn 麻醬麵
Taiwan Military Families and Beijing
Serves 4

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, or 2 tablespoons chili oil plus goop
2 tablespoons toasted sesame paste
2 tablespoons peanut butter, crunchy or smooth
1 or more cloves garlic (I like 2), finely chopped
1 green onion, the white and greens finely chopped and in separate piles
1½ tablespoons regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark vinegar
1 teaspoons sugar
Boiling water, as needed
8 ounces dried wheat noodles of any kind

1. First make the sauce: In a wok, mix together the sesame oil (or chili oil and goop), sesame paste, peanut butter, garlic, onion whites, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Heat this slowly while stirring until the sauce is slightly cooked through, then taste and adjust the seasoning.
Toss and serve

2. Boil the noodles in a quart or more of boiling water until they are barely done. Transfer the cooked noodles to the wok. Toss the noodles until they are all well coated, adding some of the hot pasta water as needed to keep them from clumping up. (To be honest, this will take more water than you expect the first time around.) Divide the noodles among the bowls, sprinkle on the onion greens, and serve hot. I like to offer small bowls of the pasta water on the side as a simple soup that can be used to further thin down the sauce as needed.


This makes an amazing breakfast if you toss a fried egg or two on top. Make the sauce ahead of time, and you'll be able to put this together in a minute or two.