Monday, December 24, 2018

Yunnan cold rice noodles

This is a taste of the kind of simple foods my grandfather-in-law probably enjoyed during his youth in southern Yunnan’s countryside. 

People all over the spice-laden highlands of China make variations on this dish, for it’s the sort of thing that sparks the appetite even when it is hot and muggy.

The story about my late mother-in-law's father is told in my upcoming memoir, The Jade Labyrinth. She had always told us he was a warlord. However, what I discovered was something so much more fascinating that my husband is still trying to wrap his head around it. Sorry to be so opaque here... I'm just throwing that out there to get you excited about this upcoming book of mine.

If your mom is whispering something in the back of your brain about eating sensibly, note that there are enough vegetables and meat in here to turn this into a superbly delicious, easy, and totally balanced one-bowl meal. And if you want to eat this in winter, this dish is excellent hot.

Yunnan cold rice noodles
The tasty nuggets in here
Yúnnán liáng mĭxiàn  雲南涼米線
Yunnan cuisine
Serves 4 as a main dish

Around 1 pound | 500 g dry round rice noodles (see Tips)
1 teaspoon peanut or vegetable oil
8 ounces | 225 g fresh soybean, or 4 ounces | 100 g mung bean sprouts
Boiling water, as needed
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
8 ounces | 225 g ground pork
3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons golchujang sauce, or to taste (see Tips)
1 teaspoon toasted ground Sichuan peppercorns, or to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce, or 2 tablespoons regular soy sauce plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
½ cup | 40 g chopped garlic chives
½ cup | 20 g coarsely chopped cilantro
Garlic chives & cilantro

1. Bring about 1 quart | 1 liter water to a boil in a saucepan.  Add the rice noodles and stir. As they soften, work them apart with chopsticks or tongs so that they aren’t allowed to form sticky clumps. When the noodles are plump and fully hydrated, transfer them to a colander set in the sink. (Check package directions, as each brand is different.)  They should be cooked, like any pasta, just to the point of al dente and no further, as this gives them personality. Rinse the noodles with cool water to stop the cooking. Put them in a work bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon oil to keep them from sticking.

2. Bring the pot back to a full boil. Check over the sprouts and discard any discolored ones, as well as any extra seedhead casings. Add the bean sprouts. Cook soybean sprouts until the yellow heads no longer taste raw, and yet they retain a nice crispness, about 10 minutes. Mung bean sprouts only need to be blanched briefly. Drain the sprouts and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking. Add to the rice noodles and toss. (If you are serving these noodles hot, reserve some of the noodle water for Step 4.)

3. Set a wok over medium-high heat. Add the 2 tablespoons oil, swirl it around, and then add the pork, breaking it up into smaller clumps as you go. Add the garlic and stir-fry the meat until it is no longer pink. Toss in the chile sauce for about 30 seconds to coat each piece of meat. Add to the rice noodles along with the raw chopped chives.

4. Toss the noodle mixture with the sweet soy sauce, vinegar, and cilantro. If you are serving the noodles hot, at about ½ cup | 125 ml of the hot noodle water to the bowl, too. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately while the vegetables are still vibrant.


Jiangxi style dried rice noodles (called làifěn 瀨粉) work perfectly here. Make sure the rice noodles are about the thickness of spaghetti to give them enough heft to hold their own against the rest of the ingredients.

As for the chile sauce, Zhàotōng 昭通 style is traditional, but Korean golchujang works in a pinch. Zhaotong chile sauce is made with ground toasted soybeans, and that gives it a nice crunch. Plus, this fermented sauce contains Sichuan peppercorns and chiles, which give it a wonderfully buzzy flavor. If you don’t have this, use the golchujang with a good spoonful of ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns.