Hands up if you love instant noodles like I do? There’s a reason why starving uni students live off them; they cost next to nothing and can be ready in a couple of minutes. Personally I just think that they’re so darn satisfying. Before you worry, yes I’ve already done my time at the Indomie Rehabilitation Clinic after spending a good stint of my life eating instant noodles for lunch and dinner everyday. I’m pretty much healed now but I do suffer relapses every so often (i.e. my lazy weeks)
The fact is, no matter how Westernised I am, I could never live without rice and noodles. These are the fundamentals in our diet and I need regular fixes otherwise I’d go stir crazy nuts. This is why I love Dan Dan Mein so damn much; I get my noodle dose without the need to get vigorous in the kitchen. It’s definitely the perfect weeknight meal when you just don’t feel like doing anything except sit your butt down. It’s totally easy to make, can be whipped up quickly and uses basic Asian pantry ingredients.
Dan Dan Noodles is a Chinese Sichuan dish and it is pure street food. The dish was cutely named after the poles that street peddlers would carry on their shoulders while lugging around their wares to serve the noodles to the public. As far as I know, there is no one authentic recipe and there are a dizzying array of varieties from different places in the world. Some regions use sesame paste or peanut butter to dull the heat and make it sweeter. Others prefer to keep the flavours simple and turn the chilli factor to stratospheric heights.
The great thing about this is that you are free to change it up to your tastes and mood. I always make the simpler Sichuan version without the extra pastes and vegetable condiments, with the heat dialed up a little but still retaining a little sweetness for my tastebuds. I know it takes a little more time and effort than opening up a Maggi packet and emptying out the flavour satchels but it’s not too far off. Just grab some noodles, spoon over the sauce, mix with chopsticks and woohoo, the lazy-gal’s ultimate TV dinner.
Dan Dan Noodles (Dan Dan Mein)
500g pork mince
50ml light soy sauce
50ml Chinese rice wine (aka Shao Tsing, Shao Hsing or Shaoxing)
Ground white pepper
500g Chinese wheat noodles
50ml vegetable oil plus extra for the noodles
100g Tianjin preserved vegetables
2 Tbl of Sichuan peppercorns, or to taste
50ml Chinese rice wine
50ml light soy sauce
15ml dark soy sauce
60-120ml red chilli oil (adjust to your spiciness level)
2 tsps brown rice vinegar (can be substituted with balsamic or Chinese black vinegar)
500ml chicken stock
2-3 Tbl caster sugar, or to taste
Scallions, sliced thinly
Red chillis, deseeded and slice thinly
Combine the pork mince, soy sauce, rice wine and white pepper and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes to an hour.
Meanwhile, rinse the Tianjin preserved veges (to rinse off the excess saltiness), squeeze to dry then drain on paper towels. Pound the Sichuan pepper in a mortle and pestle to a fine powder.
After the pork has marinated, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook your wheat noodles according to the packet’s instructions until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Add a dash of vegetable oil and toss to keep the noodles from sticking. Set aside while you prepare the sauce.
In a wok, heat the 50ml vege oil over medium-high heat. Add the drained preserved veges and fry until fragrant. Add the marinated pork mince and fry for a couple of minutes until browned.
Add the rice wine and cook for a further minute. Add all the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes to develop the flavours.
Divide the noodles in serving bowls, ladle just enough hot sauce to lightly coat the noodles and garnish with scallions and chillis if using.
Notes on recipe:
• Any type and thickness noodles can be used in this recipe whether it’s egg or wheat. Pantry empty? Spaghetti or thin linguine can be used to substitute. I prefer to use thicker 100% wheat noodles (the ones I buy looks like linguine).
• Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles tends to be less sweeter and more spicier. “Westernised” and Taiwanese (so I’ve been told) versions tend to be sweeter, milder, have a thicker sauce and include a bit of sesame paste or peanut butter.
• Feel free to mix it up with the sauce if you like. Add chinese mushrooms / shitakes to the noodles or garnish with chinese greens. This is a dish that is easy to play with to your heart’s desire.