After a rather intriguing stop at the Chanel Mobile Art exhibit in Central Park last Saturday, Robyn and I went down, deep into Chinatown for noodles. Oh yes, oh goodness, we love our noodles, we love our dumplings. Specifically, fried dumplings and generous bowls of hand pulled noodles.
The place is called Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles and there, taped on the walls, like many places in Chinatown, were two menus. One English and one Chinese. The Chinese menu is always larger, and it was no different in this case. Sadly, neither of us could decipher a single character on the bright orange menu. Next to that menu was the English version, a menu less than half the size of the former, boring black ink printed on white paper.
Curiousity aside, the dinner was no less enjoyable as we devoured fried dumplings, crisp and plump, stuffed with pork and chives. Some like dumplings plain, others dipped in shoyu – I’ve been raised to pair dumplings with black vinegar. To each his/her own.
Above, Robyn’s order of “Dry Noodles with Minced Pork Sauce” (Jia Jian Mein)…
…and my “Beef Noodle Soup.” The noodles for all dishes are hand-pulled, quite literally the minute after your order is placed. We sat along the wall seats and watched as the man transformed balls of dough into thin strands in a matter of minutes. He adds only a few sprays of water here and there, and an occasional slick of oil to prevent the dough from sticking. The most wonderful part is that, unlike soba or pasta, the making of “hand cut” noodles is indeed done with the hand alone. No knifes, or yardsticks for precision cutting, no forks. Nothing but the hand – I found that most impressive.
And also, unlike soba and pasta, the dishes at Lan Zhou top out at $4.50 a bowl. Four. Fifty. For noodles handmade on the spot! Fresh dumplings skins! The only downside is paying $.75 for a bottle of water (no cups of tap here ;). But at prices like that, there’s no reason to complain.
I went home that evening, very stuffed and content…
…I couldn’t stop babbling about the noodles to my apartment-mates, so Shann, Steph, Darien, Justin (visiting from Yale for the weekend) and I found ourselves there the next night – celebrating Shann’s 23rd birthday.
But this time around, with the aid of Justin’s Chinese deciphering skills, we discovered a few of the menus items that just didn’t make its way over to the English version.
See? Look how short this menu is!
First off the English menu, rounds of dumplings, both steamed…
…and fried. I cannot decide which I like better – a bit of both is perfect.
Darien and Steph each had the Beef Brisket Soup Noodles…
…and Shann went with the Lamb Soup Noodles.
Justin and I ventured to the Chinese menu, where my stomached settled upon an order of Duck and (fake) Abalone Noodles…
…here’s a closer shot. Details, details! Mushrooms on the right, and a knob of ginger right above that.
The menu lists Fish Balls in Soup as an order item, but not Fish Ball Noodle Soup. However, with a kind request, they will gladly add a serving of noodles to compose an “entree.”
Harboured into the center of each fish ball is a juicy sweet nugget of ground pork – a much welcomed surprise.
Post noodles, Justin tried to make out a few more characters on the menu…”hrm this is…sweet? dessert? I think this says something about sweets.” My attention snapped immediately back to his words upon hearing, “dessert.” DESSERT?! I encouraged him to prod a bit more, upon which he discovered “mochi” and then “salty.” Salty Sweet Mochi? The two items involving mochi were listed side by side. So we ordered both.
These mochi dishes took the longest to arrive – 15 minutes (whereas noodles and dumplings took no more than three minutes). Perhaps this is because it is an infrequently ordered dish? We didn’t see them at other tables on either visit. Ten pieces to an order, a single bite of boiled mochi dough…
…encasing sweet porky nuggets, the same meat mix encountered in the fish balls.
The sweet mochi was shaped slightly differently, “so you can distinguish” the server said in Chinese, pointing at one and saying, “tian” (sweet) and the other, “xian” (savoury).
A bite of into the mochi exposed an interior coupling crushed peanuts, coconut, and sesame seeds bound in thick sweet syrup. There were a few more things we could not make out on the menu, including a paragraph on the bottom right. Justin gave it a shot and could only make out, “March 1st…more…more!”
“More what?” Shann asked.
We failed to answer her question that night.
A few days later I told Robyn of our attempts to decipher the menu.
“Oh! I should just ask my mom!”
And so she did…and now we know what the entire menu says!
Check her Flickr for the full translation…she also made a related post Serious Eats New York.
And as for the answer to Shann’s question of “more what?” Robyn’s mom translation provided, “due to inflation, the menu prices were adjusted accordingly on March 1.” More, more indeed
Lan Zhou Hand Made Noodles
144 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002