The Art of Hand Pulled Noodles - Noodle making class in Beijing, China

>>  Monday, May 16, 2011

It's arguably becoming a lost art.

Many of you might know that I'm a bit obsessed with hand-pulled noodles.

OK, I should clarify. My husband is obsessed with eating fresh, handmade noodles. As a result, I became obsessed with figuring out how to obtain them. After an exhaustive search of Boston, we realized that hand-pulled noodles do not exist in Boston.

So I set out to learn how to make them myself. It wasn't easy. I soon learned that the internet is sparse when it comes to information in English for making hand-pulled noodles. Sure, there's some information, but at the end of the day, I think a lot of the information is still hidden in China.

So when I went to Beijing last fall (after having made my noodle making Project Food Blog post), you know what I had to do. I signed up for a hand-pulling noodle class with a Chinese noodle master.

First, we learned that Beijing-style hand-pulled noodles are different than the Shaanxi-style hand-pulled noodles. Shaanxi-style hand-pulled noodles make use of a base (called kansui or jiansui), which is typically a mixture of potassium carbonate and sodium carbonate. The version I had been making at home was based on this method, but used sodium bicarbonate instead (baking soda), since it was easier to obtain in US markets. Beijing noodle dough, on the other hand, is simple, consisting only of high gluten four (te jing fen), water, and salt.

What causes hand-pulled noodle dough to be flexible and stretchy?

1) an increased water to dough ratio
2) the addition of salt
3) continual kneading and twirling of the dough

Because the class was only 2 hours long, the instructor had pre-kneaded the dough for us already. (Yeah, I know, he did the hardest part!) Nevertheless, it was interesting to learn some proper techniques related to dough twisting and pulling.

The idea is to stretch out the dough like a rope, bring the two ends together while twirling, and then stretch the dough again to its original length. Check out the video below to see this in action. You do this over and over and over again until the dough reaches the right consistency. It takes a bit of experience to be able to tell when the dough is the right consistency. A proper dough will be soft, pliable, and can stretch easily without breaking.

Many things can affect the quality of the dough - humidity in the air that day, temperature, gluten percentage in your dough. He told us that on a humid summer day you may only need to twirl for about 10 minutes, whereas in the winter you may need to twirl for 15-20 minutes.

Ideally, you twirl in different directions each time: counterclockwise, then clockwise, etc.

When the dough is finally ready, then you begin pulling. For Dragon's Whiskers, which are super, super thin, you end up pulling the dough close to ten times! That's like 1024 noodles! The noodles become so thin, you really can't boil them. They would fall apart if you tried. Instead, these types of super thin noodles are typically deep fried.

If you want to make noodles for boiling, typically you don't want to stretch them more than 4-5 times!

Despite the fact that I had some experience with making noodles, I was surprised how hard it was when I tried do everything "properly." I guess the lesson is - don't learn bad habits! They are hard to unlearn.

Here's a brief video I made of the class. Below, I've provided the recipe that they gave to us.

If you want to take the class yourself, check out the offerings on their website.

If you have trouble watching the video embedded here, click here to go straight to Youtube

Disclaimer: I have not tried this recipe at home. The only recipe I have validated at home is the one from my first blog post on this topic.

Hand Pulled Noodle Dough
167g high gluten flour (te jing fen)
100g water
1 tsp salt

Combine flour, water, and salt. Knead dough until elastic (possibly up to an hour, or you can try using a stand mixer on speed 4 or a bread machine). Cover the dough with plastic and let it rest at room temperature for at least 15-20 minutes (to relax the gluten). Twist the dough for about 15-20 minutes or until it is nice and stretchy. Pull noodles.

This is part 14 of the China Series detailing my recent trip to Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai. 
Other posts in this series: 
part 2: Xian'r Lao Man (handmade dumplings)
part 3: Made in China (Peking duck)
part 4: Noodle Bar (hand pulled noodles)
part 5: Bao Yuan Dumpling (handmade dumplings)
part 6: Da Dong (Peking duck)
part 7: Jia Jia Tang Bao (Soup dumplings / xiao long bao)
part 8: Yang's Fry Dumpling (Pan fried steamed buns / shen jian bao)
part 9: Din Tai Fung (dumplings)
part 11: Crystal Jade (Dim Sum)
part 12: Jiu Men Xiao Chi (Nine Gates Snack Street) - the best Street Snacks in Beijing
part 13: Noodle Loft (Mian Ku)
Happy Birthday Bryan: an Ode to Noodles and Ducks
How to make hand-pulled noodles, la mian, shou la mian, 

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