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


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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All Rights Reserved

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Comments

  1. says

    I’ve got to try making my own hand pulled noodles at some point. It looks so hard and laborious but it is so hard finding good hand pulled noodles.

  2. says

    Such basic ingredients that yields such delicious springy noodles! I loved the hand pulled noodles I had in Hong Kong, earnestly seeking out the place featured in No REservations

  3. says

     Love this!  I am so obsessed with noodles I could eat them 3 meals a day.  I’ve always wanted to learn how to make my own (besides Italian pasta which we already make) but man this doesn’t look easy! Thanks for sharing, I’ll have to try my hand at it soon…

  4. Chinkiefoodie says

    sure is taxing to do the noodles :P what type of flour is te jing fen? is it bread flour? Thanks!

  5. Zeynep says

    Hello Jen; you’re doing a great job at you tiny urban kitchen there. I am a fallower of yours from Turkey. We love noodles, me and my boyfriend, and try everywhere we go. Unfortunatly there are no place making noodles near good. Best thing we had is from a fast food chain (www.nunoodle.com) though its pretty good when you compare to the restaurants. I started to work out for hand pulled noodles immediately. Not the hand pulled noodles but the udon noodle is so similiar our triditional some kind of pasta called “erişte”. My grandmother and her neighbours used to cut and dry it for winter at the end of the summer and they were cook for us to eat fresh after all the work done. I love the fresh cooked better than the dried ones.
    And i would like to ask you is there any book about chinese cuisine you can suggest?

  6. jentinyurbankitchen says

    Hi Zeynep,
    Thanks for your kind words! What kind of book are you looking for? Recipe books or books that have some culture as well? And what kind of Chinese cuisine? Szechuan, Taiwanese, etc? Wei Chuan has a decent series on various types of Chinese cuisine. Nina Simonds is a close family friend who has written many excellent Chinese cookbooks. Fuschia Dunlop is known for her Szechuan cookbooks.

    Hope that helps!

    Jen

  7. zeynep says

    Hi Jen,
    A book contains all kinds of information like; ingridients, tools, cooking ways and culture. I didn’t know that there are many kinds of chinese cuisine =) so maybe it may contain information about the subgroups of chinese cousine and recipies yes, i guess it’s too much for a book.
    Thank you
    Zeynep.

  8. says

    Thanks for this post!  I was trying to make ramen and couldn’t cut my noodles fine enough for my taste – while looking on tips to cut them finer I came across the concept of pulling them and knew I had to do that!  You seem like a pro compared to what I can do!

    Thanks for the recipe as well.  After scouring the internet I started with the original recipe you used – with cake flour – assuming (incorrectly) the cake flour had a higher gluten content.  To me it just made sense that you would want higher gluten for stretchy noodles.  When I found out it had lower gluten I was confused – I’d also bought a bag of pure gluten but wasn’t sure what to do with it.  Your recipe has cleared that right up!

    Of course, the praise of the recipe is all in theory – I can’t claim any success yet – I think now my problems lie in my hand-kneading technique (or lack of).  I might have to break down and buy a machine….

    Still, love the article, love the advice!  I will definitely check out your other articles as well!

  9. CHIPHANGJOSEPH says

    HELLO CHEF, MY NAME IS CHIPHANG JOSEPH WANTED TO LEARN. BUT WHERE     WHERE COULD I BE ABLE TO LEARN HAND PULL NOODLES IN CHINA ?

  10. says

    Most people hear the words “diet” and cringe because it often involves a kind of strict routine that does not fit into their busy lifestyle. The words also bring pictures of counting calories, carbohydrates, low fat food that tastes like cardboard, rigorous training and starvation. The local bookstore carries a number of well-known as “healthy” cookbooks full of conflicting nutritional information, not to mention diet scams that prey on people today trying to find a quick solution.
     

  11. Jack says

    Jen! What a great post!! I’m traveling around Asia this month and I would LOVE to get the name of the class you took in Beijing. I’ve been scouring the Internet for awhile now in search of a solid class and this seems to be perfect. Can you please let me know? Thanks so much for the post!!!!

    Jack

  12. Jungleng says

    Hi there, so did the noodles with higher protein taste better than the ones made with the cake-flour+all-purpose-flour mix? I’m curious coz all the recipes I see on the internet written by people outside of China say to use low gluten flour, however all Chinese sources say to use high gluten flour. I would imagine high gluten flour will make chewier noodles.

  13. Jungleng says

    lol you must have left that course feeling so hungry! anyway, thanks for answering. just one question, exactly how much twisting of the dough is required?

  14. jentinyurbankitchen says

    Well, it was a noodle dumpling class so we got to eat the dumplings that we made! So we didn’t leave hungry at all. :) I would twist for at least 15-20 minutes.

  15. Candy says

    Jen, does high gluten flour work at all?  It is more elastic but less extensible than low gluten flour like cake flour.  

  16. says

    Candy – that’s what the instructor said to use. I have made handmade noodles (not hand-pulled) with high gluten flour and it works well. However, I’ve never tried to pull it! I’m guessing it takes tons of strength to knead it to the point when it’s ready to be pulled!

  17. Anonymous says

    My 14-year old son is from Henan province, and learned how to make Henan-style (wide, flat) noodles from his grandmother. He has told me that it takes a “special” flour for the pulled noodles, thanks for the clarification on high-gluten flour and the blog post. By the way, he uses eggs in his noodle recipe (just flour, eggs, and water).

  18. El says

    Hi Jen, I’m learning to make hand pulled noodles (la mian). Your recipe is only use flour, water, and salt. Can it stretch? Because some people tell me that kansui makes it strech properly, and I read in internet that kansui is bad for health. I want to make it without kansui, but I still doubt it will stretch easily and not breaking when I stretch it. Sorry my english is bad..

  19. JK says

    Do you have a recipe that includes Kansui?? I found it at teh chinese market and wanted to make it the right way. Thx, J

  20. D says

    I am not sure if there is a hand pulled noodle place in Boston, but about 40 minutes outside of Boston, in Chelmsford, there is a small cafe that does have hand pulled noodles. They are delicious. Check it out. I believe the name of the cafe is Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe.

  21. says

    Just got around to trying this new version. No luck. I found that the dough after an hour of kneading was still way to springy to pull. I ended up adding about twice that much water and finally got some stretchiness, but at about 2 hours in, I gave up and ran it through the pasta machine. I did add 1 tsp of baking soda to this recipe.

    Interestingly, I’d made a dough that my Atlas hand crank couldn’t cut. The spaghetti die just bend it into a crinkle shape, because it was too stretchy to shear.

    I haven’t tried the cake flour version yet. That might be next.

  22. Jim Hart says

    I’m confused by the recipes I’m finding… some call for HIGH gluten/protein BREAD flour and others call for LOW gluten/protein CAKE flour…. they are like opposite ends of the wheat flout spectrum….. Which is is? or is it just different approaches to the same end result?

  23. says

    Echoing another poster – Gene’s Flatbread cafe does really tasty hand pulled noodles.. and lamb skewers… and lamb stew.. and supposedly the chilled noodles, only served on weekends, are great as well..

  24. says

    Ok so I tried this recipe and failed. 

    I used gao jin fen (高筋粉) instead of te jin fen (特筋粉) so maybe that’s why the dough was sticky but still difficult to stretch. 

    Or maybe there wasn’t enough dough for my bread maker to knead it well enough? It seemed way too sticky when I took it out if the machine. Or maybe it was too hot in there?

    Will have to try again. Not sure where you can buy te jin fen in the states. 

    W

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