If you spent some time in New York City during the start of the Wall Street financial bubble, you knew that Chinese food culture was about to have its moment—and not necessarily towards a push for posh, haute cuisine funded by bankers’ bonuses and excess. For decades, Cantonese and Chinese-American food have been mainstays of metropolitan cities like NYC and San Francisco. What was different was the slow proofing of western Chinese gastronomy in Flushing and Manhattan's Chinatown, brought here by a diaspora in the 80’s and 90’s nostalgic for silk road flavors.

Among the gifts were Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles (兰州拉面 or Lanzhou lamian), popularized by Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles on Doyers Street, yet localized by Super Taste on Elridge. Hand-pulled noodles are a sensory experience: the 10 minute journey from the subway, the murmured prayers for whether the restaurant is opened and then the discomfort of sharing your table with a slurping stranger, only to watch the matriarch of the restaurant shout your order from across the room. She looks your way, then raises her fingers, “two minutes.”

As you wait, your mind might slip into one of those fugue states where the walls melt away, the thwap! of the whipped noodle dough grows louder, and the steam from the boiling water blurs to a fog, until what’s left in front of you is a bowl of supple strands bathed in pork broth (we thank the Fujianese immigrants for this non-halal derivative), ceremoniously garnished with a Fergus Henderson ode to oxtail disks, beef meatballs, white tripe, and fatty brisket.

It’s hard to imagine the importance of Lanzhou lamian in the Asian American narrative as something other than culinary theatrics, powered by Youtube videos and mystique with some “ancient Chinese secret”. It’s even harder to imagine a Lanzhou Hui Muslim without a bowl of noodles in the morning at 6:30 a.m., clockwork, normal, even necessary. With 50,000 noodle shops strong in Lanzhou, lamian is to Lanzhou as oil is to modern economies. It is, put simply, a way of life.

To understand noodle-making in Lanzhou, you must visit one of its better restaurants, Mazilu (马子禄). From a distance, their china reminds you of hastily-made Ming porcelain. Squint, and you might notice the contours of an Islamic Alhambra. Cream colored noodles are served in a yak broth that has the clarity of a Yunnanese qiguo stock. A ladle each of chili crisp oil and cubed beef belly splits the difference between a night market snack from Chengdu and a dish you enjoyed the last time you backpacked through Kashgar. But take a bite, and you’ll see how lamian has given not only Lanzhou but China a sense of place—a place where a guest, whether a rice farmer or steel magnate, won’t have to pay more than 10 yuan ($1.40 USD) for a bowl of noodles. It’s unapologetically democratic, and its people keep it that way.

The countdown starts when the noodle master hands you your order. You’re careful to balance the soup as you search for an empty table, a stool, a place to squat, anything. And when you inhale your bowl of dakuan (large width) hand-pulled noodles and its tenets—clear broth, white radishes, red fragrant oil, green herbs, beef slices—you realize that there might be beauty in lamian staying secret, normal and mythic in its entirety.


Due to immediate demand, this recipe is only for the hand-pulled noodle dough. A future article may cover the broth and chili oil. The key to making Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles properly is technique and the right alkaline, in this case, penghui. Be careful when working with any chemical compounds with a high pH, as they can cause burns when not handled properly. This is important when working with food grade penghui, lye, jianshui/kansui and even baking soda. Do not inhale or get them in your eyes.

I prefer to measure everything in grams for accuracy since volumetric measurements can be volatile in the home kitchen. That said, feel free to adjust accordingly to your palate and availability of ingredients. For peace of mind, I suggest gathering and measuring all ingredients first, then storing them in small bowls. If you have all the ingredients ready to go, you’ll have an easier time as you execute the recipe.


  • 500g AP or bread flour
    Bread flour allows for chewier noodles but with greater tension when kneading

  • 250g water

  • 5g kosher salt

  • 5g penghui, mixed with 15g water
    Can substitute with jianshui/kansui (potassium carbonate/sodium bicarbonate solution) at 5g kanshui mixed with 5g water. You may need more/less depending on the potency of your kansui batch.

  • Oil

  • Extra flour for dusting


  • 500g AP or bread flour
    Bread flour allows for chewier noodles but with greater tension when kneading

  • 5g kosher salt

  • 250g water

Combine flour and salt together and mix well. Place flour onto your work counter and form a mound. Starting from the center of the mound, use your hand to form a wide crater in a clockwise direction, pushing the flour outward.

Slowly pour the water into the center of the mound. Where the water meets the flour, use your fingers to slowly scrape the flour toward the pool of water. This allows the water to slowly and properly hydrate the flour in small amounts. This process is similar to kneading pasta with eggs.

Knead dough until nearly smooth. Wrap and let dough rest for at least 45 minutes.


  • 5g penghui, mixed with 15g water
    Can substitute with jianshui/kansui (potassium carbonate/sodium bicarbonate solution) at 5g kanshui mixed with 5g water. You may need more/less depending on the potency of your kansui batch.

  • Rested dough from PHASE 1

Fill a medium pot of water and place over the stove with medium/high heat. Salt water until seasoned. This water will be used to cook your noodles.

By now the rested dough should be soft and smooth. Using your knuckles, gradually stretch and tear the dough away from you. Apply about half of the penghui solution.

DISCLAIMER: Again, when working with any alkaline solution be careful not to inhale it or get it in your eyes. Although food grade, penghui/lye water/kansui can caustic burns when not handled properly.

Fold the stretched dough over onto itself and continue the knuckle stretching method until the dough begins to droop. This may take about 5 - 10 minutes, depending on your speed. By now the dough should feel plastic and relaxed and no longer spring back into place (elastic).


Starting from the left side of the dough, you’re going to use your left palm to stretch a segment of the dough away from you, then roll back in place. You’re going to apply the same method using your right palm with the adjacent segment of the unrolled dough. Continue this until the entire log of dough has been rolled out two to three times, alternating between your left and right palms. 

Next, we’re going to stretch the dough for evenness. On both ends of the dough, pull the dough about 2 feet in length, fold over and reconnect both ends. Continue this for about 7 to 8 times until you can see smooth strands appear along the dough. This is a good sign and represents congruence in density and texture for the dough.


Spread a thin sheen of oil over your work counter and apply a few drops to your hand. With your oiled hands, gently roll the stretched dough into a thick log. Be sure the thickness is uniform and the skin smooth. Clip off both ends of the dough with either your hands or with your bench scraper. The ends won’t be as even as the rest of the dough’s body, risking mismatching noodle strands when pulling noodles in the final step. Portion the log into 2 parcels. Cover with plastic and rest for 5 minutes.


Dust your work counter with flour. Starting with the first parcel, roll it outward away from you then back, ensuring a light coating of flour picks up along the way. Meanwhile, gradually apply pressure so that the parcel is even in thickness. Be careful not to roll out too thinly.

With both hands, hold the parcel of dough on each end. 

Pull ends away from each other (about 2 feet) and loop back toward each other, forming a triangular space.

Pinch the dough ends between your left index finger and left ring finger.

Use your right index finger to drag the strands from the center of the triangular space.

Continue pulling noodles with this technique 4 more times. Pinch off the doughy end and cook in boiling water for 20 seconds. 

Strain and enjoy. 🙏