LANZHOU HAND PULLED NOODLES (兰州拉面)



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.

NOTES BEFORE WE START

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.


YOU’LL NEED | SERVES 2 - 3

  • 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

PREPARE THE DOUGH (PHASE 1)

  • 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.

APPLY THE ALKALINE (PHASE 2)

  • 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).


STRETCH THE DOUGH (PHASE 3)

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.


PORTION THE DOUGH (PHASE 4)

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.


PULL THE NOODLES (PHASE 5)


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. 🙏








Comments

师傅,您好。Thanks for the information and recipe.... Just to know from you that what's Penghui ? Do mind to write this is Chinese word so I can find this ingredients. Thank you so much.
Penny, 您好!Penghui is known as either 蓬灰 or 蓬灰草. It’s an alkaline powder that noodle restaurants use to help with stretchiness and noodle strength in soups, just like 日本拉面 and sodium carbonate (碱水). Hope that helps!
This is a really great article!! Beautifully written introduction about an experience of the noodles themselves. As a Chinese-Vietnamese American I love seeing stuff like this around! Anyway, I was wondering if this recipe would produce the same texture of the flat biang biang noodles if shaped in that particular way? Also, I've heard of baking baking soda for a few hours to produce a stronger kanshui is this what you are referring to when you mention the bicarb+water solution as a substitute for kanshui? And if using this homemade stuff, could you go into more detail about the texture/smell of the dough as we adjust the amount of homemade kanshui while working with the dough? I think I might be able to figure it out seeing how smooth and supple the dough is in the pictures, but if there were some characteristics that stood out to you, would love to know!!
Hi Cody, thanks for the kind words and happy to hear you’re taking time to trying this out. The jianshui/kansui solution is lye water that you can easily get in asian supermarkets (you’ve probably seen them around). Their potency varies depending on their shelf life, and I’ve had hit and misses when using it for lamian, so I always recommend penghui. Your described method of using baked baking soda (sodium carbonate; Na2CO3) may work, but my only concern is that it may not reach a high enough pH to get the extensibility/plasticity that is required for Lanzhou lamian. Penghui has a pH of around 13-14, so it is very basic. (As a reminder, when dealing with any alkaline, you must be super careful not to inhale it/get it in your eyes; it can also cause chemical burns when not handled properly, even if food grade). Re: what to look for in texture, the dough should feel like light playdough, and you’ll notice that it will slightly droop without the elasticity. The mouthfeel of lanzhou lamian will be chewier than biang biang noodles while holding up better in broth because of the added alkalinity. I suppose I’m just comparing apples to oranges, though... I’ll provide a post for hand pulled non-alkaline noodles in the future. Hopefully that’ll help folks circumvent the use of an alkaline additive. Keep me updated on your progress, and good luck!
awesome step by step viseo
Hi William, This is such a detailed and thorough explanation on 拉面 making outside of China ! I am so excited to learn more about this through your techneake. I live in New York City and have scavenged all the asain grocery stores in the area to find 蓬灰. It seems that most stores carry 枧水. I have tried over 20 times to make 拉面 with 枧水 sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t even when using the same proportions. I also have looked online to see if I could import around 2 bags 蓬灰 to the US but most companies and food distributors in don’t ship any thing that contains powder to the US. Additionally the FDA has some wired restrictions on importing food products to the US as well. I was wondering if you knew of any Chinese food distributors or websites in the US or China that can ship 蓬灰 to US locations? Thanks so much for helping us figure out 拉面 and hope someday to travel to 兰州! Best Ian
Hi Ian, sorry for the late reply! I'm still figuring out how to get comment notifications through my blog. To answer your question, I don't know of any distributors that carry penghui. However, I may have some extra bags of penghui (I brought from Lanzhou) I can part with/sell to you, if interested. Feel free to reach out to me on IG @wlimdo. Cheers!
Hello - thanks for making your video and this write up. I was wondering if you can tell me: - Do you add the full 1% of flour weight Peng Hui solution at once? Then if you need more, you add extra later? - Do people ever mix penghui into the flour as a dry ingredient? Or mix it as a solution, earlier into the process? I suppose I am wondering what the effect is of Peng Hui spending a long time say as a solution (your video shows it getting hot, so reacting - does this reaction make it less potent in terms of delivering 'bite' of 'elasticity'?). Similarly, does letting Peng Hui sit in the dough for a long period of time have down-sides? Does it make the dough over-elastic? Or does its effect 'wear off' so to speak, and the dough toughens up again? I'm wondering if I could mix the dough, add the peng hui, work into the dough, then leave the dough on the side all day and then, portion, give a quick stretch, then then immediately pull? Or similarly, mix the dough and keep in the fridge for a few days and pull off a portion when I want one? Thanks! Jeff
Hi William, This is an incredible read, thank you very much. I've been searching for a very long time to find a recipe for lamien noodles which uses penghui. Most recipes are Western recipes trying to mimic the penghui. I have a question about your phase 2 step, when you're applying the alkaline solution. I see the alkaline solution you've made is 5 g penghui in 15 g of water. But, I'm a little bit confused as to how I need to apply this solution. Should I bathe the rested dough in it? Should I mixed the entire 15 g of water into the dough after I mixed in the penghui? Should I rub the dough until it wet with alkaline solution? Thank you kindly for taking the time to consider my question, Cheers, Rob
Actually, I was impatient and didn't let the video load before I asked my question (poor Internet connection). Now that the video is finally loaded, I can see how you added the alkali, and it's completely clear. Please disregard my previous comment except when I was thanking you for putting this recipe together!! Thanks again! Cheers, Rob

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