Five places to get spicy Sichuan dan dan noodles in Hong Kong, from traditional bowls to modern twists
- Dan dan noodles originated in Sichuan province as a cheap street snack
- We visited five restaurants around Hong Kong to sample their versions
Dan dan noodles, a classic dish originating from Sichuan province, is named after the shoulder pole Chinese street vendors used to carry bamboo baskets of food and goods.
It was sold this way by street hawkers from the 1920s to 1950s, but over the years, the dish has found its way into restaurants and kitchens, and in the process, lends itself to different interpretations.
From chefs who stick to recipes passed down by old masters to those who give them a modern twist, here are five places in Hong Kong where you can find dan dan noodles.
According to chef Deng Hua-dong, in the past, hawkers selling the noodles usually came out at night and could only carry so many ingredients in their baskets. “So it is meant to be a midnight snack that can be finished in a few slurps, instead of a sumptuous meal,” which is why the dan dan noodles (HK$29) at Deng G come in a small modest bowl – it’s definitely not to be shared by two.
As with many dishes in Sichuan cuisine, dan dan noodles have a hot and numbing flavour that leaves your tongue burning.
Deng, who has spent years working at a renowned Chinese restaurant in Chengdu and learned the art of noodle making from old masters, says the spiciness should not betoo strong, or else it overwhelms the umami flavour of the soup.
The latter is brought out by Deyang sauce, a soy sauce from Sichuan, and yibin yacai, a type of fermented mustard green made from cardamine bean sprouts that are native to the province and which are typically added to Sichuan dishes for their fragrance.
Lard is used to give the soup a smooth texture. The rest of the ingredients and condiments are placed at the bottom of the bowl, then the noodles and a scoop of minced pork go on top. Chilli oil and pepper oil form a thin film of red above the soup.
And the finishing touch? A sprinkle of chopped spring onions. The resulting noodles are balanced in flavour, while leaving plenty of room for other dishes.
2/F, Weswick Commercial Building, 147 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2609 2328
For a version that is closest to the original dish, try Crazy Noodles in Central. It is called crazy, because the owner Paul Lau does not make any compromise or modify the recipe to suit the taste buds of Hong Kong people. Instead, he perfects each dish with the help of his wife, a Sichuan native, who, with her picky palate, is “harder to please than any customer”, says Lau.
To stay true to the original dish, Lau imports most of the ingredients directly from Sichuan. But what makes his dan dan noodles (HK$73) stand out from the rest you find in town is that it is served dry – without broth. “The most authentic dan dan noodles are served dry. Without soup, the condiments are not diluted and can retain their strong flavour,” says Lau.
Instead of soup, you will find a rich and thick meat sauce, a generous portion of minced pork, whole roasted peanuts, strips of cucumber and chopped spring onions that fill almost half the bowl. The savoury taste, which is quite overwhelming, lingers in your moutheven after drinking multiple cups of tea.
1/F, Kai Tak Commercial Building, 66-72 Stanley Street, Central, tel: 2311 3905
Wing Lai Yuen Sze Chuen Noodles Restaurant
Wing Lai Yuen, which celebrates its 70th anniversary last year, is one of the best known Sichuan restaurants in Hong Kong. Its owner, Yeung Din-wu, used to run the shop out of a metal hut in Tai Hom Village, the largest squatter village in Kowloon, and made a name for himself with his noodles, which are made with duck eggs and bread flour.
There are now two Wing Lai Yuen shops. The one in Wong Tai Sin, operated by Yeung’s second wife, may not have the fancy decor of the Whampoa branch (run by Yeung’s daughter-in-law), but it remains popular among the local community. And the signature dish of dan dan noodles is ordered by almost every customer when we visit.
The quality, however, is not what it used to be. Instead of the aforementioned yacai, the special dan dan noodles with minced pork and peanut sauce (HK$39) uses zha cai, a hot pickled mustard tuber from Chongqing, which is relatively common in Hong Kong. The finely grated peanuts and lavish amount of peanut sauce make up most of its flavour, leaving the taste flat and one-dimensional. Also, the bowl of noodles, which does not come with a single piece of vegetable, could use a bit of green.
15-17 Fung Tak Road, Wong Tai Sin, tel: 2726 3818
Social Place, which has opened a third branch in Tsuen Wan, adding to its Tsim Sha Tsui and Central stores, is where you can find dim sum with a modern twist, such as black gold custard buns or the “mangosteen” (deep fried glutinous puff with lobster). So unsurprisingly, its version of dan dan noodles is also a little different and comes with shrimp wonton (HK$49).
Although the noodles are not coated in red chilli oil, they are quite spicy and leave a tingly numbness in your mouth. The flavourful broth and chewy textures of the wontons add to the dish, but it is a bit on the salty side.
Various locations, including 2/F, The L Place, 139 Queen’s Road Central, tel: 3568 9666
Shanghai Po Po
With six outlets across Hong Kong, it’s easy to find a branch of Shanghai Po Po. But for a scrumptious bowl of dan dan noodles, this may be the last place you want to go.
At its store in Citywalk, Tsuen Wan, the broth is bland and unexciting. The presentation leaves a lot to be desired – it seems as though the chef has just thrown all the ingredients into a bowl. The only point worth noting is that the noodles, likely hand-pulled, come in unequal sizes which is supposed to create a nice variety in textures, but sadly they are all too soft.
Various locations, including Shops G30, G32 and G36, Citywalk, 1 Yeung Uk Road, Tsuen Wan, tel: 2687 3280.