HOW TO MAKE BIANG NOODLES

INSPIRATION

This dish is inspired by the Stewed Pork Biang-Biang Noodles at Biang! restaurant in East Village, NYC made by Jason Wang and David Shi of Xi’an Famous Foods. The father and son duo create a flavorful mixture of hand-pulled noodles, cumin, chili oil and pork that is lauded as a fan-favorite within the restaurant. The cumin was one of the strongest tastes in the dish, and Jason explained to us that cumin likely came from the Middle East to Xi’an China. It was really exciting to be able to hear the story of Biang Noodles, first hand from Jason.

Their restaurants have become enormously popular in NYC – and for a good reason. They serve authentic Xi’an cuisine that is loved by those familiar with the foods and those who are experiencing it for the first time. Xi’an food is popping up in many major cities and doing extremely well. 

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So, to be clear, I absolutely did not invent the Biang Noodle and am by no means an expert. Quite frankly, I’m a complete outsider to the world of Xi’an cuisine. In fact, I hadn’t heard of this dish before I tried it and when I ate it, I completely fumbled with the chopsticks and made a mess. I had no idea how to make it and certainly couldn’t pinpoint what was so tasty about it. This made it the perfect challenge. Plus, Jason’s introduction to the dish, complete with a tutorial on hand-pulling got me excited to learn more. With a little bit of research, and a lot of failed attempts in the kitchen, I’ve come up with a dish I’m happy with and some insights that I hope with be informative. With that said, I’ve really enjoyed my exploration of this dish and hope you’ll enjoy my adaptation.

MY TASTE PROFILE

I wanted to take this dish and adapt it to my taste profile so that this dish could be something that I eat frequently and enjoy the flavor every single time. I love spicy foods, and the chili oil in Biang!’s dish certainly delivers the spice I’m looking for. In my noodle dish, I opted for a chili oil with a milder spice and slightly more sweetness. I added grape seed oil, which is similar to canola oil to the oil mixture to make the chili even milder. I also decided to use spring onions, similarly to Biang!, but I actually cooked the white part of the spring onion and used the green part as a garnish. I added garlic paste (plenty of it!) as opposed to chopped garlic or garlic powder so that the garlic would completely mix in with the chili oil. I also wanted to add in shallots for increased onioniness because I can’t get enough onion flavor. Lastly, I chose to omit the cumin and pork completely. The only reason for this is that I wanted to focus on the flavors that I crave the most and keep the dish as simple as possible.

You may ask why I decided to adapt the well-loved recipe that Jason Wang served in his restaurant to my own preferences. One reason is that Jason’s recipe is a result of his experimentation and adaptation of the foods that he has tried in China. He went through iterations of the recipe before delivering what he thought was the perfect noodle dish – and I don’t want to copy that in any way. That is a really beautiful journey, incorporating flavors that he has encountered and formulating them through many trials. I wanted to take a similar journey and find out what that process looked like for me. In my opinion, food is there to be explored, and that exploration is where all the fun is. If I simply tried to emulate Jason’s recipe, that would actually be more inauthentic than paving my mown path. I have never followed a recipe completely by the books. In fact, more often than not, I read the recipe and the freestyle it from there, maybe referring to measurements every so often only to completely disregard them and do my own thing. So, in that sense, my dish is truly inspired by the restaurant’s, not a copycat.

I actually encourage anyone reading this to try this recipe, but completely change it up and let it be your own exploration. If you can’t be bothered to make your own noodles, go with store bought noodles. If you are watching your waistline and don’t want to use an enormous amount of oil, cut the amount in half. It’s all up to you.

It’s worth mentioning that getting the combo of flavors for the sauce and the texture of the noodles right has taken me at least 8 tries altogether. I started by using several different kinds of store-bought noodles, but that wasn’t giving me the soft and chewy texture that I crave. I could tell that the noodles were made in a machine and they just didn’t do it for me. Looking back, I think if I were to use a store bought noodle, I would actually use lasagna sheets and cut them in half lengthwise. I also tried using my version of a dumpling sauce, that I normally use to dip my dumplings in, but the taste was completely off. I think using vinegar clashed with the oil in a way that just tasted bad to me (although my roommate seemed to like it). I actually didn’t even finish eating that version. The next attempts were when I fumbled with hand pulled noodles and narrowed down the ingredients for my sauce. I learned that kneading is absolutely imperative and it’s okay if not every noodle is absolutely perfect. The most important thing is to get the noodles thin enough, so the middle doesn’t turn into bread. If a few noodles break in the process, thats totally okay.

The following is my version of Biang Noodles…

THE DOUGH

I use about 3 cups of high-gluten bread flour to 1 cup of water. All you need to do us make a well in the flour and slowly add the water, mixing it in with chopsticks. Once most of the dough has formed together, take it out of the bowl and put it on a dry, clean countertop. Knead for a few minutes, cover the dough in a thin layer of plain oil and let rest (covered) for about an hour. The dough might seem uneven or clumpy, but resting it for an hour should turn it into a smoother consistency.

Next, roll the dough out into a long log and slice into sections the size of a lacrosse ball. Then, form those balls into sausage shapes by rolling them slightly and then squish them down until they are flat.

Now comes the tricky part. Ideally, you want to hold both sides of the flattened dough and smash it against the counter until it stretches into a long flat noodle. In reality, the dough might tear or stretch unevenly, so sometimes you might have to do some added squishing or stretching. When your noodle is as thin as possible, rip in down the middle to cut the width of it in half. See how I did it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flZTrwNK0Ok   

THE NOODLE

You want to make sure you lay each noodle flat so that they don’t stick together. The next part is the easiest. Drop each noodle individually into boiling hot, salted water and cook until they all rise to the top. I like to let them cook at the top of the water for extra softness. 

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THE SAUCE

While the noodles boil, combine about a half cup of plain oil with 3 heaping tablespoons of chili oil, a heaping tablespoon of garlic paste, one drop (seriously, just one drop!!) of sesame oil, red pepper chili flakes to taste and salt and petter to taste. Once this mixture is very hot, add sliced shallots and the white part of 3-4 spring onions. The onions should absorb a lot of the spicy flavor from the oil mixture. Lastly, add 2 handfuls of bok choy and cover until the bok choy wilts.

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PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Add the noodles to the sauce and bok choy and sir until the noodles are coated in sauce.

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Transfer to a serving bowl and top with chopped green spring onion.

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*Special thanks to Brandon for the photos and video!

CONCLUSIONS

Can I actually make Biang noodles? YES! But it wasn’t easy…

Does the Biang! restaurant do them better than me? Probably.

In the process of making this noodle dish, I learned a ton about what flavors and textures I truly love (spice, onion and softness) AND I learned how to (sort of) make a dish that I assumed should be left to the experts.

This project has inspired me to do more food explorations. I think that there is a big gap between in-depth food critique and writing which is mostly seen in books and newspapers and online food blogging which lacks research, exploration and understanding (e.g. diy mug cakes). What I too often find online are copycat versions of trendy food topics (avocado toast, energy bites etc.) accompanied by quasi-experts and sponsorships. I would love to see more originality through genuine exploration and experimentation.

I’m probably not going to start a food blog, but I want to continue to be inquisitive about the things I am eating, test new flavors, create dishes I’m proud of and take inspiration from the world around me.

EPILOGUE / MAPPING

For my map, I wanted to delve deeper into my own taste profile to see how it has informed the making of my artifact dish. I realized that many of the important/funny/memorable moments in my life are based on food so I decided to mark some of those moment through pictures on a map in Story Maps. Limiting the number of dishes was a challenge to say the least. I situated my Biang noodles at the end of the “timeline” as a particular moment where I appreciated the making of the dish and the people I enjoyed it with. After doing this, I was able to pick out some tastes that I always return to, but the more potent point was that the people I was with and the specific moment in time stood out to me the most. All I can say about that is that food is made to be shared and experienced together.

By Lydia Moore