Travel to just about any small town in the praries and chances are you'll find, tucked in among the post office or hardware store, a Chinese restaurant. These usually kitschy, lantern and dragon-festooned little outposts of the exotic are both interesting historical quirk and accidental multicultural success. Many of these small, family run places can trace their roots back to the Chinese labourers who built the Canadian Pacific Railway and subsequently spread out across the country and for whom cooking was one of the few businesses opportunities afforded them.
These places served a mixture of western food -hamburgers, pork chops, french fries and the like-but over the years they began including heavily westernized "Chinese food" (another quirk was calling these places "smorgs" after the Scandinavian "smörgåsbord" buffet.) For many Canadians, sticky, saucy and sweet dishes like lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork and ginger beef were their first and sometimes only encounter with any form of ethnic cuisine. (This article from the Walrus at explores the history of Chiense food in Caanda and the authenticity debate a bit further.)
The prairie Chinese smorg is slowly vanishing, but you can see a similar process of the cultural exchange that gave us chicken balls at work in the work of places like San Fransisco's Mission Chinese Food (helmed by a Korean-born American who re-interperets Chinese dishes for western palates) and in home kitchens of people like me and the Swedish Chef. Just last week, we both ended up making versions of dandan mian, a classic Chinese Sichuan noodle dish. Two differnt white guys making two different recipes derived from the same dish; what happened?
First, here's the Swede's experience.
A few months ago, I was thinking that I'd like to make Dan Dan noodles, but then almost immediately, a recipe popped up in Bon Appetit (see Jeremy's recipe below) and my friend Cream over at Cream and Sugar posted a link too (check the last line). In the interests of kitchen science, I tried both recipes. Minor problem: Neither one of them delivered the punch of flavour I was hoping for. Fast-forward a few months and I was flipping through a cookbook where I came across a "Noodles with Pork and Sesame Sauce". "Hmm," I thought. "That looks like a Dan Dan recipe." Sure enough, the accompanying blurb went on about the "classic Szechuan dish Dan Dan Mein." Worth a shot. Well, I found the punch I was looking for.
Dan Dan Noodles (Noodles with Pork and Sesame Sauce)
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Asian Cooking
1lb fresh dried thin round Chinese egg noodles
1.5c chicken broth
5T light soy sauce
3T toasted sesame paste (I used tahini)
1T soybean paste (I used ssamjang)
1T rice vinegar
1T chill oil (I added another T for kicks)
2T vegetable oil
1/2lb ground pork
2 minced green onions, white part only
2T minced peeled ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
2T Szechuan preserved vegetable (I didn't have this, so I used kimchi)
1T vegetable oil
2 minced green onions, green part only
1/4c minced dry-roasted peanuts
Cook noodles as directed on the package. Drain and rinse with cold water.
In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, sesame paste, soybean paste, vinegar, chili oil, and sugar.
In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil, then add the pork, green onion, ginger, and garlic. Sauté using a wooden spoon to break up the pork. Cook until meat turns opaque, about 2 min. add the broth mixture and cook for 10 min.
Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan over medium heat, warm the oil, then add the green onions. Cook for 30 sec. Stir in peanuts and preserved vegetable and cook until crisp, about a minute. Remove from heat.
Divide noodles among warm bowls. Spoon the meat mixture over the noodles then sprinkle with topping. Serve immediately. Serves 4-8
And here's Jeremy's take.
Dan Dan Noodles with Tofu (adapted from Bon Appetit)
8 ounces Shanghai-style noodles (cu mian) or udon 1 pound extra firm tofu, drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped peeled ginger
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon ) chili oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
Pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
Start by lightly toasting the Sichuan peppercorns in a dry skillet until fragrant. Crush with mortar and pestel.
Press tofu to remove excess moisture and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place in a dish with 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce and vinegar and let marinate until most of the marinade is absorbed.
Heat an oven to 375F, arrange tofu on a baking sheet and bake until firm and crispy about a half hour. Set aside to cool.
Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water until just tender but still firm to the bite. Drain; transfer to a large bowl of ice water and let stand until cold. Drain well.
Heat vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add ginger, and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add peppercorns and cook for another minute. Stir in chicken stock and next 6 ingredients; simmer until sauce thickens, about 7 minutes.
Divide noodles into two bowls and top with tofu and sauce. Garnish with peanuts and scallions.