La Mian 拉 麵Posted By | Posted On Aug 27, 2013
The concept of “al dente”does not really exist in the world of Chinese pasta. Perhaps the closest equivalent is what the Taiwanese call “Q”, (pronounced like the English letter) which roughly translates into English as “chewy”. While most Chinese noodle dishes do not possess this trait, one particular type of noodle known as La Mian has it in spades.
La Mian literally means “Pulled Noodle”. Through a process of twisting and stretching a wheat flour dough, skilled La Mian artisans can produce hundreds of long, thin noodles for a wide range of preparations. This unique method of hand pulling pasta dough originated in China, and the earliest recorded description of the process dates back to the sixteenth century.
La Mian makers study with a Noodle Master for years in order to refine their technique. Making the noodles involves repeatedly stretching a piece of dough and folding it onto itself in order to align the gluten strands. Next, the dough is pulled into a length approximately the length of the noodle maker’s arm span. A loop is made, joining the two ends, and the whole process is repeated until the desired length and thickness is achieved.
La Mian are thought to have originated in Northwestern China among the Hui Muslim population. Dishes using La Mian are usually served with beef or mutton broth, but can also be stir-fired and served with a tomato based sauce, with beef and lots of cilantro, or with a type of lamb ragu, flavored with cumin. Cumin, a spice not generally associated with Chinese cooking, is commonly used in Chinese Muslim cuisines. Hand-pulled noodles can also be served chilled with shredded cucumber and tomato. In China, restaurants that specialize in La Mian also serve Pao Mo泡馍, a type of steamed bread cooked in lamb or beef broth with lamb, pickled garlic and chilies.
If you’ve been yearning for a chance to experience La Mian for yourself, Boston residents now have a reason to rejoice. Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Café opened in Chelmsford, Ma. in 2011, and now has a Boston location just outside of Chinatown. Owner, and noodle master Gene Wu grew up in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province in Northwestern China, where he perfected the art. His version of Cumin Lamb with Sweet Onions and Hand-Pulled Noodles is out of this world good. Gene’s is located at 86 Bedford Street and is open Monday through Friday from 11am-4pm. If you want to experience “Q” for yourself, give Gene’s La Mian a try.