Made in Jiānádà: Lanzhou Lāmiàn (noodles!)

This is Part 1 in a series on Lanzhou noodles. Part 2 (the broth) is here.

This one has been a long time coming. Seriously. This dish is quite possibly the one thing we have eaten the most of in China. At 6rmb a bowl (like, 80 cents, maybe) and incredibly delicious, it’s hard to beat.

I was introduced to Lanzhou lāmiàn on my second day in the country, still jet lagged and wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.

February in Shanghai, 2009;  cold, grey, grim, absurdly smoggy, rainy.

I was flat hunting with Elaine, the admin assistant from my then new job, and I kept getting shown flats that were dishearteningly dreadful and embarrassingly over-priced (the laowai effect, I presume).

Elaine took me to lunch at a tiny Lanzhou noodle place just up the street from the flat I would eventually take (and then get booted out of 3 months later when the landlord suddenly decided he was itching to sell).  She ordered me a bowl of piping hot 牛肉 拉面(niúròu lāmiàn), or beef pulled noodles.  

The noodles were made right in front of us, the dough being stretched and folded and stretched until there were dozens of delicate  cat’s cradle strands spread between the noodle maker’s outstretched arms. These were flung abruptly into a huge pot of hot broth to boil, reeking of cinnamon, garlic and star anise, then served quickly, without pretense.

She taught me that the little white ceramic tea pots contained black vinegar to be poured lightly into the broth, along with a spoonful or three of the ground up hot chilies in oil (sometimes mixed with sesame seeds).

I do like my chili paste, yes. Don’t try this at home, kids.

In the early days of my Shanghai blog, I blathered on at length about my love for pulled noodles. At one point I even made a meandering mobile phone video that started off in the now-gone noodle shop across the street from the university where I worked for 2 years.

When we first moved to Shanghai, Doug and I regularly had weekend breakfast noodles at the Lanzhou noodle place just up the street from our old flat. We still do. It’s also one of our too-tired-to-cook fallbacks.

When family and friends come to visit, I take them there too.

My cousin-in-law Todd took this photo of our neighbourhood noodle place when I took him here during his whirlwind 4 hour stopover in Shanghai en route to Jakarta.

Now, given that a freshly pulled bowl of noodles, home made broth, thin slivers of beef and a sprinkling of cilantro and scallions comes to less than a dollar, there’s really no good reason to try to make it when I’m in Shanghai.

Here is another matter.

Even in Chinatown, here in Victoria, it’s not unusual to be expected to pay the ungodly sum of, say, $8 for basic chǎomiàn. Not 80 cents, no!

They don’t even have pulled noodles on the menu anyway…

So I made my own.

What we have here is what I was able to do with 牛肉拉面–  pulled noodles in a fragrant beef broth.  I made a few small changes based on availability of ingredients, personal preferences, and my complete inability to pull noodles like the Lanzhou dudes can. They have some mad skills, I tell you.

I made a modified version of the noodles found in Naomi Duguid’s Beyond the Great Wall cookbook (and also available from other folks online here and here ). Hers are Kazakh noodles, which are pulled…in a flatter, wider, easier way. The texture reminds me of dāoxiāomiàn (刀削面) which are thicker, chewier noodles that are sliced from a big brick of dough directly into the boiling broth.

They’re pretty amazing.

For simplicity, I’m breaking this recipe up into two posts: the noodles and the broth. They can be made together or separately. You can eat the noodles with just some sesame oil and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and be quite happy. The broth can be sipped alone on a cold winter day, with a burble of black vinegar and some chili paste. Both are quite therapeutic, to be honest.

And not just because I used nearly 2 heads of garlic in the broth…


The Noodles


They’re nearly the same as my Xinjiang lady noodles, but with 2 eggs thrown in. Flour to water ratio is slightly different too.


  • 3.5 cups of flour (I used equal parts All Purpose, whole wheat and spelt flours)
  • 3/4-1 cup of lukewarm water (I used closer to a cup due to the whole wheat and spelt flours needing more)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt


All the dry stuff goes into a mixing bowl. Give it a swirl with your fingers to make sure nothing is clumped.

Flour and salt, ever so delicately sprinkled

Pour in the water.

You might want to remove any rings at this point as it’s going to get sticky.

Crack in the eggs.

We got these eggs from an unmanned stall down the road from my parents’ place up island. Honour system eggs taste great.

Start mixing the flour, water and egg together. Really get in there with your fingers, scraping any dry bits off the walls of the bowl, bringing all the wet and dry bits together.

My dough mix brings all the boys to the yard.

Tip it out onto a clean, dry countertop. I must say, I love having more than one square foot of usable counter space.

Start to bring all the dry bits back toward the center to form a dough ball. Incorporate!

Sweep! Sweep! Sweep! Bring those stray bits back to the fold!

And when the dough ball starts to take shape, start kneading.

I want you, I knead you, etc.

Because I used 2/3 non-All Purpose flour, mine is a bit heavier, drier and needs a bit more work to get it to the desired baby-bottom consistency.

Work it. Oh yeah.

Start to shape it into a ball as you knead it, pushing in from the outside.

Push it real good.

And after some time, maybe 5 minutes, it all starts to come together.

Tidy little dough ball!

Smoothing out the edges, picking up the stray bits of flour around it like a sticky doughy Hoover.

My dough balls know to tidy up after themselves.

In Shanghai, I normally wrap my dough balls in a clean moist cloth that I reserve for such occasions. However, there were no appropriate ones at hand so I used parchment paper.

Oooo, parchmenty.
It’s like Christmas!

Let it rest at least an hour. I put mine in the fridge for the afternoon.

The dough, after resting all afternoon all bundled up in a paper dress in the fridge

Divide the dough into 4 pieces. One piece makes enough for 3 small servings.

Divide the dough into quarters so you don’t end up with a massive pile of noodles (unless that’s what you want)

You can use a rolling pin here, but it isn’t really necessary.

Flatten the dough with your palm, forming something that might be called a rectangle by jaded, bored kindergartener.
Slice your faux rectangle up into strips. They needn’t be noodle-thin as you’ll be stretching them. It’s like medieval torture for dough.

To pull the noodles, hold the dough strips between thumb and index finger in both hands and work your way along the length of the dough, flattening and pulling as you go. Press and pull.

Work your way along the length of the dough, pulling and flattening. Be ruthless! Pretend you’re an urban real estate developer! Pull! Flatten! Pull! Flatten!

You can cook them immediately or drape them over a very convenient mop handle to dry slightly for future use. Drier noodles take a bit longer to cook.

One quarter of the dough made this many noodles. They’re super hearty and this fed three of us, in broth with lots of greenery.




To cook, I used the broth I’d been simmering. Water should also be fine, lightly salted. The noodles had been hanging on the mop handle all afternoon and took just over 3 minutes to cook. You might want to do a little test run to see how long yours need before you cook up a big batch.

These had been sitting out, draped over a mop handle all afternoon, drying, so they took slightly longer to cook than usual- just over 3 minutes. I boiled mine in the beef broth I also made today.


The finished noodles.


The noodles in the broth, ungarnished. Really simple, really yummy.
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  1. Selly says:

    Stop making me hungry!!! 🙂 I’m so cooking these tomorrow, I have time in-between studies so I’m going to put that free time to good use!

    1. MaryAnne says:

      It’s my job to torture you with delicious yet just out of reach delicacies…

  2. A Lanzhou lāmiàn restaurant on our street was where I had my first meal in China and we ate there all the time as it was often open late at night when we finished teaching and all the Chinese canteens were closed.
    I do miss it and will have to give your recipe a try.
    Rory Alexander recently posted..A face for FacebookMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      You should give it a shot- it’s really easy and the smells bring back memories of so many bowls of 6 kuai lamian at odd hours…

  3. mjskit says:

    I’ve seen shows with they feature a pulled noodled dish and show the pulling process. It pretty amazing! You make it look so easy, a lot easier than I thought it would be. Great looking bowl of noodles. Now I need to check out the broth.
    mjskit recently posted..Apricot Jam – When One Jar is All You NeedMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      The real-deal noodles are long and thin, like spaghetti strands. I can’t for the life of myself figure out how they do it! I figure this version will suffice as it’s technically stretched by hand…

  4. TracyAnn0312 says:

    I think that even if the noodle is quite perfect than the spaghetti strand at least you try your best in order to make your own style. I can’t wait to make it too.
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