This is Number 4 in the Shanghai Street Food series. I’m working my way through all of Shanghai’s street foods, one by one. Enjoy a taste of all of them!
Number 3 Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4 Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5 Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6 Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7 Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 14 Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 16 Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 21 Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes
Number 22 Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23 Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
Number 25 Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Number 26 Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27 Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28 Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29 Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
All over Shanghai are dozens of hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving Langzhou hand-pulled noodles. These are some of the best cheap eats in Shanghai, and hugely popular. Lā means ‘to pull’ and miàn means ‘noodle’. When you see them being made you’ll understand why. The restaurants are run by ethnic Chinese Hui muslims, identifiable from afar by their crisp white cotton caps.
My favourite Langzhou lamian restaurant is on Fangbang Lu in the Old City, nearby Luxiangyuan Lu. For 12 yuan ($2) you can watch as your noodles are made to order before your eyes. Firstly, the noodle maker kneads and stretches the dough, then rolls it into a solid length. Now he pulls it to a full span of his arms, twists it together and pulls again, over and over. As the noodles get thinner and more numerous he slaps them hard on his steel workbench to help separate them. Once finished, he slides open the window above his workbench and literally tosses them out into a bubbling pot of aromatic broth in which they will be cooked.
These are bowls of niu rou lamian – a tasty beef broth with noodles, slices of fresh beef, coriander, and shallots.
Alternatively, try dāo xīao mìan 刀削麵, hand-cut noodles – these are made from a slab of dough wrapped round a wooden rolling pin, then deftly sliced off into the pot using a device that looks like a potato peeler. The noodles are thicker and shorter and have a fantastic texture.
These little restaurants exemplify one of the most incredible things about Shanghai – without leaving the city you can try specialist and local foods from all over China, cooked by people from those provinces, and enjoyed by everyone.