Move over dan dan mian: there's a new noodle in town.
Originally from Chongqing, wān zá miàn (豌杂面) are like the mixed-blood babies of the noodle kingdom. A cross between Beijing-style zhajiangmian and classic Chengdu dan dan mian, with a generous helping of distinctive Chongqing yellow peas, this is a bowl that rises above any single noodle ancestry.
While other provincial noodle specialties—Shaanxi’s biang biang mian, Lanzhou’s hand-pulled noodles, and the aforementioned dan dan mian—have fervent cult followings around the world, wan za mian appears to have made the journey east towards Beijing rather recently. Find an exemplary version at the Chongqing owned and operated (and heavily awarded, if the plaques on the wall are any indication) Pàng Mèi Miàn Zhuāng (胖妹面庄 or “Plump Sister’s Noodle House”), nestled in the hutongs south of Beixinqiao.
There’s no English frontage, but just look (and listen) for the crowds of Sichuan natives queuing up at all hours. They (and you) are here for the gàn niŭ wān zá miàn (干扭豌杂面, RMB15/small, RMB17/large bowl), or dry pea noodles. Unlike the green spheres Western diners are familiar with, the sauce that crowns each bowl is made from mature yellow peas, which have a starchy texture similar to chickpeas.
The mild peas get on famously with the funky, numbing, and fiery meat sauce, which is made with the famed fermented black bean sauce of Sichuan’s Pi county. Make sure to ask for gan niu, or dry (not soupy) noodles—this is not a union of flavors you want to dilute in broth. The noodles themselves could well be an afterthought, a vehicle, but these coiled carbs hold their own with enough chew to stand up to the assertive toppings.
More digestively prudent eaters than ourselves would order non-spicy cold dishes to balance things out. As it were, we opted for differently spiced in the form of fresh chili-laced tofu with potato and cilantro (RMB6) and sweet yet sinus-clearing wasabi-marinated daikon radish (RMB6). Cool off with bingfen (冰粉, RMB8): a grass jelly-like, traditional Sichuanese dessert made with sap of the nicandra plant. It’s dressed in earthy brown sugar syrup with slivered almonds and haw flakes, for a light ending to an invigorating meal.
What: Pàng Mèi Miàn Zhuāng (胖妹面庄)
Where: East end of Xiang’er Hutong (at Dongsi Bei Dajie), 东四北大街香饵胡同洞口
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