It may seem so from the last few posts -- and this one too -- but it's not been all pasta in Chengdu. We've eaten plenty of liangban cai (cold dishes), chao cai (stir-fried dishes), mifen zheng cai (rice flour steamed dishes -- intrigued?), and hotpot n the last couple of weeks too (details to come, we promise). But Chengdu really is Xiaochi ('little eats') Central, so at least once a day we'vebeen sitting down to something doughy.
Like these shouzhang mian -- wide, thick rectangles of hearty wheat pasta that we saw being made behind a steamy window on Xiaojiahe Street, not far from Chengdu's Second Ring Road, on Sunday.
Shouzhang means 'palm', as in the palm of your hand, and I can only guess that shouzhang mian are named for the method that produces them: a careful stretching of a piece of dough with the tips of the fingers by width and height and then -- to achieve the proper thickness -- against the palm of the hand.
The result is a pretty luxurious noodle -- a fact easily surmised from our position outside that window.We watched noodle sheet after noodle sheet being dished up from a cauldron of boiling water before finally deciding to claim our own bowl (why the hesitation? We'd just eaten elsewhere. It wasn't nearly as notable).
Nothing prepared us for the way this particular shop serves the pasta: in dou tang ('bean soup'), a meat broth slightly thickened with yellow beans. You've a choice of protein additions (beef, pork ribs, or pork parts) and the option of la (chili spicy) or not.
Our bowl of shouzhang mian with tender red-cooked beef and a hit of chili oil included chunks of datou (literally 'big head' -- a type of Sichuanese preserved vegetable) and was topped with a frill of fresh coriander. Words simply can't convey how utterly comforting and more-ish (an adjective I generally despise and eschew, but which is particularly apt in the case of this dish) this bowlful was.
Though absolutely Chinese, it reminds us of Italian pasta e fagioli, in the way that the beans half-melt into a lovely mushiness that coats the pasta.
The best accompaniment is a saucer of sharply tart and salty paocai, Sichuan pickle made (this time -- paocai can be made from any number of vegetables) with white cabbage, garlic, and a copious amount of powdered dried red chili.
(Even if you're not noshing on shouzhang mian, it's always worth asking after a serving of paocai -- most every dining establishment keeps aside a jar or five of its own homemade pickle. We've especially been enjoying it as an accompaniment to baozi, or steamed dumplings.)
Jin Popo Shouzhang Mian, Xiaojiahe Jie (Xiaojiahe Street) almost at the corner with Xiaojiahe Bei Jie (Xiaojiahe North Street). Look for a double-front shop and, of course, the steamy window showcasing palm noodle makings.