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Fiery comfort from the streets of Sichuan

By: Kara Elder The Washington Post
February 28, 2018 Updated: February 28, 2018 at 8:11 am
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Dan dan noodles is a spicy Sichuan dish traditionally served as street food. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

Consider this a reminder that a pile of carbs is infinitely satisfying - and perhaps none more so than dan dan noodles, a spicy Sichuan dish traditionally served as street food. The name, writes Fuchsia Dunlop in her 2008 memoir, "Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper," refers to the way the snack was sold by street vendors from a bamboo rod that rested on their shoulders (the verb "dan" means to carry on a shoulder pole).

In the U.S., you'll find it in nearly any restaurant serving foods of the southwestern Chinese province. The electric dish is composed of wheat noodles coated in a garnet sauce of chili-flecked oil, topped with minced meat and - ideally, though in American restaurants, not always - finely chopped preserved mustard greens (ya cai, a specialty of the Sichuan city Yibin). The full effect produces that numbing and hot flavor (ma la) perhaps most ascribed to Sichuan cooking, and a harmonic, warming feeling that you'll not soon forget.

Toppings: Preserved mustard greens add an admirable umami note to noodles. But you might find your bowl also served with something fresh and crunchy such as baby bok choy or bean sprouts, or something savory such as a hard-boiled egg.

Noodles: The wheat noodles are not too thick and not too thin and are cooked just until they're mostly tender but retain a satisfying chew.

Meat: Minced beef or pork is common, but some restaurants opt for chicken. (Diners often can request no meat at all.)

Sauce: It packs an oily punch with dried red chilies, but is balanced with sesame paste and soy sauce. The addictive, lip-numbing zing comes from the piquant, floral Sichuan pepper, a member of the citrus family.

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