(Dan Dan Noodles (dan dan mien) is a fast and versatile Sichuan style hawker/street food dish. Traditionally egg noodles are served in a nutty, spicy, smoky sauce with crispy pork, and other condiments such as peanut flakes, and green onions. However, if you are like me, living in rural N. America, without a Chinatown in sight, you can substitute a number of ingredients, as well as to suit your dietary needs. The flavour profile should be spicy, sour, slightly sweet, and smoky.
The recipe and instructions seem a task too daunting. Believe me, it is an easy recipe, even if it is long. However, each step is more or less a minute to execute. In fact, I was having a lazy Sunday afternoon, still in my pyjamas, when I decided to make it; and without notice, decide to videotape the making of this recipe. I also decided this was an article for gluten-free dan dan noodles, only because at the last minute, I realized I was out of egg noodles. Necessity is the mother of invention.
The step by step how-to video at the end of the article will guide you through the process. Ingredients substitutes are also listed below, and although not authentic, will make a delicious dan dan noodle dish nonetheless.
The Secret is Indeed in the Sauce.
The star of this dish is the sauce. Commonly, the main ingredients for the sauce are Chinese sesame paste, chilli oil, Chinkiang black vinegar and Sichuan peppercorns. You can find these ingredients in a Chinese grocer, some supermarkets or online.
Dried Sichuan peppercorn is not a true pepper but the dried seed/husk pod of the prickly ash tree. It does not have any heat but a numbing (mala) effect on the taste buds. The red variety is easier to locate in N. America and is slightly different is taste to its green counterpart. The red Sichuan peppercorn is warmer and more woodsy while the green is more citrusy. You could substitute African, Tellicherry, black or white peppercorn, but bear in mind, you will not have the numbing effect.
Chinese Sesame Paste:
Made from roasted sesame seeds, the paste is thick and brown with a distinctive nutty aroma.
Tahini is not a good substitute for Chinese sesame paste. It does not have the distinctive nutty and toasty depth. Chinese sesame paste is made from toasted unhulled sesame seeds whereas Tahini is made with toasted ground sesame seeds. Smooth peanut butter is a better substitute for taste. In any case, you could use Tahini, Peanut, Almond or other nut butter of 4 part paste to 1 part addition of Asian sesame oil.
Chinkiang or Zhenjiang Black Vinegar
Chinkiang or Zhenjiang black vinegar is a dark and complex flavour vinegar made of sweet glutinous rice.
Although there is no great substitution, these are acceptable:
Date vinegar, Balsamic vinegar, Red Rice vinegar, Red Wine Vinegar. Although Chinkiang Black vinegar isn’t sweet, you could add a touch of brown sugar, coconut sugar, or molasses to it to give it the depth similar to the Chinkiang Black vinegar.
Chilli Oil is easy to make if you prepare it a day ahead of time. There are many recipes online, or you can purchase chilli oil or sauce. My favourite brand is Lao Gan Ma or Old Godmother Chilli Sauce.
Traditionally, Dan Dan Noodle dish is topped with crispy fried ground meat which had been marinated. Instead of the crispy ground or finely minced pork topping commonly used, you can use ground lamb, beef or even TVP (textured vegetable protein), mushrooms and other vegetarian options
Suimi Ya Cai Sichuan Preserved Mustard Greens
Ya Cai, a Sichuanese specialty, is a fermented/pickled or preserved vegetable. Ya Can are the sprouts of mustard greens. The sprouts are first air dried. Next, they are fermented in a salt brine, then boiled in brown sugar and fermented once again in spices. This provides a fragrant, taste and texture that is sweet, crispy and fresh. Yibin, in southeast Sichuan is famous for this delicacy. Look for the Sichuan Yibin brand, with crushed rice (Sui Mi). You can substitute any other Asian pickle such as Tianjin preserved mustard green, kimchi or sauerkraut.
Wide Rice noodles are a great substitute for the traditional egg noodles. You can also substitute soba, acorn noodles, bean thread noodles, buckwheat vermicelli, harusame, kelp noodles, shirataki, sweet potato vermicelli, tapioca noodles, etc.
I am using dried wide rice noodles here but you can use fresh wide rice noodles, and of course, the traditional egg noodles.
15ml or 1 TB Sichuan peppercorns
30ml or 2 TB Light soy sauce (tamari if gluten-free)
10 – 15ml or 2 tsp – 1 TB sugar
15ml or 1 TB Chinkiang black vinegar
30ml or 2 TB Chinese sesame paste
30 – 60ml or 2 TB- ¼ cup chilli oil
454 grams or 1 l)b of ground or minced pork
5ml or 1 tsp salt
5ml or 1 tsp sugar
15ml - 1 TB cornstarch
5ml or 1 tsp light soy sauce (tamari if gluten-free)
15ml or 1 TB Shaoxing rice wine
15ml or 1 TB sesame oil
1-4 dried Chillies
60ml or ¼ cup Chinese preserved mustard greens, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumbnail size ginger, minced
15ml or 1 tbsp light soy sauce (tamari if gluten-free)
15ml or 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
60grams or 2 oz or ½ cup Raw Peanuts
2 Green Onions
30ml or 2 TB cooking oil
454g or 1 lb dried wide flat rice noodles
2 litres or 8 cups water
Dan Dan Sauce
This recipe serves 6 hearty portions which makes it a very economical meal.
Rachel conducts gardening, culinary and fermenting workshops/retreats at her home on 100 acres in Northern Ontario, Canada, where she lives in creative harmony with nature. Rachel’s mission is to ensure the wisdom of our ancestors is preserved for future generations.
Images ©2002-2019 Rachel Thoo