Dan Dan Noodles are a classic Chinese dish originating in the Sichuan province. Noodles have been part of Chinese cuisine for over 4,000 years, and long strands symbolize longevity, one of the nicest things you can wish for on the Lunar New Year (on Feb. 16 this year).
Dan Dan Noodles are essentially long skinny noodles topped with a flavorful sauce built on ground pork and seasoned with pickled vegetables, chilis, soy sauce, and a bit of Chinese wine and vinegar. This dish was originally a street food. The name Dan Dan refers to the pole on which street vendors in Sichuan would carry the pots of food: one for the noodles, another for the sauce.
A few of the ingredients might take a little work to find unless you live near a great Asian market. Seek them out if you want to approach authenticity, but otherwise use these easy substitutions: If you can't find the Chinese black vinegar, substitute even parts of rice vinegar and balsamic vinegar. Really any vinegar would be fine, but that combo gives you the closest approximation. Dry sherry is a fine substitute for the rice wine.
If you have access to a great Asian market, or want to find a source online, then buy ya cai, zha cai or Tianjin dong cai, which is a preserved vegetable mix, or sometimes just pickled mustard root. It's available in cans or jars. Otherwise jarred pickles work just fine.
There are many versions of this dish, as there are with any classic recipe. Some are brothier than others, some have peanut butter or sesame or ginger, or Szechuan peppercorns. Sichuan cooking is often quite spicy, and these noodles are no exception. If you're feeling a little timid about the amount of chili paste, you can always dial it back a bit — these noodles definitely pack a kick.
Dan Dan Noodles
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1/4 cup chili garlic paste
1/4 cup vegetable, peanut or canola oil
2 tablespoons Chinkiang or Chinese Black vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
4 scallions, minced
Pork and Noodles:
1 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup chopped, jarred, Chinese pickled vegetables or small diced pickles
1 cup roughly chopped arugula (optional)
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine (which might be called Shaoxing, or a Japanese version is called Mirin), or use dry sherry
1 cup chicken broth
16 ounces fresh Chinese wheat noodles or 8 ounces dried Chinese noodles, or substitute spaghetti
1/4 cup crushed roasted peanuts
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Combine the chili paste, 1/4 cup oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and minced scallions in a large bowl and stir to mix well.
Heat the 1 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the pork and saute until browned, about 3 minutes. Drain if there is any liquid in the pan, then return to the pan. Stir in the preserved vegetables or pickles, arugula (if using) and the garlic, and cook for another minute. Add the rice wine and stir until it is evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the broth and bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat.
Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook according to package directions (fresh usually take about half as long as dried). Drain.
Stir the sauce to re-combine, then add the noodles to the sauce and toss to coat. Add the pork mixture and toss again. Serve hot, in shallow bowls, sprinkled with the peanuts and sliced scallions.