1 Clear, 2 White, 3 Red, 4 Green, 5 Yellow
Lanzhou Beef Noodles

by Jingyi Deng 邓静怡

Over the last week, noodles  have been on my mind, spicy Chongqing noodlestopped with minced pork and peas (重庆豌杂面), braised noodles with green beans (扁⾖焖面), wide and stretchy Shaanxi biang biang noodles, chewy cold udondipped in hot miso broth, noodles covered in dark brown soybean paste (炸酱面), and of course salty but comforting Instant ramen. My mind is tricking me intoconsuming more carbs while I have been trying to cut it down. To me, they areentangled cuddles.

The screen of my phone lights up, it says ‘rediscover this day’ and shows a pictureof a friend of mine slurping from a bowl of Lanzhou beef noodles, while trying tosave her hair from falling into the bowl with one hand. I remember she arrivedhungry that night when restaurants started to put their chairs up on the tablesand street food stalls quickly dominate

the narrow back streets of every universityin Beijing. It would have been nice to have some shaokao (barbecued skewers) ona summer night and we’d have grilled Chinese chives,  shiitake mushrooms, tofuskin dusted with chilli flakes, a few lamb skewers smothered in chilli powder andcumin and two bottles of beer. Instead, standing out in a cold windy night, wecraved a hot bowl of noodle soup that warms our bodies up.

My mom grew up in the northwest of China where I spent many summer holidayswith her when I was little. We’d start our days eating Lanzhou beef noodles andfinish off with Qinghai yogurt. In the northwest, people take Lanzhou beefnoodles very seriously. A perfect bowl of Lanzhou beef noodle is rated based on“1 clear, 2 white, 3 red, 4 green, 5 yellow” (⼀清、⼆⽩、三红、四绿、五⻩) to signifythe clear butaromatic broth, Chinese radish, bright red chilli oil, greengarnish and yellowish hand-pulled noodles. There are several levels of thicknessand widths to choose from depend on your mood of the day-thinnest, thinner,thin and thick (⽑细,细,三细,⼆细,粗); and triangular, wide, wider (三⻆棱,⾲叶,宽). No matter what size your noodles are, they are guaranteed for theirspringy and chewy texture.

The first time I left home and moved out for university in Beijing, I found myselfkeep going back to a Lanzhou beef noodles restaurant nearby. I never got boredof eating that noodles and the noodle bar has become a place for me to feel grounded, a dock for recharging, which I have been longing for in London after Imoved here two years later.

When the Time Out magazine became Time In, like many others, I enjoyed baking (or kneading) my way through the lockdowns. On somedays we’d have bagels forbreakfast, flatbread for lunch and apple pies for dinner. This time consuming andyet therapeutic activity has become a natural countermove I took against thestress, boredom and an urge to stay connected with people, but I’ve neverthought that I can make Lanzhou beef noodles myself, it is a challenging recipe toreplicate at home.

Lanzhou beef noodle soup, is a Chinese Hui Muslim style food from Gansu, north west of China, viewed as a regular choice of breakfast for the locals. In  countlessof noodle bars across China, the real actions of pleasant morning chaos arebehind the stacked up serving trays, blue and white porcelain bowls and a boilingcauldron. The mountain of dough is stretched and folded by hand into a soft andsmooth duvet, greased generously with oil underneath and gradually throughoutthe entire pile of dough. A two men team repeats a physically demanding processof stretching, pulling, kneading and folding, then the dough is pulled on twoends, twisted together and slammed onto the counter until it gets strong andelastic enough to hand- pull without the risk of breaking. Once the dough is ready,it gets cut into logs in a size of a standard soda can for single servings, pulledindividually to arm’s length, doubled back after each stretch, moved throughfloured surface to keep from sticking and repeated a few times to reach desiredthickness and tossed into the steaming cauldron. The cooked noodles are then placed into deep, wide bowls, covered in a handful of  coriander and garlic sprouts (no, not scallions!), poured over with hot broth made of beef bones and white radish, and topped with two scoops of chili oil. I’ve always liked to pair it with some extra slices of beef and cold side dishes like seaweed salad and pickledcabbages.

I cannot tell you how much I am craving for the Lanzhou beef noodles as I amwriting this, I hope that one day, maybe one day I will be ready to make thenoodle soup myself and enjoy a simplified, less authentic version of it. It is stillchallenging meal to cook.


我的手机屏幕点亮了,提示栏弹出“重温这⼀天”五个字,背景图片中显示着我朋友正吸溜着⼀碗兰州牛肉面。她正⼀边吃面⼀边用手把头发别在耳后不让它掉进碗里。我记得那天晚上她来找我的时候是饿着肚子的,附近餐馆已临近打烊,椅子都被倒着放在了桌子上,夜晚的街头小吃摊迅速占据了北京每所大学背后狭窄的街道。要是在夏天, 来点烧烤再惬意不过,我们会点上几串烤⾲菜、香菇、撒着辣椒的腐皮、几根裹满辣椒粉和孜然的羊肉串和两瓶啤酒。然而,在北京的深冬,站在这样⼀个寒冷的、刮着风的街头,我们只渴望⼀碗热腾腾的汤面来暖和身子。


小时候,我有许多个暑假都是和我母亲在她生长的大西北度过的,那时我们的⼀天会从⼀碗兰州牛肉面开始,再以⼀碗青海酸奶结束。在西北, 人们吃兰州牛肉面很讲究。⼀碗完美的兰州牛肉面要以“⼀清、⼆⽩、三红、四绿、五⻩”为标准,“⼀清”指汤香醇却清澈、“⼆⽩”指萝卜⽩、“三红”指辣椒油红、“四绿”则是香菜、蒜苗绿,最后的“五⻩”就是面条⻩亮。面条有多种粗细和厚度可供选择 —— 由细到粗有⽑细,细,三细,⼆细,粗;还有三⻆棱,⾲叶和宽等。无论选择哪种面条,每⼀口都十分有“嚼头”。


去年年初疫情升级,伦敦进入封锁状态,城市生活指南《Time Out》杂志也应景推出Time In 专栏介绍在家中打发时间的好方法。与许多人⼀样,我也在厨艺和烘焙技巧上投入了许多时间来消磨居家隔离的无趣。有时做太多⼀时间吃不完,于是只能以早餐吃贝果,午餐吃西式薄饼,晚餐吃苹果派的方式消耗掉。尽管这样的搭配不太符合理想的均衡饮食,烘焙这项耗时但却治愈的活动意外地成为我排遣压力、对抗无聊的方式。我也曾想过自己做兰州牛肉面,但想要复刻这个食谱还是颇具挑战性。