Monday, January 30, 2006

IMBB 22 - Lamian (拉面) - Chinese stretched noodles

I know... I know... I have already posted 2 different entries for this edition of Is My Blog Burning but I'd like add this third one.

It is not that I am very proud of my cooking, frankly this attempted recipe was more of a disaster than a success, but this is where I invested the most time and energy... and not only my time and energy but the time and energy of my partner Fufu. She graciously explored the internet and Chinese cooking forums in search of a recipe for what is considered to be the most difficult Chinese noodle to make. She also translated a few recipes to English and helped me in the kitchen during the final stages of my failing attempt at making lamian (拉面).

Lamian is made of dough, itself made of high protein flour, which can be stretched by hand to a very fine thickness. It is generally served with a flavourful broth but few toppings so that tasters are not distracted by the delicate elasticity and taste of the noodle. The Japanese ramen noodles, whose name is written with the same chinese characters, is said to originate from the Chinese lamian but contemporary ramen noodles certainly differ from their Chinese counterpart.

There are many lamian recipes but in all cases the dough is kneaded many times at a fairly warm room temperature. Oil is added to make them less sticky and, after resting for a while, they are stretched by hand to the desired thickness. Many recipes call for weird ingredients unknown even to Fufu herself but I still gave a shot at one of the simplest recipes she handed me.

I was able to obtain a fairly decent dough with a very good level of elasticity. I tried cooking a little of it in boiling water and its taste was great and so was the texture. It is with a certain level of pride and confidence that I started to stretch the noodles. I had seen a guy doing it on TV once and thought I could do the same at home. Those of you who have tried to emulate those guys who can juggle pizza dough around their head probably know already what happened next.

At first, the dough stretched fairly well. I was able to increase its length at least tenfold. But after a certain point, shlop! The dough broke down in a few segments and my still fairly thick noodles fell to the floor. I tried again with a few extra balls of dough but failed every time.

Resourceful, I decided to use my pasta machine to flatten and cut the dough. At that point, both Fufu and I were getting quite hungry and pressure to put something on the table was mounting. I was finally able to flatten the dough which, I thought, would help us eat soon but I was wrong. The machine was simply unable to cut these sheets of dough into finer strips: the dough was simply too stretchy.




We then tried many ways to get noodles of an edible size and finally get something in our bowls. The only technique that really worked was to make a long snake by hand and then to pass it through the pasta machine to flatten it. The result was quite good and resembled large parpadelle but this was quite far from what we expected to eat in the first time. The next day, during our Chinese New Year celebration, we talked to a friend of ours who insisted on the necessity to use a particular powder made from a Chinese plant when making lamian dough. I guess we might give it a second try one day if we ever find that specific powder or if someone is willing to teach us… but for now, let’s just call it a failure which we nonetheless transformed into a meal in time for this edition of IMBB.

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19 comments:

Anthony said...

A noble effort, well done. I used to watch a guy do it in a ramen shop run by Northern Chinese in Tokyo. It was an amazng thing and I could never quite catch the point where it suddenly changed from strands to noodles. I used to think they distracted me and when I looked away they switched it over.

fufu said...

It's sad that it didn't work out the way we expected given the time and effort we have put in finding recipes and the right ingredients. But we had fun. We are going to do it again, right? Especially after watching the demo from the Chinese Ramien place in Toronto.

karen said...

I have been looking everywhere for a recipe for lamian, or hand stretched noodles. The best I can find just states that the water to flour ratio is greater than in most recipes. What dough recipe did you use? And what were some of the wierd ingrediants that you found in recipes that you translated?

Anonymous said...

Bonjour, je recherche une recette pour fabriquer les nouilles pour ramen depuis suffisament longtemp pour eprouver une certaine frustration. Après avoir lu votre blog sur la fabrication de lamian j'aimerais pouvoir tenter l'experience, seulement la recette n'est pas affichée, pourriez vous me donner la liste des ingredients s.v.p.

Nicholas, Québec,Québec

john8wong@yahoo.com.au said...

Have you figure out what ingredient is required to make the dough stretch - to make a successful lamian? let me know at

MagicTofu said...

I am sorry to answer some recent comments so late but my job and parenthood kept me away from my blog for a while.

Fufu was not able to translate the "secret" ingredient from many recipes. In some case it is a powder made from some herbs, in other case it is some kind of alkali.

I talked with a lot of people and most had a different explanation. I now believe however that the key is not the recipe but the kneeding technique and the water to floor ratio.

There is an excellent thread on E-Gullet on Lamian which might help those willing to try making these noodles:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?act=ST&f=21&t=67842

Here is another thread, also on E-Gullet:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=100455

I don't recall the exact recipe I used but will try to post about my next experiment. Since this last post, I tried and failed another 3 or 4 times... but I don't consider this a defeat yet!

David Dettmann, Madison Wisconsin said...

I also have tried and tried to produce lamian in fine noodle form (lanzhou style), but to no avail. I know about that "secret ingredient" though. When I was living in China, I had a colleague from Gansu who brought me the stuff in powdered form . It's generally referred to "peng" (made from ashes(?) of bitter fleabane), and is sold in an instant form that you mix with a little water and rub on the dough. The kind I used to have said "速溶蓬灰"--"fast dissolving bitter fleabane ash" on the bag. it smells kind of wierd, like sulfur, and when you eat Lanzhou lamian, you can sense that flavor in the noodles. I've been looking for it in the US and Canada, but haven't found it yet.

So, I've resorted to the Xinjiang pulled noodle method, without peng, just a touch of salt, flour and water. first roll out a big snake like piece of dough and coil it, let it rest, and taking the slack line in one hand, grab it and pull it thinner, one stroke at a time into a smaller pile.

Strangely enough, in Xinjiang, they don't use "peng", but can still get really elastic noodles (they're not nearly as fine, though).

some recipies I've found call for gluten, but I haven't yet tried that approach.

MagicTofu said...

Thanks for the comment David... at least I now know the name of that "secret ingredient". I will seek it out when I have a chance to get back to China.

In the meantime, I will try the Xingjiang method. I have read about it but never tried. It makes sense to let the glutten relax between each stretch but it seems like a lot of work.

chees said...

you didnt seem to mention letting the dough sit... i think the key to stretchy noodles that dont break is to let them sit for several hours. only then can you attempt to pull the noodles, give it a try some time!

Anonymous said...

LOL ... The 'secret ingredient' used in Lamian is Borax.

Borax creates what is called a slippery molecule which allows it to stretch a lot further because of reduced resistance while maintaining the adhesion of the Gluten and Gliudine within the structure.

I should also mention that Borax is banned in the USA as a food additive.

Anonymous said...

I should mention that the amount of borax to use is TINY. one of the bags sold in Beijing which contains about 1 jin is good for 180 jin of flour.

It is most often applied in those mysterious bottles of cloudy water they use while kneading the dough.

It is mainly used in commercial/shop produced versions of lamian.

At home, they divide the dough into balls after letting it rest.

The balls are then rolled flat and cut into thin (1/4 inch strips).

They then grasp each of these individual strips and strech them out individually hanging the finished product over a broom handle.

MagicTofu said...

Borax? I'm not sure I'm willing to try right away... I might need to research these a little bit longer.

That being said, there must be another option since there are people making lamian in the US and Canada.

rory said...

its not borax, no way. sorry anonymous but someone told you a bit of old nonsence there

rory said...

Anonymous im sorry if i sounded rude in my last blog, if it really is borax please explain how you discovered this and what is the process of using in and in what quantities etc. etc. rory

Anonymous said...

Are you familiar with E numbers? Try checking out E285: http://medlibrary.org/medwiki/E285 Go down to where it says "Food Additive" and what do you see there? How did I find out??? While I was living in Beijing, my girlfriend asked her friend from Lanzhou over to teach me how to make the noodles since I am a chef and I wanted to make them in Canada. She showed me the two ways to make them ... The ones in the shops and at home. Above, I have described each method. To use the borax method yourself, you dissolve about 1 tsp in a squeeze bottle of water (ketchup container)use this to keep your dough moist. If you want to buy it, you can get it at most TCM shops and in Chinese markets. Ask for Pengsha. It is also used as a medicine: http://www.naturopathydigest.com/nutrition_herbs/herbs/borax.php
You will also find it in http://www.answers.com/topic/borax

See what you get when you type "Borax noodles" into a yahoo search.

Oh, and restaurants selling lamian in the USA ... They don't know it is banned.

Jonathan said...

I am no expert, but my own internet research to start learning too, tells me that original ingredient is called penghui 蓬灰 and it is the ash (hui) of a desert herb of the mugwort family. Here is a video, though it is in PuTongHwa, or (mandarin) Chinese, complete with product labels and pictures of the original ash which is added to water, and the solution of the clear water is used, the settled ash at the solution's bottom is not. I don't understand the language because of my limited education in it, so if someone can translate the details, I think we'd all be appreciative.

Here is more detail... on all kinds of plants used for ash for noodle making, not just mugwort plants: http://rms1.agsearch.agropedia.affrc.go.jp/contents/JASI/pdf/academy/68-3714.pdf

The ash must add additional flavor to the authentic taste, and is probably an acquired taste to the cognoscenti.

Short of access to penghui, there is an alternative, by using sodium bicarbonate/potassium carbonate solution or xue jiang shui, or 雪鹼水 (yukikansui in Japanese) which is available at well-stocked asian markets from this brand:
http://www.koonchun.com.hk/chi/product_potassium.html

If someone can find the proportions of the percent solution as sold, to water, and also the times it is added to the process, I'd appreciate it. I'll bet it's added twice. To the original foundation solution with the flour, and again after the dough has rested, while wetting the dough as it's manipulated. I say the latter because I watched a man make the mian, and he squirted the cloudy water on the big dough wands before he started dividing, but while he was conditioning the dough after it had rested. I asked him in my poor PuTongHwa if it was water and he said no, then yes, then no, then he made a motion that something was added to the water but he couldn't figure out how to tell me. I asked if it was oil, and he said no. Later when he started separating the strands, he did oil the board he started flicking the strands across. So I assume it was the snow jian shui and water first before the oil.

Jonathan said...

I am no expert, but my own internet research to start learning too, tells me that original ingredient is called penghui 蓬灰 and it is the ash (hui) of a desert herb of the mugwort family. Here is a video, though it is in PuTongHwa, or (mandarin) Chinese, complete with product labels and pictures of the original ash which is added to water, and the solution of the clear water is used, the settled ash at the solution's bottom is not. I don't understand the language because of my limited education in it, so if someone can translate the details, I think we'd all be appreciative.

Here is more detail... on all kinds of plants used for ash for noodle making, not just mugwort plants: http://rms1.agsearch.agropedia.affrc.go.jp/contents/JASI/pdf/academy/68-3714.pdf

The ash must add additional flavor to the authentic taste, and is probably an acquired taste to the cognoscenti.

Short of access to penghui, there is an alternative, by using sodium bicarbonate/potassium carbonate solution or xue jiang shui, or 雪鹼水 (yukikansui in Japanese) which is available at well-stocked asian markets from this brand:
http://www.koonchun.com.hk/chi/product_potassium.html

If someone can find the proportions of the percent solution as sold, to water, and also the times it is added to the process, I'd appreciate it. I'll bet it's added twice. To the original foundation solution with the flour, and again after the dough has rested, while wetting the dough as it's manipulated. I say the latter because I watched a man make the mian, and he squirted the cloudy water on the big dough wands before he started dividing, but while he was conditioning the dough after it had rested. I asked him in my poor PuTongHwa if it was water and he said no, then yes, then no, then he made a motion that something was added to the water but he couldn't figure out how to tell me. I asked if it was oil, and he said no. Later when he started separating the strands, he did oil the board he started flicking the strands across. So I assume it was the snow jian shui and water first before the oil.

Anonymous said...

An "insider" in a noodle shop told me that their secret ingredient is baking soda... and that their dough is made from half bread flour and half all-purpose flour..

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonathan,

Did you get any further with your research into Kansui water? I'm in China now and I know a guy who has one of these restaurants. He uses 'Peng Hui'. I've had some lessons in making the pulled noodles. If anybody wants to chat with me about La Mian noodles or knows more about Kansu Water (or even Soda) then it would be nice to hear. When I go back to the UK I'm a bit concerened that Peng Hui won't be available.