Sunday, October 30, 2011

Biáng Biáng Mian

In week 2 of my Mandarin course here at BLCU, we had a cultural lesson to explain the basics of Chinese characters. No prizes for knowing that like many other ancient scripts Chinese characters are pictograms, their current form represents what man thought the word looked like. But what on earth did the Chinese see when they came up with this character…

This character is biáng and takes the crown for the most number of strokes in a single Chinese character at 57. The gasp from all us students in the lecture hall was unforgettably funny. It then turns out it is a type of noodle from the Shaanxi province (remember these guys are the noodle experts of China?). How my ears pricked up when this insane looking character had to do with food. I of course set out on a mission to find out more.

An internet search uncovered this entertaining post by Sunflower Food Galore who has a recipe on how to make the noodle from scratch, and relays an interesting background to the character. My first actual run in with biáng biáng mian was at local western supermarket BHG in Wudaokou. I spotted those crazy strokes immediately and had to buy a packet. Although they look slim in dry form, they do grow significantly when cooked.

And just when I thought I’d have to delve into the depths of Beijing city to find it served up, I spot it just round the corner from my apartment.

Xi’an is the capital of the Shaanxi province, also home to the famous Terracotta Army. So from the outset this restaurant bore all the right signs. It wasn’t hard to find it on the menu, they had it printed in pinyin as there aren’t any computer-generated scripts with this character!

Enveloped in a tomato-ey, beefy (and kinda oily) sauce, this was my kind of noodle. There’s a balanced spicy undertone of cumin and star anise, and my first version was a little sweet. I love the spring and the bite,   and how it's impossible to slurp up elegantly. 

If you ever find yourself on Xueyuan Lu up in the Wu (on the part in between Qinghua Donglu and Linye Daxue Beilu), you won’t miss the soldiers and the huge red biang character outside. And in the mean time I’ll continue to report back on future encounters with the biáng! 


Mr Noodles said...

It's quite fitting that the most complex of Chinese characters is connected to noodles!

Jules said...

Fantastic post. Love the Chinese character lesson mixed in :-)

Hungry Female said...

Mr Noodles: I thought you might like this one!
Jules! Did you have this when you were here? xx

dropsofcontentment said...

in that character alone I can already make out 5 other characters - moon, horse, words, heart and LONG (repeated twice!). Wonder what all that has to do with noodles?? (well..the long word is pretty obvious at least =p)


Hungry Female said...

Tell me about it! It's a good attention grabber for sure;-)

Jess McCulloch said...

Hi! Great images and post. I'm a Chinese language teacher in Australia and was wondering if I could use the images of the biang noodle character in a unit of work I'm creating? I couldn't find the licence info.