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A Regional Chinese Cold Noodle Guide To Los Angeles

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Mung Bean Noodle
Mung bean noodles from Chengdu Tast | Photo by Clarissa Wei

It's been unusually hot here in Los Angeles, which gives me the perfect opportunity to put together a regional round-up featuring all the diverse ways Chinese and Taiwanese folks do liangmian. The literal translation is "cold noodles" and a handful of regions have their own take on it. It's particularly popular in northern China, where wheat is the staple. But note that it's not just wheat noodles that can be cooled and garnished -- mung bean and buckwheat varieties work as well. 

Here's a run-down:  

Malan Noodles
Malan noodles | Photo by Oliver Gettell

Zhajiang mian is a noodle dish said to have Shandong origins but is also commonly associated with Beijing. In Los Angeles County, it can be found in most noodle eateries in the San Gabriel Valley. Zhajiang refers to a salty fermented bean paste that takes on a muddy black and brown hue. It's a pungent combination of flour, sugar, salt, and fermented soybeans combined with a generous serving of ground pork and garlic. A heaping of this is thrown over fresh noodles and julienned cucumbers are layered on for crunch. Malan Noodles in Hacienda Heights has a delightful rendition of this with an idyllic ratio of sauce and noodles. If the eastern San Gabriel Valley is too far for you, rest assured -- Pine and Crane in Silver Lake and Peking Tavern in downtown Los Angeles are worthy contenders. Both of them fold in tofu with the pork, but Peking Tavern includes bean sprouts and Pine and Crane elevates the entire dish by using Kurobuta pork and garnishing with scallions. Malan Noodles: 2020 S Hacienda Blvd, Hacienda Heights, CA 91745; 626-369-5602. / Peking Tavern: 806 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90014; 213-988-8308. / Pine and Crane: 1521 Griffith Park Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026; 323-668-1128. 

Tianjin Bistro in San Gabriel has a marvelous noodle dish called Dongbei da lapi -- thick glass noodles with  shredded pork, egg strips, julienned vegetables, and hot mustard. The noodles are translucent and thick so that they soak up sauce well. The aforementioned sauce is a subtle vinegar-based one, which has a pleasant cooling effect. Mustard adds a nice spicy contrast to the dish. Give it all a good mix before eating. Tianjin Bistro: 534 E Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776; 626-288-9966.

Cold Sesame Noodles
This cold noodle dish with shredded chicken, sesame sauce, cucumbers, and carrots can be found in a few areas throughout China and Taiwan, but with different variations. The version I'm particularly fond of is peddled by Taiwanese specialist Simbala Restaurant in Arcadia and Rowland Heights. The thinly julienned cucumber and carrots give this dish its cooling factor and the side of crushed garlic sauce and chili oil adds depth and flavor. Chengdu Taste: 651 W Duarte Rd, Arcadia, CA 91007; 626-446-0886.

Shen Yang
Cold noodles at Shenyang | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Shenyang is the capital of Liaoning, a coastal province bordering North Korea in China. There are strong parallels between Korean cuisine and Shenyang food. In Shenyyang, Koreans make up a sizable portion of the population and there are many intersecting dishes. Pickled vegetables and sauerkraut are common, vinegar is used generously, and the cuisine as a whole leans toward sour and salty tones. On the topic of noodles, the liang mian here resembles Korea's naengmyeon. At Shen Yang Restaurant in Monterey Park, their liangmian is made with buckwheat noodles, topped with pickled cabbage and cucumber. It's similar to naengmyeon but with a more tart and vinegary flavor profile. Shen Yang Restaurant: 137 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776; 626-292-5758., 639 W Garvey Ave, Monterey Park; (626) 576-9088.

Shaanxi Spread
Liangpi on the left | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Liangpi gets its signature bouncy texture from steamed wheat dough, with the gluten rinsed out. (A marvelous demonstration of this process can be seen here.) This dish, said to have originated in the Tang Dynasty, is a fixture of Shaanxi in northwestern China where it's sold in bowl right off the streets. Liangpi is usually mixed in with a bit of bean sprouts and steamed wheat gluten. Shaanxi Gourmet in Rosemead does it that way and adds a liberal dose chili oil. It's rather addictive -- not so much for the basic fixings on top, but for the uniquely chewy texture of the dough. Shaanxi Gourmet: 8518 E Valley Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770; 626-288-9886. 

Garlic Noodles
Garlic noodles at Chengdu Taste | Photo by Clarissa Wei

In the summer, Sichuan is blazing hot and humid and it is for that reason that locals say spicy food is ideal. According to Chinese tradition, spicy food helps the body cool down, and that's why some of China's hottest foods hail from Sichuan and Hunan. Take a close look at their dishes -- most are drenched in chili. Garlic noodles are best at Chengdu Taste. They're smothered with dark, red chiles, and accented with minced garlic. Chengdu Taste: 828 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803; 626-588-2284.

Sichuan Mung Bean Noodles
Made with chilled mung bean jelly cut into strips, these cellophane-like noodles are the perfect medium for soaking up the blood-red pool of chili oil. The fresh cut peppers on top add an extra kick. It's the dressing that makes this dish. It's made up of light soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic cloves, chili, and a bit of black vinegar. Chengdu Taste makes the tastiest version in town. It's structured as an appetizer and topped with a tinge of fresh scallions. Chengdu Taste: 828 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803; 626-588-2284.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!

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