I discovered dan dan noodles on accident, when my boyfriend and I stopped for dinner at the sketchiest Sichuan restaurant in all of downtown Bellevue, Washington. (At least, this is the only Sichuan restaurant in Bellevue sharing a parking lot with a seedy adults-only sex shop.) (I think.) One of my food-loving buddies Jay Friedman of GastroLust recommended the place for its authentic, non-Western menu, and though I wasn't yet up for the delicacies awaiting me on the Chinese menu, I pored over the Western menu with deepening interest.
One of the top-rated dishes in what I'm sure is a scientifically ranked list of customer favorites were the "Dan dan noodles (hand-shaven)." Since I have a huge thing for noodles, we tried them, and these turned out to be spicy, oily, thick, chewy noodles with crispy pork and green onions scattered on top. I fell hard and fast for those suckers. I rank dan dan noodles just above spaghetti with browned butter and Mizithra cheese, if that helps you contextualize, and crave them regularly. I always make sure to order enough so I have spicy, garlicky leftovers for the next day, too.
It's been years since that first encounter, but I had yet to attempt to make dan dan noodles at home until Geanna asked me to write about one of my favorite vegan dishes. Dan dan noodles, minus than the pork, are perfectly vegan-friendly. And made with rice noodles instead of the chewier, hand-shaved traditional wheat noodles, this dish is also gluten-free. My take isn't even close to traditional or authentic, and it turned out creamier than my favorite Sichuan place's version, but it's delicious and easy. It took me about 20 minutes start to finish, including the time it took to bring a pot of water to boil for the noodles.
Katelyn's Inauthentic But Darn Good Dan Dan Noodles
8 ounces dried rice noodles (or 8 ounces of dried pasta, your choice)
1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
2 to 3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste), to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons spicy chili oil (less if your oil is super-spicy, more if it's a wimpy Western approximation)
Splash balsamic vinegar or Chinese black rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns, if you can find them, or substitute with 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper + 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Squirt or two of Sriracha chili sauce, optional
Garnish (don't skip this):
1 tablespoon spicy or regular toasted sesame oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced
3 green onions, sliced
- Bring a pot of water to boil for the noodles.
- While the water comes to a boil, prep the sauce: Whisk all sauce ingredients together in a bowl, adjusting spice level to taste. Add more tahini if you love tahini, and depending on the spiciness level of your chili oil, you might want more pepper or Sriracha. I couldn't find Sichuan peppercorns (banned in the US until recently, something about a bacterial disease called citrus canker?), so used the substitution listed-- it came out fine.
- Turn the heat off under the pot of boiling water, then drop the noodles into the pot. Press down gently to make sure they're covered, then set the timer for 10 minutes and let them sit to soften. Stir every couple minutes, and towards the end of the soaking time, start checking to see if the noodles are al dente yet.
- While the noodles soak, prep the garnish: Pour the oil into a small skillet and set over medium heat. Saute garlic, ginger, and green onions in hot oil for about 30 seconds, just to open up the flavors. It should smell really good.
- Drain those noodles and toss with the spicy tahini mixture. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with some of the fragrant garlic mixture.