A modern dan dan noodles recipe that stays true to the authentic Sichuan flavor, with slight moderations for you to enjoy it even if you can’t handle spicy food.
Dan dan Noodles is such a classic dish that is really worth the effort to master. I’ve been improving the recipe since I first published this recipe back in 2014, so now it’s time for the second revision.
Please feel free to go straight to the recipe directly if you’re familiar with the dish. If you’re new to Chinese food, make sure you glance through this post to learn about the ingredients and cooking tips.
What is Dan dan Noodles?
Dan dan Noodles (担担面, dan dan mian) is one of the most famous of Sichuan street foods. The freshly boiled egg noodles are served in a savory, spicy broth topped with crispy pork and peanut flakes. Simply stir everything together with a pair of chopsticks to coat the noodles with a bit of everything and slurp! The numbing, smoky, spicy sauce will shock your taste buds, leaving you craving for more.
When you go into different restaurants, you’ll find each chef has their own interpretation on dan dan noodles.
In Sichuan restaurants in China, the dan dan noodle dish is more of a snack than a main and is usually served in a small bowl. The noodles are more soupy — mostly immersed in a thick red broth made with chili oil, with a small amount of pork on top. The broth can sometimes be too spicy to handle for most people, but it depends on the chef.
When the dish was introduced in the US, it was transformed and now looks more like a pasta dish — boiled noodles with a meat sauce on top. Sometimes the sauce is more sweet and sour than spicy, almost like a General Tso stir fry (e.g. the Dan dan noodles at Pei Wei). Sometimes the chef will mix Chinese sesame paste into the chili oil to make the sauce creamier and mellow out the spiciness.
My own interpretation of dan dan noodles
When I make dan dan noodles at home, I use an approach that is 80% true to the original version from Sichuan. You get the ultra-umami, spicy and numbing-ness coming from the fried pork, pickles, homemade chili oil, and Sichuan peppercorns. But I also mixed in some sesame paste to make the sauce creamier and more appealing to anyone who can only handle milder food.
Here are the key ingredients for my recipe:
- Sui Mi Ya Cai – or preserved mustard green
Sui Mi Ya Cai (碎米芽菜) is a must-have ingredient if you want to call a dish dan dan noodles in China. It is not just any type of fermented mustard green, but a type of cardamine bean sprout that is native to Sichuan. It is dried, flavored with sugar and spices, and fermented. The end result is a dark brown pickle that has a crunchy texture and a one-of-a-kind taste — a bit sweet, salty, savory, with a earthy umami.
My previous dan dan Noodle recipe did not include Sui Mi Ya Cai, because it is a very rare ingredient in Beijing (we had to purchase it online from stores in Sichuan). Surprisingly, I see it more often in the US Asian markets. If you do not live near an Asian market you can also purchase it here.
- Homemade chili oil
Chili oil is a staple in every family household in Sichuan and the homemade version is a must. It is the main ingredient in dan dan noodles and I highly recommend you make your own. Making chili oil might look daunting at first, but trust me, it only takes 5 minutes. Check out this post to learn how.
A quick note to anyone who cannot handle spicy food — you will still benefit from the homemade chili oil. When you’re making the noodle sauce, you can add a small amount of chili oil to infuse aroma and smokiness; your dish won’t end up very spicy.
- Chinese sesame paste
Chinese sesame paste (芝麻酱, zhi ma jiang) is a thick paste made from toasted sesame seeds. Although a lot of original Sichuan dan dan noodle recipes do not contain this ingredient, I prefer to use it to make the sauce creamier. It also balances the spiciness to round up the flavor. It adds great umami too, so your sauce will still taste great if you don’t want to add too much chili oil.
You can find Chinese sesame paste in most Asian grocery stores, or purchase it online.
Please note, Chinese sesame paste tastes VERY different from tahini. Do not use tahini as an alternative. If you don’t want to purchase Chinese sesame paste, you can also use peanut butter with a few teaspoons of sesame oil mixed in.
- How to mix the sauce properly
If this is your first time cooking with Chinese sesame paste, you will find it is quite solid and very difficult to dissolve into the sauce.
The best way to mix the sauce is by adding the sesame paste first, then mixing in the liquid ingredients little by little. Whisk the mixture with a pair of chopsticks (or a spoon) until the solid paste is fully blended with the liquid. Then add more liquid and repeat.
- How to fry the pork properly
To properly prepare the pork for dan dan Noodles, cook it low and slow.
Use medium heat to cook the surface first, then immediately turn to medium-low heat. Chop the ground meat into tiny pieces and let it roast in the oil to release all the liquid.
At the end you will get beautifully browned pork without adding any soy sauce. The pork bits will be tender and have an almost crispy texture when hot. They will turn a bit chewy once cooled, but since we’ve fully rendered the fat, the pork will taste great served cold.
- The best workflow
The ingredient list might look overwhelming, but the dish can be practical to cook even on a weekday evening if you’re organized enough.
The best workflow is:
- Chop and prep all the vegetables
- Mix the sauce (make chili oil if needed)
- Start boiling water for the noodles
- Cook the pork. Meanwhile, boil the noodles
- Use the noodle-boiling water to quickly blanch the vegetables
- Heat up chicken stock in microwave
- Serve everything family-style, so everyone can assemble their noodles to their preference
If you’re preparing this dish for a party, I highly recommend you prepare the sauce and the pork ahead of time, and they will stay good in the fridge for a couple days. Simple boil the noodles and heat up the pork and broth in the microwave right before serving.
More Sichuan food recipes
Do you like this version of dan dan Noodles?
If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.
- 4 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste (or unsweetened original peanut butter)
- 4 tablespoons light soy sauce (or soy sauce)
- 4 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic , finely minced
- 2 stalks green onion , finely minced
- 2 tablespoons honey (or agave syrup)
- 2/3 to 1 cup homemade chili oil with flakes (or to taste) (*footnote 1)
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon toasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns (*footnote 2)
- 2 cups chicken stock , heated
- 1 cup roasted peanuts , crushed
- 10 ounces (300 grams) dried egg noodles (or 1 pound /450 grams fresh noodles)
- 1 small batch green leafy vegetables , roughly chopped (spinach, baby bok choy etc.)
- Whisk sesame paste and light soy sauce until fully incorporated. Add Chinkiang vinegar. Keep stirring until mixed. Then mix in garlic, green onion, and honey.
- Add homemade chili oil, 1/3 cup at a time, mix and taste the sauce. Add more chili oil if you want more spiciness.
- Add toasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Taste while you mix, until you can taste the numbingness but can still handle it. The more chili oil you add, the more Sichuan peppercorns you need.
- Heat oil in a skillet or a wok over medium heat until hot. Add pork; cook and stir until the surface is cooked and the meat has turned white. Turn to medium-low heat. Add ginger, green onion, fermented black beans, Sui Mi Ya Cai, cooking wine, and sugar. Cook and stir until all the liquid has evaporated and the pork turns a dark brown color. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Cook noodles according to instructions.
- Bring the chicken stock to a boil.
- Briefly blanch the green leafy vegetables, drain, and set aside.
- For each noodle bowl, ladle 1/4 cup heated chicken stock into the bowl. Add 1/4 cup noodle sauce and mix with the stock. Add noodles, top with a few spoonfuls of the cooked pork and some of the spinach. Garnish with peanut crumbles and chopped green onion. Sprinkle with a pinch of toasted ground Sichuan peppercorns, if you like the numbing taste.
- Serve hot or cold.
1. Do add some chili oil even if you cannot eat spicy food, because it will add aroma to the sauce and your sauce won't end up very spicy.
2. I usually roast the Sichuan peppercorns in a bit oil until they turn dark brown. Then pat dry with paper towel and ground to powder. The oil roasted peppercorns will be less pungent and have a more roundup flavor. I prefer the cooked peppercorns in cold dishes and sauce so it won't over power the other ingredients.
The recipe was originally published by Feb. 26, 2015 and updated on Apr. 27, 2017.