With a bite of the springy hand-pulled noodles, the melt-in-your-mouth beef, a bit of homemade fresh chili oil, and a sip of the rich broth, you can’t help but wonder about the magical power of a plain bowl of beef noodles.
Simplicity is beautiful. But most of the time, you won’t notice the immense amount of hard work behind it. A bowl of noodle soup might seem plain, like nothing special, but once you try it, you’ll be amazed at how such a simple food tastes so good and is so addictive.
The idea behind this dish is like that of good sushi. If you ask the average person in Japan to teach you how to make sushi, they’ll probably answer that they don’t know how, that it’s too complicated. You’ll find that surprising – isn’t it just put a piece of raw fish on top of a rice ball? Well, it’s way more than that in reality.
Lan Zhou La Mian – Art in a Noodle Bowl
Back to the noodles.
It is not just an average bowl of noodle soup; it has an official name – Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles (兰州拉面, lan zhou la mian). It is a registered commercial designation and a long list of rules and standards to defines it. For example, the noodles should be even in thickness and width, and have a few pre-defined diameters. The dimensions of the white radish should be 4*2.5*0.2 centimeters. The beef should be soaked in water for hours and you need to add beef blood into the broth. To cook the broth, you should also use beef bones, beef itself, a whole chicken, and a lamb liver. The list goes on.
Isn’t it a bit obsessive, you ask? Yes it is. Because it’s not just a bowl of noodle soup. It’s an art. It is the star of a prominent Chinese inland city – Lanzhou.
If you browse the Lanzhou beef noodles on a Chinese recipe site, no matter how nice the recipe looks, there’ll be tons of hateful comments declaring the recipe to be “fake”.
It has to be.
That’s because the real-deal Lanzhou beef noodle recipe is a commercial secret, written on a tattered yellow sheep’s hide in a barely recognizable script, hidden in a cave deep in the desert, which is guarded by ten giants. To open a real-deal Lanzhou beef noodle shop, you need to spend a million dollars to get the secret broth recipe from the Lanzhou Beef Noodle Committee. Anyone who doesn’t do this can’t claim that they’re cooking the authentic recipe.
OK, I’m exaggerating a bit here, but you you get the gist. You can only get the real-deal noodles in this specific city, Lanzhou. Noodles from any city other than Lanzhou and any homemade noodles are NOT RIGHT. Even though you may not be able to distinguish between a broth with beef blood and one without, if you skip the blood, the recipe is still wrong.
I’m doing all this rambling to tell you just one thing. This is not an authentic Lanzhou hand-pulled beef noodle recipe, but it teaches you how to make an authentic tasting homemade version that is pretty damn close to the real one.
We can do it!
What makes Lanzhou beef noodles taste so good? The answer is the hand pulled noodles plus the beef broth. Here, I have some bad news and some good news for you.
The bad news is that it’s very difficult to replicate every tiny detail of the authentic dish at home.
First of all, to make very springy hand pulled noodles, you need a special alkaline component (the main ingredient of it is potassium carbonate). It’s quite special and I doubt it can be easily found for culinary use outside of China.
Second, to make a restaurant-quality beef broth. You also need a lamb liver and a whole chicken to make the broth even richer. Doing it this way requires a lot of trouble and a high budget, and some people might not feel comfortable cooking with these strange ingredients.
Wait, wait! Don’t hit the tiny x on your browser yet!
Here is the good news! You can easily make a rich, beefy, and very hearty bowl of beef noodles using a simplified method. I won’t say it tastes EXACTLY the same, but it’s really close to the authentic one, and is super delicious, too!
To make the hand pulled noodles, check out my no-fail recipe and watch the video. It might sound daunting to make the noodles from scratch, but actually it’s surprisingly easy. If you don’t want to spend the extra time, you can always use dried noodles from a package. The wonderful beef soup will make any type of noodles taste better.
To make a rich beef broth, you only need a big piece of beef bone and a cut of beef with a decent amount of fat. You only need one pot to cook it, from start to finish. It takes 3 to 4 hours to simmer the broth, but you’ll only need to spend the first ten minutes in the kitchen. Then, you can leave it to cook for the remainder of the time.
Have I convinced you to make this dish at home yet? If so, let’s start cooking! 🙂
Lanzhou Beef Noodles (兰州拉面)
- 1 beef leg bone about 700 grams / 25 ounces, cut into 5 to 6 parts (*see footnote 1)
- 1 kilogram (2 pounds) beef flank , untrimmed (*see footnote 2)
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 thumb ginger , sliced
- 1 cup scallion , chopped (the white part)
- 5 chili pepper , dried
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 whole nutmeg seed
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick (about 6 centimeters / 2.4 inches long)
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
- 1 small daikon radish
- 2 tablespoons freshly made Chinese chili oil (or to taste)
- 6-8 servings hand-pulled noodles (or dried noodles)
To cook the broth
- Thoroughly rinse leg bones and transfer them to a 5-liter (5-quart) dutch oven (or big pot).
- Cut the beef flank into strips that are around 8 centimeters (3 inches) wide and 12 centimeters (5 inches) long. Place them into the dutch oven.
- Add 10 cups of water to cover the bones and beef. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn to medium low heat and continue to boil for 10 minutes. Use a ladle to skim the foam from the surface and discard it, repeating until the broth comes clean.
- Add cloves and Sichuan peppercorn into a tea infuser, and place the infuser in the dutch oven with the beef and bones. Add ginger, scallion, garlic, chili pepper, bay leaves, nutmeg, star anise, cinnamon stick and fennel seed to the pot, as well. Cover and simmer over low heat for 3 hours. Depending on the cut of beef you’re using, you may need to simmer longer, up to 4 hours.
- While the broth is simmering, prepare the daikon radish. Peel the radish and cut it into 5-millimeter thick slices. Further divide each slice into 4 quarters. 30 minutes before the broth is done, add the daikon radish slices to it.
- Check the broth every 30 minutes. During the first 2 hours, if the water is evaporating too quickly, add 1 to 2 cups boiling water to keep the beef and bones covered. You should not add any water during the final hour of simmering. The beef and radish should become very tender and the broth should turn a pale brownish yellow color. Add salt to season the broth. The broth should taste slightly salty by itself.
- Use a ladle to transfer the beef to a plate to cool off. Use a strainer ladle to pick out the bones and spices and discard them. You might find a thick layer of oil floating on top of the soup (depending on the fattiness of the beef). Use a ladle to skim the oil off according to your preference (see footnote 3).
- Boil hand pulled noodles. If you aren’t making hand pulled noodles, cook dried noodles according to instructions on the bag.
- Prepare Chinese chili oil according to this recipe. You can use one from the supermarket, but I highly recommend you cook your own at home. It takes only 5 minutes, and freshly made chili oil is full of aroma and will make the dish shine.
- Once the beef has cooled enough to handle, trim off any fat and discard it. Slice the lean part of the beef.
To assemble noodles
- Add noodles to each serving bowl, then pour in the broth. Top noodles with beef slices, a few pieces of daikon radish, and some cilantro. Serve immediately with chili oil. Add 1/2 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons of chili oil according to personal taste.
To store leftovers
- Store the beef broth and beef separate in air-tight containers in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month. You can use the beef broth in a stew or soup, if you like. The beef can be used in a stir-fry or salad.
- Ask the butcher to cut the beef bones lengthwise into a few parts when purchasing.
- Always use a cut that contains 30% to 40% fat. Using untrimmed cuts will generate a very tender and moist lean part after simmering. You can trim off and discard the fat before serving.
- I usually skim off as much oil as I can and save it. Some people like to serve the broth with oil on top, but I found it delicious enough without the oil. You can use the oil for stir-frying later and it will result in very delicious dishes (for example, this Mongolian beef fried rice). To store beef fat, allow the oil to cool in a small bowl at room temperature, then transfer it to an air-tight container. It can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Hand Pulled Noodle – It makes this rich beef noodle soup tastes even better.
Homemade Chili Oil – make a delicious bowl of noodle perfect. A hundred percent better than the supermarket one and only takes 5 minutes to make.
Mongolian Beef Fried Rice – Use the leftover beef from this recipe to make these quick and yummy fried rice.
Questions and Reviews
oh my gawd, Maggie!!! this looks SOOOO good!!! Asian noodle bowls are my fave!!! and this is very similar to pork ramen for example, where it’s all about the broth and the noodles. . and the broth takes HOURS and you need pig trotters and other things you don’t want to touch!!! oh my gawd, you made those noodles by hand?!!!! BEAUTIFUL. I am so in awe of you right now! wow!!!!
Oh my gawd….this sounds absolutely incredible! And gorgeous photos! I love the story of immense detail behind this dish – it reminds me of a some of the food my friend from Korea makes. She went to school to learn Royal Korean Cuisine, and all of the vegetables have to be sliced just so and everything has an exact purpose. Really very interesting!
I’m going to be traveling overseas soon, so I’m running around trying to get everything together. But as soon as I get home, I’m so making this! And… I already have potassium carbonate in my cupboard! (I get a little crazy when it comes to homemade noodles) 😉
This looks wonderful, as usual Maggie! Thank you so much for the tips on making rich beef broth.
I have to agree with you here that simplicity is such a hard thing to achieve. I definitely do know that despite being simple, these beef noodles will taste incredibly flavoursome and complex. Beautiful Maggie!
Oh my goodness. I love Asian noodle bowls. This looks absolutely perfect!
Yum Maggie!! Beautiful photos, totally my kind of meal! 🙂
Beautiful dish and lots of creativity on your part makes this dish look and I am sure taste amazing. You know how you can just tell what a dish is going to taste like when you read the ingredient list… and I am loving your ingredient list. Your homemade noodles are a piece of art and so are your photos. Sharing of course!
This looks amazing! I actually have family in Lanzhou, so will be excited to try this dish! Thanks for the tips on the broth ~ good broth always makes for excellent noodles!
Oh my, oh my, oh my… this dish looks incredible. I don’t know if I can pull this off, but I must try.
I know what I’m doing this weekend now…. oh my. This soup looks amazing, and something I’d love to spend the day shopping for (I’m so lucky that I have several stores in my area where I can pick up all of the ingredients), making… this sounds fantastic! get in my belly!
Hi Angie, I’m so glad to hear you like this one and are planning to cook it! Me too, I like spending time and shopping in the market for the new recipes I’d like to try out. Hope you enjoy the noodle soup and let me how it goes 🙂 Happy cooking!
Wow, what a spectacular dish. I would love the challenge to try this one day.
Beautiful pictures maggie! (for some reason my previous log comment did not go through). Enjoyed the story behind the recipe! Great tips and combination of flavors! Pinned!
Having grown up on pho, I always love a good a recipe for beef and noodle soup. This recipe looks amazing and your photos are gorgeous!
Oh My God! This is so stunning to look! I feel like that I can taste the smell of the noodles over the screen! I should try this at home as early as possible!
Maggie, this post has got me swooning, not just because of the recipe but because of your absolutely stunning photos! I could stare at them for ages!
… but mostly because of the recipe. What a wonderful national treasure. I love that you shared the story about the the recipe in the cave with the giants, too!
Wow! When I crave soup, this is the kind of yearn for. Thanks for sharing your recipe. Pinning.
Ahhhhh I am so glad I found your site! Going through all the food you cook makes me feel so nostalgic – your site will definitely be a source of much inspiration for my personal Chinese cooking endeavors 🙂
Hi Vicky, thanks for stopping by and leaving such kind words! Hopping over to check out your site 🙂
god I love the story behind these! It is like real chili, real yakitori, real anything that is authentic to a particular region!! That broth looks GOLD. I absolutely cannot wait to try this – it is going on my list of things to make!
How did I miss this masterpiece, Maggie? I love that you have made a complicated, expensive dish into something accessible to everyone! Beautiful photos and delectable food. You’ve got me drooling at my desk this morning!
In your ingredients you have written 5 cloves which can be seen in the picture. But you haven’t said anything about 5 garlic cloves which are there in your pictures. Kindly explain if they are needed or not.
Hi Ameed, great catch! Yes my recipe uses garlic and I just added the information into the recipe. When I wrote 5 cloves, it actually indicate the spice – clove. Now both spices are on the ingredient list now. Thanks for letting me know about this.
Happy cooking and hope the dish turns out great!
Excellent recipe! I made your recipe this past weekend and it was amazing! Absolutely delicious! Well thought out and easy to follow! I have a question though. Due to time constraints, I’d love to prepare this a day or two before served to guests. I know your instructions say that the broth and the beef can be chilled, or frozen, separately in air tight containers. My question is, what to do with the radish that is placed in the broth 30 minutes prior to finishing the broth? Do I just cook that as well and refrigerate, then just heat it all back up before serving? Thanks again for an amazing dish!
Hi Mark, thanks for taking time to leave a comment and I’m so glad to hear you like the dish! To answer your question, daikon radish holds together rather well so I wouldn’t mind cooking them ahead. What you can do is cook it 15 to 20 minutes prior to finishing the broth, so it won’t turn mushy while reheating. If you want the dish super fresh, you can also reheat the broth in a pot on the stove top and cook the radish right before serving the noodle soup. Hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have further questions 🙂
It might have been OK for me to have tried this recipe first without reading all the details. I might have been intimidated.
I’m attracted to recipes that use star anise or Sichuan peppercorn. So I’ve been wanting to make this for a while. But every time I think about it, I don’t have the ingredients nor the 3~4 hour to cook.
But I finally did it! Although, since I couldn’t remember the recipe correctly I bought lamb instead of beef so to be technical, I didn’t make this 😉 Nevertheless I loved the results. Next time I will try the beef.
Thank you for the recipe!
I lived in Lanzhou for 1 year . Lanzhou beef noodles are AMAZING and I miss it a lot. I have made it here in the States and it took all day but we’ll worth it. The recipe I have is very similar to yours.
Maggie, can beef shortribs be used in place of flank steak
Hi Margaret, yes! Beef short ribs totally work!
Absolutely loved this recipe! It was a big hit in our house last night and will definitely be added to our rotation! Easy to follow, easy to make, easy to love! I also made the chili oil from your recipe and it made all the difference in our noodles!!!
I have a great photo if you’re interested in seeing how it turned out!!!
Hi Marley, I’m glad to hear you like the recipe! Of course, would love to see your photos 🙂
In the recipe, you talk about covering the pot, but in your photos (and in other steps) it seems as though lots of water is boiling off.
Can you clarify whether the pot should be covered or left open?
Thanks! I’m cooking it right now so hopefully it goes okay 🙂
Hi Alex, it has been a long time since I posted the recipe, so I’m trying my best to remember it.
I think you should cover the pot. Because the super long cooking time, the broth will reduce too much if you keep the lid open.
You can check on the broth after 3 hours of simmering. If the broth doesn’t taste rich enough, you could always leave the pot uncovered for the last 30 minutes to 1 hour of simmer to reduce it further.
I disagree with the statement that only Lanzhou can make proper Lanzhou beef noodles. I’ve had great beef noodles throughout Gansu province, as well as in Xinjiang, Ningxia, Qinghai, and Shaanxi – You can get great hand-pulled beef noodles throughout the northwest, sometimes even better than those served in Lanzhou.
If you’re talking about places beyond the northwest, Beijing’s are okay but anywhere in the south is disappointing.
This is my regular go to when I need my noodle soup for comfort. For me, I only use the recipe for the broth and just add a store bought dried rice noodles instead. They don’t realize it, but my family are forever in your debt! Thanks so much for your website.
Can I use your Asian beef stock recipe for Lanzhou Beef Noodles recipe?
Yes you can!
Wondering how we can turn this into a instant pot recipe? Maybe brown the beef then pressure cook 45min?
Hi, I love your site and have made many of your amazing recipes! I’m curious – why do some of the spices get put in a tea infuser/spice bag while others float freely in the soup, when they all get removed? Do some of them diffuse differently? I’m super excited to try this out! I like adding greens to my soup when I can – bok choy or flat cabbage seem like they might be good in this soup. What do you think? Do you have any other suggestions for greens? Thanks so much!
I used to use my mom’s tea infuser back in China (when I published this recipe) and use it in soup and stews so I can remove the small solid spices easily. I still have the tea infuser but sometimes I just forgot to use it lol Also, many people don’t have it so if a soup really need straining, I usually include that in the steps.
For the greens, bok choy and napa cabbage should work perfectly.