Nan Zhou Hand-Drawn Noodles

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12/03 2 inexpensive 927 Race
noodles, pea greens depends...


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The hand-stretching of noodles is a rare art, at least here in Philly, but if you can find someone who will take the time, it's worth seeking out, as the technique creates noodles with exemplary texture and flavor. The only downside is that if you are seated with your back to the kitchen, your meal will be interrupted by startling SLAPS, as one of the many stages of the stretching involves a firm smack on the counter. It's a pretty good show, although the real draw of the hand drawn noodles is the eating of them, not the manufacture.

You can order the thicker, tender hand drawn noodles, a thinner, more conventional Mei Fun, or a wide, hand-shaved flat Ho Fun rice noodle. Go for the hand-drawn ones, they really are something special. I love Ho Fun noodles, but the ones I got here, despite good flavor, were delicate to the point of falling-apart.

Some of the menu is a little unfamiliar. I once shared a table with a Chinese woman who looked at me incredulously and asked "you LIKE Chinese food?!?" I'm sure it can be no surprise that Americans like Chinese food, so I'm sure she was asking if I liked this kind of food, that real Chinese people would eat. And to be honest, some of it is a little outside my comfort zone: jellyfish, tendon, intestines, but there's plenty to eat even for the timid.

The bigger problem to eating here is that the menu is a little hard to decipher. The clientele here is almost entirely Chinese, so it probably makes sense in the original language, but the translations leave a little to be desired. I was often surprised by what showed up in front of me, but so far, it's all been delicious, so I suppose it's not a real hardship.

Here are some tips to navigate the ambiguity: the major section of the menu, the whole first page, is all big bowls of noodle soup. The "Beef Stew" noodles feature chunky beef, a little fatty, a little gristly, but quite tasty. The "Spare Ribs Noodle" don't in fact feature spare ribs, rather a couple of sizable pork chops. These were quite tasty but hard to handle, I'm not sure how one is supposed to eat a large pork chop that's floating in a bowl of soup and retain any dignity. Eating any of these soups requires a bit of sloppy slurping, but this was an extra challenge. DDP ordered a bowl of vegetable noodles, which turned out to be a bowl of hearty meat broth with a little omelet floating in it. I saw it reported that the "Fried Soy Sauce" is a hearty meat sauce, I think I'll try that next.

Over in the "specialties" section, the "Rice Glue Ball Soup" is not in fact a soup, instead one gets a small bowl of hot water, with several glutinous dumplings at the bottom. The water keeps them nice and hot and tender and not stuck together, but it's not soup. They come in salty and sweet versions. The salty has a savory pork filling, the sweet has candy-like sesame and bean paste inside. These have a unique texture, the name "glue ball" is apt. DDP made some amusing faces as we ate these, but I liked both of them, although a little bit goes a long way. So share an order among a few people for a different mouth-feel experience. The sweet ones would make a good dessert. The waitress told us they usually have these on New Year's.

One of my favorite things here doesn't even involve noodles, it's the sautéed Snow Pea shoots, a big plate of tender greens briefly cooked so they retain their fresh sweetness. There is an almost equal weight of whole garlic cloves, a little soy, for the best plate of greens in all of Chinatown. I've started to see these greens in more places in Philly's Chinatown, but they do an especially nice job with them here.

All of this is very reasonably priced, the huge bowls of noodles are only $4-$5, the appetizers are more, in the $5-$7 range, and oddly the plates of vegetables are the most expensive thing, about $8, but worth every penny.

There's no atmosphere here at all, just some formica tables, a TV tuned to a Chinese station, and a door that lets in the outside weather, but I'm happy to trade style for the great homey food here.

Just be ready to be surprised when whatever shows up in front of you was not quite what you thought you ordered. Don't worry, it will be delicious.

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