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Noodles by the Knife

It's all in the wrist



Soft and slippery on the outside, pared noodles (刀削面 dāoxiāomiàn) are actually pretty chewy. But, it’s not just what’s in the bowl that attracts its fans; the method itself is a real visual treat (眼福 yǎnfú). In front of a boiling pot, the chef slices the dough into noodles with a flip of the wrist so quick that you’ll swear black and blue that he’s a kung fu master in disguise. A skilled chef can make two slices a second and use 25 kilograms of dough in a single minute. Each slice is surprisingly consistent, roughly 20 centimeters long, in the shape of a willow tree leave with a fine edge and thick center. Viewers are often dazzled by the speed. When the first slice touches the water, the next piece is in the air forming a white arc above the dough. The pot used to cook the noodles is usually relatively large, full of boiling water and rolling with vapor. All the noodles seem to splash about inside like hungry little fish (which is actually pretty neat considering the pot takes on the scent of the ocean).

Pared noodles are tightly connected to their roots in Shanxi (山西 Shānxī) Province, where grain abounds in the basin of the Yellow River and its branches. Naturally, Shanxi people rely on grain, mostly wheaten food (面食 Miànshí), over rice, which is more popular in the south.

Like Sichuan people and their spice or Hunan people and their stinky tofu, the attachment between Shanxi people and their mianshi is deep; to the extent that they won’t be satisfied if a meal doesn’t have wheaten food (无面不欢 wú miàn bù huān). Though the ingredients are simple, time and resourcefulness have given birth to a variety of dishes and flavors. As the saying goes: “With one kind of flour, there are a hundred ways to cook and eat it.” (一样面百样做,一样面百样吃。Yīyàng miàn bǎi yàng zuò, yīyàng miàn bǎi yàng chī.) Steamed, boiled, and fried, there are over 280 different dishes with established and delicious recipes. When you include all the variations and styles, there are as many as over 400 different mianshi dishes in Shanxi culinary culture. Of all these delicacies, pared noodles are perhaps the most famous, thanks to the unconventional technique and showmanship involved. And, as with just about everything in China, it has an origins story.

Legend has it that, in the early Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), the rulers confiscated all the weapons among the people for fear of an uprising. Even cooking knives were tightly controlled— ten families needed to share one knife. One day, an old couple wanted to have noodles for lunch, but it wasn’t their turn with the knife. The old man suggested they use a thin piece of iron they found on the side of the road, and said: “If it’s too soft to cut, then shave.” They never needed to borrow the town knife again. If you want to try authentic pared noodles in Beijing, Jinyang Restaurant (晋阳饭庄 Jìnyáng Fànzhuāng) is your best bet.
Founded in 1959, it is Beijing’s oldest Shanxi restaurant. Jinyang is also the name of an ancient metropolis in Shanxi that served as the capital city for many dynasties.  A bowl of tasty pared noodles consists of three critical elements: the preparation of the dough, the slicing, and the sauce. The ratio of flour and water should be kept at three to one. After the dough is formed, it should be covered with a piece of wet cloth and set for half an hour. Kneading requires strength and technique to get the dough well-shaped and balanced in terms of texture. When it comes to slicing, chefs at Jingyang Restaurant maintain the tradition of using a thin iron sheet, which they sharpen themselves and bend to fit the curve of the dough. The sauce (卤lǔ or 浇头 jiāotou) for pared noodles varies from dinner table to dinner table. In the case of Jingyang Restaurant, their seafood flavored sauce is what keeps the customers coming back time and time again.

Jinyang Pared Noodles

(Recipe Serves 3)


30ml of sesame oil 香油 Xiāngyóu
30ml of Chinese prickly ash seeds oil 花椒 Huājiāo
30ml of cooking oil 食用油 Shíyòng yóu
500 g of flour 面粉 Miànfěn
200ml of water水 Shuǐ
500ml of stock 高汤 Gāotāng
1 egg鸡蛋 (beaten) Jīdàn
4g of salt 盐 Yán
2ml of cooking wine 料酒 Liàojiǔ
4ml of soy sauce 酱油 Jiàngyóu
1 cucumber 黄瓜 Huángguā (sliced)
100ml of starch sauce 淀粉 Diànfěn
1 stalk of scallion 葱(sliced) Cōng

25g of sea cucumber 海参 Hǎishēn
25g of shrimp 虾仁 Xiārén
25g of bamboo shoots 笋 Sǔn
25g of fresh mushroom 鲜蘑 Xiān mó
25g of Shiitake 香菇 Xiānggū
25g of chicken (boiled) 鸡肉 Jīròu
25g of plain boiled pork 白肉 Báiròu
25g of wood ear mushroom 木耳Mù’ěr



To prepare the sauce, add
the sliced ingredients into
a pot of boiling water and
heat for 30 seconds. Drain
and add in stock; heat until





Add salt, cooking wine and
soy sauce. Add starchy
sauce (mix starch and water
in a bowl) for a thicker
consistency. Pour the beaten
egg into the sauce. Stir until
the egg is congealed and
turn off the heat. Pour the
sauce into a large bowl.




Sprinkle the scallion
slices over the sauce. In
a dry wok, heat the three
kinds of oil to about 240
Celsius, and pour the
oil over the sauce. It will
create a strong aroma
from the scallion and
keep the sauce hot.



Combine the flour and
water together to make a
firm, cylindrical-shaped
dough. Traditionally,
the dough is kneaded
by hand. To achieve
the right shape, switch
between kneading,
folding, and rolling.
Work your hands from
one side of the dough to
the other and maintain
the same sequence
throughout the process
to achieve a smooth





Hold the dough on
a board. With a thin,
wide blade, slice the
dough into thin, long
pieces. Use the force
of your wrist to make
fast, clean slices. This
is the trickiest part of
the whole dish, so be
ready for a few practice


Boil the noodles for
about three minutes.
Drain the noodles
and soak them in cold
water to keep them
firm. Drain again. Serve
the noodles and the
sauce separately for
diners to mix their own
bowls of perfect pared
noodles. A plate of
sliced cucumber will be
a refreshing addition to
the overall taste.

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