Hot Dry Noodle Heaven

4 Yuan (approx. 50 Euro cents) of perfect hot dry noodles heavenliness

I vividly remember when I first moved to Wuhan there was one thing very high on my to do list and that was finally tasting Wuhan's speciality breakfast - hot dry noddles (热干面 rè gān miàn). 

I didn't think it would be difficult to accomplish and I had my heart set on it so much that I got disappointed very very quickly. It wasn't that I finally tasted the dish and disliked it, no it was far worse then that.

I simply couldn't find a place where to have my first bowl of Wuhan's famous hot dry noodles. Considering that hot dry noodles are sold at just about every street corner in Wuhan that excuse is nothing but laughable. Still, I'm sticking to my guns, so laugh as much as you will.

I had my heart set on trying the best hot dry noodles in Wuhan so I asked a ton of people where to have my first bowl of this elusive best bowl of steaming hot 热干面. My question was met with as much disinterest as you could possible imagine. Apparently it didn't matter and any place was okay, followed by countless of questions as to why I just had to have those blasted noddles. "It's nothing special, stop wasting your time." My friends told me. 

It started grating on my nerves faster than you repeatedly clicking your ballpoint pen will. I stopped asking and started ignoring, determined to find the answer myself. After months of successful indecision I finally gave in to my good friend's invitation and let her buy a bowl of hot dry noodles for me although it wasn't the real deal because she had the cook add minced pork. Still it was delicious and I proudly instagramed my progress:

炸酱热干面 (hot dry noodles with ground pork and fermented soybean paste / zhajiang re gan mian)

Once I'd finished my first bowl of "fake" hot dry noodles, as I call them, I felt sort of accomplished and the daredevil in me wanted more. I tried an actual original bowl of hot dry noddles and the taste was okay but it didn't make me sit up straight with excitement. For a while I didn't know what all the fuss was about and unable to find what I was looking for I resolved to just making the dish at home. I'm doing an okay job with it. The taste is anything but the real thing but it's not vile and I like it. I buy hot dry noddles from the wet market across the street and then I make the sauce myself. Usually I add more lajiao jiang (辣椒酱) than I should but what with my injury I've been forced to abandon all spicy food. Doctor's orders. Spicy food isn't the best option to aid the healing process of an open wound. This is undoubtedly rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine and I never asked why I should abstain but just did and I don't intend to eat anything spicy until I've full recovered.

My injury is exactly what made me finally discover the best hot dry noddles in Wuhan (my humble opinion) although I don't recommend that you burn yourself with scalding hot water from an electric hot water bottle until you end up with a full-thickness second degree burn the size of your hand that requires skin grafting to heal to ask your friends to come by and visit you and bring you hot dry noodles for breakfast.

Long story short, with me on bed rest and unable to leave the house to do simple things such as going to the supermarket and buying food for myself my friends took over helping me and whenever a friend came over to help me go to the hospital she would bring be some breakfast. When asked what I wanted for breakfast my answer was always the same, I wanted hot dry noodles. One bowl of hot dry noodles fills you up and you feel full for a long time with no need to eat anything. That suited me just fine. One morning one of my friends bought a bowl of hot dry noddles from the little snack food shop beside the entrance to my apartment complex. I've since been inside (thanks to my fantastic doctor who gave me my freedom back) and discovered that they serve numerous "quick" dishes perfectly suited for a breakfast on the road or a short lunch break.

I now have an insatiable thirst for their hot  dry noodles and don't want to buy my breakfast anywhere else. Mind you, I don't eat hot dry noodles every day but I do enjoy a steaming bowl of hot dry noodles and a cup of soya milk.

What astonishes me is the complete indifference the people of Wuhan have when it comes to hot dry noodles. I totally get that it's nothing special to them but try to buy hot dry noodles anywhere else in China and you will recoil at the taste. There is quite frankly nothing worse than someone who isn't from Wuhan attempting to produce a sellable version of Wuhan's signature hot dry noodles sauce. 

The recipe itself is very easy, hence my ability to produce it at home (though I wouldn't attempt to sell it or offer it to other people, especially people from Wuhan), but it's a delicate recipe and if you mess it up it's a bomb gone wrong. The taste will go from exploding in your mouth making you crave more to you spitting it out, pulling a face and vowing to never eat such a vile dish ever again. I kid you not. There is nothing worse than trying to eat hot dry noodles when the sauce isn't right. I tried it ones and I couldn't bring myself to swallow more than one bite before giving up and tossing the dish.

It's true, the dish is nothing special, the taste is simple, there is nothing but noodles and sauce in the bowl, but nevertheless the dish is rich in taste and it fills you up better than a bowl of rice will ever do. There's a ton of different versions of the dish and some people like to add meat or other goodies for a different taste but the traditional, original dish will always be ridiculously simple.

The sauce is compromised of many different ingredients, yet it's simple enough to follow, if you'd like to try it at home:

油 2汤匙(30ml)
oil, two tablespoons
芝麻香油 4汤匙(60ml)
sesame oil, two tablespoons  
芝麻酱 2汤匙(30ml)
sesame paste, two tablespoons
香醋 2茶匙(10ml)
vinegar, two teaspoons (adjust based on personal taste)
酱油 1汤匙(15ml)
soy sauce, 1 tablespoon
白砂糖 2茶匙(10g)
white sugar, two teaspoons
酱萝卜丁 50g 
marinated radish cubes
辣椒油 1茶匙(5ml) 
hot pepper oil, one teaspoon
香葱 2棵 
spring onions, two pinches
胡椒粉 1/2茶匙(2g)
ground pepper, one/two teaspoons
卤牛肉汁 适量 (可根据个人口味增减)
beef gravy juice (as per personal flavour, I never add it)

Apparently a lot of foreigners aren't really a fan of hot dry noodles so I always get astonished looks when I do order the dish and I usually just joke that I'm from Wuhan. They don't believe it for a second but they are humorous enough to laugh at the joke and they I get kudos for eating like a local.

So if you've ever in Wuhan, let me take you for a bowl of hot dry noodles so that you can make up your own mind and stop believing other foreigners who "don't like the smell" and therefore walk about telling everyone that it's a horrible dish. They clearly have no appreciation for a good bowl of Chinese snack food. I've heard astonishing stories from locals as to why foreigners don't like the dish and it makes me want to paint my skin yellow and get surgery on my eyes. Some foreigners are just too indifferent to local culture and taste and it makes my heart hurt.