Hidden noodle shop delights tickle the palate

Shi Jia
Shi Jia
Northern China is known for its noodles. But hidden away in Hangzhou are many noodle treasures — if you are prepared to wait with the crowd of locals.
Shi Jia
Shi Jia

They always say the northern Chinese love noodles more than southerners. But ask any frequent noodle shop-goer and they will tell you Hangzhou is an exception.

A typical day for a noodle lover starts with a bowl of noodles, usually a banchuan (拌川). Banchuan is the local term for a kind of stirred noodles, where toppings are stir-fried separately and then added and stirred into the noodles. 

Pian’erchuan (片儿川), the best representative of Hangzhou noodles, is served in a similar way. The noodle soup is topped with bamboo shoots, pickled Chinese mustard and shredded pork. Other toppings vary from soy-braised beef to stir-fried pork liver, to pork chops or pork ribs. 

The genuine old-style Hangzhou taste lives on in one of those unremarkable noodle shops. They are hidden away in local communities, in that apartment downstairs, opposite the open market. And their reputation spreads gradually, by word-of-mouth.

Shanghai Daily visits some of these noodle treasures in Hangzhou and tries to find the secrets that lie behind their success.

Hidden noodle shop delights tickle the palate

Pianerchuan topped with fried pork kidney

Laoqiaotou noodle shop 老桥头面馆

It’s one in the afternoon. Queue number 48 has been called for another round. People keep coming in. The tiny space is filled with six tables — seating five people each — and several people stand between the tables waiting for an empty.

This is a normal Sunday at the Laoqiaotou noodle shop. Everything is first-come-first-served. If you come after 12 o’clock, the best — with toppings of pork chop, pork ribs and pig’s trotters — are usually sold out.

“We prepare a fixed amount of food and if it’s sold out for the day, we won’t do any more,” shop owner Yu tells Shanghai Daily.

“For 30 years, every day is like this.”

The shop is run by a family, the Ningbo-born wife, the Hangzhou-native husband and his parents. Yu’s mother-in-law gained a reputation for her home-made noodles in her neighborhood, and then they made it into a business.

They use lard mixed with vegetable oil to stir fry the toppings. Noodles are custom made from the same reliable vendor. Customers can choose from a selection of stirred noodles, noodle soup, rice vermicelli soup and rice cake soup with all kinds of toppings.

The price is also reasonable. A bowl of noodles with pork chop and vegetables costs 14 yuan (US$2.1). You can buy extra toppings for 1 to 10 yuan.

“I come here regularly. It’s cheap and tasty as well,” says one customer as he feeds his grandson.

Address: 1-6 Xiaohezhi Rd

Opening hours: 7am-1:30pm

Hidden noodle shop delights tickle the palate

One o' clock at the Laoqiaotou noodle shop.

Liulaolao noodle shop? 刘姥姥十里香牛肉面

Liulaolao (Granny Liu) is the name of a female character in “Dream of the Red Chamber,” one of the Four Great Masterpieces of China. And the noodle shop serves only two things: beef and beef noodles.

It is in a local community, just opposite the Dong Shan Long wet market.

“When I first set foot in the eatery industry, a veteran told me location is a great deal at the beginning,” says Zhou Kun, who owns the shop.

It did attract early customers as people rushing to open the market sometimes prefer prepared food such as braised beef. About half its revenue comes from selling prepared braised beef slices or beef entrails.

Zhou obtained the recipe from a Wenzhou native. It uses traditional medicinal Chinese herbs and a lot of spices to pot-stew the beef for hours. As a result the beef tastes more tender and the fishy smell of the beef entrails is reduced.

If you are lucky, you may be able to order a beef hotpot, which is a “hidden menu” item only regulars know. The beef is self-cooked; and vegetables are bought on-demand from the market across the road. It can be a very heart-warming gathering with friends and colleagues in winter.

A good proportion of customers come from nearby neighborhoods and students and faculty from Zhejiang University which is only two blocks away. 

“Year after year, I see primary schoolers go on to high school, couples having a second baby. These returning customers are the best asset of an eatery like us,” Zhou says.

Address: 60 Waidongshan Lane

Opening hours: 7am-8pm

Hidden noodle shop delights tickle the palate

Liulaolao noodle shop, opposite Dong Shan Long open market.

Fanglaoda noodle shop ?方老大面馆

Fanglaoda refers to Lao Fang. Back in 1983, Lao Fang opened his first noodle shop in Xiong Zhen Lou. 

The area has a long tradition of thriving local eateries, possibly due to its auspicious position next to the Wangjiang Gate, an ancient inner city gate of Hangzhou where villagers and fishermen carried their vegetables and aquatic food for sale.

Sixteen years later, it was Xiao Fang, Lao Fang’s son, who took over the lead. Xiao Fang did not go to college after high school. He attempted to learn some solid skills to make his own living. But after several unsuccessful start-ups, Xiao Fang came home to learn from his father how to make decent noodles.

It is never as simple as it looks. Xiao Fang was the only chef in the noodle shop. After working for a year serving over 10,000 customers, foodies flocked in from other corners of the city.

The must-try at Fanglaoda is definitely pian’erchuan topped with fried pork kidney. 

If there is one taste that represents Hangzhou, many natives will tell you it is the taste of pian’erchuan — also ranked as one of China’s top 10 noodle dishes. Xiao Fang has elevated it by adding a wider range of favorite toppings.

His pian’erchuan keeps to the original recipe. The shop uses freshly harvested bamboo shoots. Pork tenderloin is sliced and starched in a mixture of cornstarch, whipped eggs and seasoning. Mushrooms, a large amount of pickled mustard, sliced onions and cut spring onions are added to accentuate the taste of umami.

Address: 81 Bayuan Lane?Opening hours: 8am-6pm

(The other outlet in Funing Lane is temporarily closed and will re-open in September. )

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