How willing are you to try something different…food-wise? Are you the type that throws caution to the wind – even when you can’t speak the local lingo? Or, are you a culinary Lutheran, spending more time telling the waiter what you want than actually eating the meal.
Maybe you’re neither. That’s my category. You see, even though I grew up in one of the diner epicenters of the US – the NYC-area – I never fell for those places. In spite of the vast array of menu options, I tended towards pizzerias and Nathan’s instead. Pizza and hot dogs, quintessential NY options, somehow without the waistline.
Fast forward to my first stint in China, which was nearly ten years ago. Armed with some Chinese knowledge, I was eager to try nearly everything…until I came upon China’s greatest hole-in-the-wall— the Lanzhou lamian (拉面) shop:
Yes, lamian is the same as ramen, if in name only. Though, if you’re wandering throughout most anywhere in China, you’re more likely to recognize a Lanzhou lamian restaurant by the sound of dough smacking an aluminum table. Curious? Have a video.
Brief backgrounder about Lanzhou~ it’s the largest city and provincial capital of Gansu, located in north-central China. It’s very dry and – you guessed it – quite polluted, but it had two things in its favor; the weather was a nice change from the humidity of the south, and its lamian was darn good. Plus, it’s well-connected to tourist points west, both by flight and rail.
Basically, after my first meal at one of these numerous Lanzhou lamian eateries, I was hooked. Besides the ramen, I’d typically order eggplant and peppers over rice, sliced potatoes and peppers, tomatoes and eggs, wood ear mushrooms and vegetables of vague provenance, and “toothpick meat.” The pictures are a bonus for non-Chinese speaking customers, though let’s all hope that the ingredients are as they appear.
It would be a pretty sweet thing to hang up on your dorm wall, eh? My friend and I tried ordering one when we lived in Shenzhen, but I’m not really sure why we didn’t follow through.