Comfort food at its best… Give spicy dan dan noodles a try!
Now hugely popular at Chinese restaurants, dan dan noodles are originally from northern China and enjoyed at street food stalls all over south east Asia. Authentic dan dan noodles can be replicated at home in less than 30 minutes!
What are dan dan noodles?
Dan dan noodles, also called Szechuan noodles are called ‘dan dan’ after the poles that street food vendors used back in the day to carry their ingredients around on. They’d carry their bowls, cookware and ingredients in two baskets that were tied to each end of the dan dan pole.
Then they would walk around with their dan dan pole on their shoulders and stop to serve some Szechuan noodles whenever they are stopped by hungry customers.
Nowadays, dan dan noodles can be found at street food stalls and restaurants around the world.
What makes up a good bowl of dan dan noodles?
The thick, meaty sauce is to die for! When it coats those noodles, you really do have a masterpiece in a bowl.
One of the ingredients that is essential to the sauce is sesame paste. Don’t get sesame paste mixed up with tahini which is also a sesame paste used a lot in Mediterranean cooking. Tahini is made by blended raw sesame seeds with oil into a paste. Asian sesame paste is made the same way but with dark roasted sesame seeds. There is a big flavour difference.
The sesame flavour that you get from the sesame paste is the flavour that dan dan noodles are famous for. Together with the other ingredients, the sesame paste makes Szechuan noodles what they are and why they are so sought after.
Is there a substitute for the sesame paste?
You really can find Asian sesame paste easily at Asian grocers and online. That said, you could use the easier to find tahini with some roasted sesame oil stirred in. You can also use the same amount of crunchy or smooth peanut butter.
Are dan dan noodes spicy?
Dan dan noodles are usually a bit spicy but you can adjust the spiciness to taste.
This recipe is mildly spiced though I do usually add a bit more chilli and chilli oil when I’m cooking for myself.
The finished dan dan noodles are spicy, not just because of the chillies and chilli oil used but also from the Szechuan peppercorns which are numbingly spicy. Their spiciness doesn’t linger so if spicy food is not your thing, be sure to use them anyway.
What type of noodles are used in Szechuan noodles?
Traditionally, dan dan noodles are made with pulled wheat noodles. You might be able to purchase them fresh depending on where you live but they aren’t easy to come by in the west. There are good substitutes.
Fresh Asian wheat noodles: Many supermarkets are now carrying Asian wheat noodles that are ready to cook. Some are even pre-cooked so all you need to do is heat them up.
Chinese egg noodles: These come fresh at Asian shops and also dried. The cooking time will vary depending on if they are fresh or dried. If you can get fresh, do it. The dried noodles are fine though.
Ramen noodles: Both fresh and dried ramen noodles work well as a substitute. I know it might sound lazy but I’m a big fan of instant ramen noodles with this dish. They can be soaked in hot water for a few minutes and they are perfectly cooked.
Rice noodles: You can use rice noodles. They are not used often to make dan dan noodles but they are a superb substitute. This is what you should use if you are gluten free or cooking for someone who is.
Which meat is best?
Both ground pork and beef work well though I believe pork is used more often. I have even made dan dan noodles with ground venison for my family and their wasn’t a noodle leftover.
Making this vegetarian…
If you are on a meat-free diet, you can make dan dan noodles vegetarian. Try this recipe with finely chopped mushrooms. It works!
I have also used a vegetarian meat mince from Quorn and it worked well too.
Working in advance…
Like most meaty sauces, you can cook the sauce a few days in advance. In fact the flavours will develop and it will be even better.
I often scale this recipe up so that I have plenty of sauce to freeze. With two kids at university, they sauces don’t stay in my freezer long.
Using Szechuan peppercorns
Like most spices, Szechuan peppercorns benefit from lightly roasting in a dry pan. This is done in the recipe below.
I have never minded the grainy texture of freshly pounded spices but some people do. If that is you, you will want to pound a bit longer or grind your peppercorns in a spice grinder until you have a fine powder.
Finely ground Szechuan peppercorns can be purchased at some Asian shops and online but pre-ground peppercorns are not nearly and numbingly delicious as roasting and grinding them from fresh.
Step by step photographs of making dan dan noodles…
If you like these spicy Szechuan noodles, try some of these too…
Spicy Chicken Chow Mein
Chinese Crispy Chicken and Broccoli
General Tso’s Chicken
Dan Dan Noodles
- 400g (14 oz) dried Chinese ramen noodles or similar
- 1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- FOR THE MARINADE
- 250g (9 oz) minced pork
- 50g preserved turnip (optional)
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce or another tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp Shaoxing Wine (optional)
- FOR THE SAUCE
- 1 – 2 tbsp rapeseed (canola) or peanut oil
- 1 red bird’s eye chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
- 4 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp smooth sesame paste or smooth peanut butter
- 1 tbsp Chinese chilli oil, shop bought or homemade (page 00)
- 175ml (3/4 cup) chicken stock
- Cover the noodles in a bowl with boiling hot water and soak until soft. This usually only takes about 5 to 10 minutes. You might need to adjust this instruction depending on the noodles you are using.
- Meanwhile, heat your wok over a medium heat and add the Szechuan peppercorns. Dry fry, stirring continuously for about 30 seconds or until warm to the touch and fragrant.
- Transfer the peppercorns to a pestle and mortar and pound and crush lightly. Set aside.
- Place the pork in a mixing bowl and add the preserved turnip (if using), the soy sauces and the Shaoxing wine (if using).
- Mix well and allow to marinate until needed. This can of course be done a day ahead of cooking but it’s not necessary.
- When ready to finish this dish off, heat your wok over high heat and stir in one tbsp oil. Add the marinated meat and cook, stirring continuously for about 5 minutes or until the pork is cooked through and crisp.
- Transfer the cooked pork to a plate and set aside.
- Add another tbsp of oil to the wok and stir in the garlic, ginger, spring onions (scallions), chilli and fry over medium high heat for about a minute.
- Stir in the sesame paste, soy sauce and stock and simmer for a couple of minutes.
- Return the cooked crispy pork to the wok and stir it into the sauce to heat through.
- To serve, strain the noodles and stir in the sesame oil. Divide the noodles between four bowls. Top with the sauce. Sprinkle with the pounded Szechuan peppercorns and dig in!
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 715Total Fat: 51gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 35gCholesterol: 47mgSodium: 3757mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 4gSugar: 9gProtein: 27g
Thursday 18th of May 2023
You have chilli oil in the ingredients. When/how is that used? Doesn't appear in the instructions.
Monday 22nd of May 2023
Just pour a bit over the dish at the end if you have any but it’s not imperative. Thanks Dan
Friday 7th of April 2023
Hi. I’m going to make this tomorrow. The instructions say to fry the ginger, garlic, chilli and spring onion but the ingredients don’t list how much garlic or ginger. Can you advise please? Thank you 😊
Tuesday 11th of April 2023
Sorry, I’ll get that changed. Use 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic and approximately 3cm piece of finally chopped ginger or more or less to taste. Thanks Dan
Sunday 30th of October 2022
Loved the Dan Dan noodles.. Quite salty, I assume from the soy sauce, but that was fine for us.
Thursday 3rd of November 2022
Yeah the soy sauce can make it taste a bit salty so add a bit less soy sauce next time if you found it a bit overwhelming. Great you loved the recipe anyway. Thanks Dan