Every city in China has a unique specialty dish that is hard to match anywhere else. Lanzhou, for example, has la mian, or hand-pulled noodles, and it’s hard to find a roujiamo sandwich better than the ones served in Xi’an. In Beijing, that dish is zhajiangmian, or fried sauce noodles. There are more zhajiangmian shops in Beijing than la mian shops in Lanzhou!
Noodles have a long history in China, they’ve been around the Middle Kingdom for over 2,000 years. In the Han Dynasty, noodles were not called “noodles,” but rather “tang bing (汤饼),” which translates to “soup cakes.”
The credit for popularizing zhajiangmian goes to the Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty. Cixi fled to Xi’an from Beijing during the Eight-National Alliance military intervention of 1900. According to popular legend, in Xi’an, Cixi found a zhajiangmian restaurant that both she and her cabinet minister absolutely loved. She loved the dish so much that she brought it back to the imperial palace in Beijing with her when she returned. The dish gradually grew popular all over Beijing.
Zhajiangmian is served in many regions throughout China including Hebei, Guangdong, Shanghai, and northeastern China. Each province serves the dish a bit differently. Even South Korea has its own version of zhajiangmian with unique characteristics. Beijing’s version, however, has become the accepted standard.
How did Beijing’s traditional zhajiangmian become so famous? It all came from the authentic noodles and the vegetables used in the dish.
Beijing’s zhajiangmian noodles are traditionally hand-rolled. Cooks knead the flour, hand roll the noodles and boil them carefully. As a result, the noodles come out chewy and delicious. The noodles are not quite as good if they are made with a machine, which some restaurants do nowadays.
In the Beijing version of the dish, very specific vegetables are used: cucumber, xiangchun, bean sprouts, green soybeans, and soybeans.
Beijing zhajiangmian restaurants are usually decorated in ancient imperial colors (red and gold). The restaurants are traditional, with grey brick walls, black tiled roofs and carvings in the windows. They feature old-fashioned eight-person square tables. Eating at one of these restaurants is like stepping back in time to old Beijing.
1) Hai Wan Ju (海碗居)
Chaoyang Branch: View In Map
Address: 36 Song Yu Nan Lu, Chaoyang District
Tel: (010) 87313518
Price: 54 RMB
Haidian Branch: View In Map
Address: 2 Huayuan Lu, Haidian District
Price: 52 RMB
2) Xuan Wen Lou, Lao Beijing Xiao Chi (宣文楼老北京小吃):View In Map
Address: 42 Qianmen Da Jie
地址: 前门大街42 号 （前门步行街）
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Keywords: Zhajiangmian history Beijing Zhajiangmian restaurants Beijing
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