Noodles have always been a favorite of mine. And having grown up with a Taiwanese mom and a five minute drive from my Taiwanese grandparents, I’ve eaten a lot of noodles so far in my life. However, while my Mom, Dad, and little brother all cherished thin noodles, I have always preferred thick noodles.
Out at a Japanese restaurant, they would all order ramen while I ordered the thicker udon noodles. Out at a Chinese restaurant, my brother’s eyes would light up everytime the server came to the table with a plate of chow mein noodles. Instead, I would patiently wait for the Shanghainese noodles to arrive. Dark brown and slippery, these noodles were my favorite childhood dish. “Slurpee noodles” I would call them — in my eyes, the only proper way to eat these noodles would be to slurp them up as loudly and obnoxiously as possible, much to the dismay of my parents.
There’s just something about the heavy doughiness of thick noodles that I absolutely adore. I love how thick noodles perfectly soak up whatever sauce they are paired with. And even when I have wiped the plate clean of all noodles, they rest delicately in my stomach, warming it up for the rest of the day. Thus when I heard of a place in U District that specialized in thick, flat, Xi’an style Chinese noodles I had to go check it out. For all the wide variety of noodles I’ve tried in my lifetime, I had never actually tried Xi’an style noodles before visiting Xi’an Noodles.
When I walked in to small restaurant, nothing about the inside gave the strong impression of a Chinese restaurant. Generic tables and chairs filled the room, and at the end of the room was a long counter similar to that of a standard cafe. However, when I sat down, an open refrigerator to my right displaying Chinese drinks and pickled vegetables for sale gave me strong nostalgia to restaurants in Taiwan.
While I had come in at an awkward lunch time — around 4:00 pm or so — I was slightly surprised and worried when I realized I was one of only two customers in the restaurant. For a restaurant right in the heart of the University District, part of me expected the place to be filled with hungry college students. However, I quickly pushed these thoughts away and opened a menu. After a long few minutes deciding between the wide array of handmade flat noodles they offered, I finally walked up to the counter and ordered the Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand Ripped Noodles.
Five brisk minutes later the server brought the noodles to my table. For such a long and complex name, the dish in front of me looked quite simple. Shredded lamb and cabbage were placed on top of the noodles, and a generous amount of oily cumin sauce had been dressed over all of it. Clearly the flat, wide noodles were intended to be the star of the show — just the way I like it.
My first bite of lamb and noodle caught me off guard with an overwhelming saltiness. However, it was only when I got all three of the cabbage, lamb, and noodle at once that I was able to fully appreciate the dish; the fresh cabbage perfectly cut through the saltiness and offered a nice balance, allowing the flavor of the noodle to shine through. The noodle was rich, chewy, and doughy — everything I loved about thick noodles. Even without the “hand ripped” label on the menu, one would easily be able to tell these noodles were hand made with true care.
The one thing I typically dislike about thick noodles is that they are almost always too dense and heavy, and can even make me feel bloated. However, these noodles were intriguingly light. Maybe it was merely the inclusion of cabbage in the dish, or it could have been because the noodles were flat — regardless, despite finishing the entire plate of noodles, by the end of the meal my stomach didn’t feel overly heavy as usual.
I left the restaurant with a smile on my face, utterly impressed by Xian noodles. I can only help but wonder what other kinds of undiscovered noodles are out there for me to try. Needless to say, I’m eager to find out.