I’m just going to put this out there, shopping at the Asian grocery store makes me a tad nervous. I’ve grown up with Indian grocery stores, that’s no problem, but Asian markets aren’t my thing. The food is unfamiliar, the writing on everything is in a foreign language and I feel woozy everytime as I navigate through the aisles.
But I braved the market for you, my readers, the only reason for making this dreaded journey.
There’s something intriguing about the Asian grocery stores. I find them intimidating, but thinking about the amazing food that comes from it, makes me salivate. Chinese cooking is like an elite club that I’ve been trying to be invited to. The flavours of Chinese cooking are foreign to me. I want to get to know it, be it’s friend. Take it out to dinner and ask “what makes you, you?”
And can you blame me? Dumplings filled with shrimp , peking roasted duck, char siu pork and slippery noodles in a bowl of spicy and flavourful broth. I want this, I need this and to get there, I have to make my passage through the Asian market.
The cashier barely notices as I walk in, slinking past the cash and grabbing the first basket I can lay my hands on. I search through the produce section, passing the fresh and bright green mint, cilantro and green onions, and stopping to smell the chillies (yes chillies, I love the way they smell!). I don’t recognize half of the fruits and vegetables that everyone else seems to be rummaging through. What am I missing out on? I’ll figure that out another day, but for now I’m on a mission. I grab some green onions and cilantro and move on.
I know that I look completely lost and I’m tempted to ask the Asian couple next to me for help. But I resist, I can do this, right?!
I stumble over to the aisles, 5 intimidating aisles. I walk down the first, the shelves spilling out with jars and cans of fermented vegetables. My mouth starts to drool and my stomach growls. What is all of this? Endless bottles of sauces and vinegars that I’ve never seen before. The dried chilli peppers and spices give off a strong aroma that makes me feel woozy. But I love it. I inhale deeply, finding scents of cinnamon and Sichuan peppercorn. I want it all.
I stumbled upon a stock boy furiously arranging a shelf of spices. Relieved, I asked him where I could find fermented bean paste. He kept going, his body didn’t even twitch. I was desperate to find the next item on my list. Maybe he didn’t hear me? I asked again, a little louder this time. And again, nothing. I felt hopeless, when I heard the most glorious 4 words I thought I may never hear, “Can I help you?”. I stood there, surprised. I turned around, the manager impatient, waiting for my response.
“Ummm, bean paste?” was all I could put together. He pointed to the next aisle and I obeyed, walking over as the man behind the fish counter smirked. I thought it would be simple. I start sweating as my eyes dart across the shelf, jarred bean paste, soy bean paste, chilli bean paste and bean paste in a bag? I grabbed one and threw it into my basket.
I give a sigh of relief, one more item to go! I headed over to the grains aisle, optimistic of what I will find. The fish guy lets out a laugh, almost mocking me as I’m searching through a mountain of carbs. I find the noodles, tucked away behind the rice paper rolls and vermicelli noodles. Success!
I told myself after that it wasn’t so bad! I made it out, intact and with my loot and curious about everything I had seen.
My recipe for dan-dan mian noodles is a tribute to my Asian grocery store. Perhaps after this, I’ll be a part of their club.
When I first ate this dish, I didn’t know what was happening. My mouth began to tingle and my tongue felt numb. Numb? I freaked out, immediately my mind starts searching for explanations, had my chilli oil turned? It turns out that Sichuan peppercorns have the fun job of numbing your mouth to help endure its spicy kick. If you have never felt this unique sensation, I can only relate the feeling to licking a small battery. Yup I said it. Like a bazillion mini vibrations on your tongue. It was odd at first but I kept going back for more. Even now, I’m eyeing the chilli oil sitting on my counter, begging me to eat it.
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tbsp chilli flakes
- 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, slightly crushed
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- ¼ tsp cumin powder
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1½ tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp chopped garlic
- 2 tsp ginger paste or 1 inch ginger root (grated)
- 1½ tbsp bean paste
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar or Chinese black vinegar
- 1½ cups chicken stock
- Chinese udon noodles
- Green onion, cilantro, lime wedges and crushed toasted peanuts for garnish
- Marinate the pork with the dark soy sauce and sesame oil and keep set aside.
- For Sichuan chilli oil, heat the oil in a sauce pan. Combine the star anise, cinnamon, chilli flakes, peppercorns, garlic and cumin powder in a jar. Once the oil forms threads at the bottom of the pan, pour into the jar and stir to combine the ingredients. Let it cool down and can be stored up to one 1 week in a air-tight jar.
- Cook the pork on medium high heat, breaking up the ground pork as it cooks. Add in the crushed garlic, ginger, bean paste and sesame oil. Continue to cook it until almost cooked through. Pour in the vinegar to de glaze the pan. Cook for 1 minute then add in the chicken stock. Cook until there's 1 cup of liquid remaining in the pan.
- Cook the noodles according to package instructions
- To serve, place the noodles in a bowl, top with the ground pork and garnish with chopped cilantro, peanuts, green onions and a lime wedge.
Want to receive exclusive recipes and food photography tips? Subscribe to our blog!