Above: You need 2 chopsticks to pick up these noodles, but apparently only 1 to make them
There are oodles caboodles of noodle shops all over China. On just about every street there is at least one humble one-outdoor-burner mom and pop stall with a couple of tables and stools in a literal hole in a wall (the best I came across during our time in China were in my ancestral Hakka village in Guangdong province, but more on that later). There is also a growing array of noodle fastfood chains such as Li Xian Sheng Niu Rou Mian (Mr Li Beef Noodles), and the mystifyingly named but sufficiently tasty Mei Guo Jia Zhou Niu Rou Mian (America California Beef Noodles).
For those meals where the budget in Beijing get to breathe just a tad without letting it all go, there is Noodle Loft, a Shaanxi-style noodle boutique (nootique?) recommended to me by @mitchtan and @limliken.
Noodle Loft is perched on the 2nd floor of the very swish Fairmont Tower office block and its adjacent service apartment complex in Wangjing. It overlooks what looks like an up and coming high-rise Korean neighbourhood and is flanked by a distinctly expat and China yuppie-friendly shopping mall managed by the Capitaland group.
As you watch the evening rushour go by, you can pick your noodles from a list that sounds more like a circus programme than a menu.
Behold, the amazing elasticity of the hand-pulled noodles! See for yourself the death-defying knife-cut noodles! Be not afraid...they taste better than they look... cat-ear noodles! And yes, the legends are true, ladies and gentlemen, I give you.... the daredevil noodles made with one single chopstick!
A cautionary aside here, hungry travelers! When visiting China make sure you do and download all your China food blog research BEFORE you enter the country. Censorship in the Middle Kingdom is as blanket as icing on a Krispy Kreme. Unless you have an overseas VPN service, or are skilled at working with proxies, you won't be able to send out those "where should I eat" SOS-es on Facebook and Twitter, and you won't be able to access entire blog platforms (e.g., any blog hosted by Google), even blogs that extol the wonders of China cuisine.
So it wasn't until I came out from behind the Great Firewall of China that I learned from blogs such as Appetite for China and World Foodie Guide that I missed out on some noodle open-kitchen acrobatics done by Noodle Loft's chefs. And also, apparently, a bar of noodle sauces and accompaniments. (They may been talking about the flagship Xi Da Wang Road restaurant. I didn't notice any open kitchen viewing area in the brance we went to. But now I'll never know!) So there we were, our noodles served just as we ordered them, sans the Cirque de Bowl-eil. Bah!
I had the very delicious one-chopstick noodles in hot and sour soup, pictured above. The softness of the relatively thin noodles together with the spiciness and tartness of the thick soup hit all my comfort food spots. Babs, who likes a more al dente bite in his noodles, had the much thicker, flatter, knife-cut noodles with chunks of beef in broth. This proved to be a very heavy combination, and he left some of his noodles behind.
And now to confess the real reason I schlepped all the way out to this northeastern neighbourhood of Beijing, a 20-minute walk from Wangjing West metro station, past dusty construction sites and city-blocks of unsold flats.
Shredded ass meat.
Well that's what @limliken's email said. How could I not go check it out?
Turns out he meant donkey. And what a yummy first taste of donkey it was. Shredded fine, slightly brined sweet and sour, and mixed in with slivers of cucumber and coriander and peppered with sesame.
For something green, I picked cold dish made of two of my favourite vegetables -- spinach and enoki mushrooms. A lovely light counter balance to the carby noodles and my meaty ass (that was less of a joke than I'd like it to be...).
The most expensive dish in our meal was also the most disappointing. A whole deep fried chicken stuffed with sticky rice and salted egg. Sounds amazing on paper, but that's about where it ends. The whole thing -- even with the salted egg, was bland and meh overall. I'll stick to cheaper experiments the next time I go punting.
Other than the chicken, however, Noodle Loft was one the best meals we had in Beijing. It's a great location to try the cuisine of Shaanxi while taking a break from the dust and smog outside. Top your meal off with one of the many exotic fruit drinks on the menu. The sea buckthorn juice was as delightful as it was luridly eggyolk-orange.
33 Guang Shun Bei Da Jie (Guang Shun North Main Road)
Fairmont Office Tower 2nd floor
+86 8472 4700
From Wanjing West metro station, walk down (about 20 minutes) or take a quick taxi ride down Hu Guang Zhong Lu (Hu Guang Middle Road) until you reach the corner of Guang Shun Bei Da Jie (Guang Shun North Main Street).
20 Xi Da Wang Lu
+86 6774 9950