Saozi Mian: The Hearty Noodle That Goes By Many Names

Saozi mian 臊子面 are long hand pulled noodles, placed in a rich vegetable and meat broth. Recipes vary, but quite often saozi mian will include pieces of finely chopped potatoes, tofu, meat, eggplant and other vegetables. They tend to be thin, chewy, hot, sour and spicy at the same time! While they are widely recognized as originating from Shaanxi, my first encounter with this lovely concoction came at the hands of the Niangxia crew, specifically the “Yinchuan ren” or “Yinchuaners”. And if you need to know anything about “Yinchuaners”, they are particularly proud of their 臊子面. Let’s look at the Saozi Mian’s history

During the Qing Dynasty, they were apparently considered as a “good auspice noodle” (see dragon legend below), if we’re to believe the records on Baike You’ll find saozi mian across the country, with the most distinctive varieties coming out of Shaanxi, Ningxia and Gansu as each has its own unique flavour and take on the dish. One of the more striking differences if the use of pork in Shaanxi whereas the predominantly Muslim regions of Gansu and Ningxia tend to use lamb.

Another common difference is how Saozi Mian is referred to sometimes as Shaozi Mian… fear not, it’s the same thing, the only difference is regional pronunciation! Qishan saozi mian, yangrou shaozi’s all the same baby!

Of course, behind every good noodle there is a great history, story or stories… in these noodles’ case, it’s all about the sister-in-law (saozi). The generic version is that they said to be the invention of a mother-like sister-in-law (saozi), who helped her brother to succeed in becoming a notable scholar out of a poor family.
In another Legend It was said that Zhou Wenwang (1152-1056 BC), who was an orphan from an early age, was raised by his brother’s wife. Once when he became ill in battle, his sister-in-law nursed him back to health by serving him piping hot noodles. He recovered soon after and named the dish saozi mian, or “my sister-in-law’s noodles”.

Yet another story says it was his son who popularized the noodles: A demon wreaking havoc in the region, and Zhou Wuwang, son of Zhou Wenwang, led a posse to kill the pest. They won, and used its meat to cook noodles with. It was delicious, they say, and the noodles became a favorite food, enjoyed during weddings, births and other celebrations.

In Beijing, I’ve tried the dish in some pretty diverse places: familly style ones just outside of 2 Kolegas that were made by Wu NingYe’s wife, extremely authentic ones at the Ningxia Representative office, Qing Tan Fu‘s masterpieces or solid variety from Yellow River (Review). They’re all quite different but I don’t think you can go wrong with any of those four. Another good take comes in courtesy of Sijia at XiXia FengQing (review).

Lixia, frontman for Nucleus/Buyi and proud Yinchuaner, swears that the ones he gets at the Ningxia Representative office rival the ones he grew up eating back home. I found them a bit too plain for my taste! However, Qing Tan Fu’s take is just superb: an amazing balance of sour and hot, soft and chewy that appeals to my taste-buds.

So, they might not be one of China’s Five Big Famous Noodles (中国五大名面)but as far as I’m concerned, they’re right up there in the winners’ circle. So, next time you’re out for noodles, go seek these babies out.. they’re perfect for a snack while being hearty enough to make a full meal. They also make for a great companion to a roujiamo

I’ll be headed over to Yinchuan in February where I can’t wait to eat them in their homebase…