A while ago, when I'd never even thought of visiting China, I remember reading a Fuchsia Dunlop book and her talking of buying three portions of noodles for breakfast - two sea flavour and one dan dan mian. This seemed excessive but now I've visted Chengdu I understand. Dotted around the place are noodle houses and the noodles tend to come in three sizes, costing maybe 3, 5 and 7 yuan (11 yuan to the pound at the minute). The 3 yuan size (one liang's worth maybe, a size measure I'm not too sure of) is not enough for an adult meal so you're forced to eat a couple or more of them, not too much of a chore with so many different flavours to choose from.
The first time I saw one of these noodle places was outside Wenshu temple in Chengdu, luckily for me it happened to be lunchtime. This particular place, set up for a busy tourist spot, had masses of bowls of noodles in the window, ready to be topped, and one particular one caught my eye as they looked like great big chewy strands of wheat noodle. Someone was sat near the till eating them so, with a point, I added a portion of these to the dan dan mian I had to try.
Dan dan mian is a famous Sichuan dish, minced meat (in this case pork) sits on top of otherwise very plain looking wheat noodles. Hidden underneath though lies a puddle of chili oil, Sichuan pepper, soy sauce and sometimes sesame paste, not sure this is one for the purists though. A quick stir with the chopsticks, which is easier said than done in the very full little bowls, transforms the plain looking noodles into slick red noodles dotted with the meat. As with most Sichuan food they give your tastebuds a good going over, leaving your nose running from the chili and lips tingling from the Sichuan pepper. They are very moreish.
The big surprise was the tian shui mian though, which translates to 'sweet water noodles'. Here we were served cold, thick wheat noodles dressed with sweet bean paste, sesame paste, soy, salt, MSG, chili and some sesame seeds. The sauce was both sweet and spicy, clinging to the noodles in its stickiness. Noodles which appeared handmade and were lovely and chewy in their coldness. The dish was so good it knocked dan dan mian, the original purpose of the restaurant trip, back into an out of focus position in the photo.