The Mein Man: Bamboo Garden’s Dan Dan Noodles Are Hot Hot

dan1_640_5279Dish: Cheng Du Dan Dan Noodle
Place: Bamboo Garden, Bellevue
Price: $6.95

In the bowl: You’ll see slightly yellowish egg noodles topped with little bits of ground pork and thin slices of green onion. The chili sauce is at the bottom of the bowl.

Supporting cast/What to do: It’s all there, in the bowl. What’s important is to mix as soon and thoroughly as possible before the noodles harden and congeal, as the sauce will have settled to the bottom of the bowl. And I do mean thorough. There’s not a lot of meat and sauce, so you’ll want to go for good distribution.

Noodling around: There are many recipes for dan dan noodles. Even Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuanese cookbook, Land of Plenty, has two versions–one made with pork, the other with beef. I much prefer pork, just as Bamboo Garden serves the noodles.

But unlike Dunlop’s, Bamboo Garden’s dan dan noodles are rather simple. The server explained that the only ingredients are the noodles, pork, green onions, and chili oil. I suspect there might be a little more to the chili sauce, and thought I detected a slightly gritty texture to the noodles (which made me wonder if there was perhaps a little sesame paste), but the sauce wasn’t terribly complex, and I didn’t find any preserved vegetables, peanuts, or other typical ingredients to the dish.

The noodles themselves were good, with good taste and texture. Dan dan is a dish I make frequently at home, and I’m always trying them with different types of noodles, including egg.

What you can always count on at Bamboo Garden is heat, and this dish has it. Lots of la, or spice, but in this case no ma, which is the numbness that comes from Sichuan peppercorns.

If you want more: Go for one of the cold appetizers, like the sour and spicy jellyfish ($6.95), rabbit chunks in chili oil ($8.95) if you’re seeking more meat, or fava beans in chili oil ($5.95). Note, yes, that they all are spicy, as most of the cold appetizers have chili oil or chili sauce. If that’s too much heat, then maybe get a watermelon smoothie ($3.25) to cool down your mouth.

Be aware/beware: Do not get this place mixed up with Bamboo Garden in Queen Anne. The Queen Anne restaurant is vegetarian, and while I did enjoy my noodle dish there last week and my vegetarian experience at Araya’s the week before, my heart is with restaurants that serve things like, well, heart. Bellevue’s Bamboo Garden has a “Take a Walk on Wild Side” menu that contains a lot of the dishes–the good stuff–that you’d normally find only on the Chinese menu. I like that Bamboo Garden encourages diners to experiment and try a new dish or two as part of the dining experience. On this menu, you’ll find some of my favorites, like Swimming Fire Fish, Sliced Pork Kidneys in a Tangy Broth, and The Other Parts of a Pig.

In case you’re working, dan is Chinese for a bamboo shoulder pole. Dan dan noodles was once the classic street food of Chengdu, with workers essentially carrying their kitchens on the poles while calling out “dan dan mian” to attract customers.

First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on April 16, 2012.

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