This is a simple dish that was surprisingly hard to re-create. It took a lot of trial and error but I feel like this version is quite close to the restaurant versions!
Dan dan noodles originated as a street food in Sichuan. The name comes from the bamboo pole (dan dan) attached to two baskets, one holding the ingredients, the other holding the cookware. The name translates directly as “noodles carried on a pole”, but can be called “peddler’s noodles” as the noodles were very cheap.
You can eat it as a broth, but another common approach is to eat the noodles “dry”, which means they are mixed with a sauce instead of a broth. The cooked noodles are mixed with soya sauce, vinegar and chili oil. The spicy flavor is one of the defining features of Chengdu dan dan noodles. I usually have seen the dry version when I order dan dan noodles. Apparently when the dish was introduced in the US, it was transformed more into a pasta dish — boiled noodles with a meat sauce on top. (source, source)
You can use tahini, but we used peanut butter as we were trying to use up all our food before we moved crossed country this summer and it tasted great. The cinnamon, star anise, and chili make such a delicious smoky flavor. I reduced the oil dramatically from the original recipe, and I feel like this amount is perfect, as foods that are too oily make me feel heavy afterwards. Adapted from The Woks of Life and Seonkyoung Longest
Dan Dan Noodles
3 teaspoons oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
t tablespoon ginger, minced
1/2 lb ground pork
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 packet (50g) sui mi ya cai (pickled vegetables)
8 tablespoons chili oil
2 star anise
1 to 3 teaspoons toasted Sichuan peppercorns (note I could not find this but should be in the recipe)
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
4 tablespoons tahini or peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons sugar
white noodles, medium thickness
PORK: Mix the garlic, ginger, and pork in a bowl. Heat oil over medium heat and brown the ground pork mixture. Add the hoison sauce, shaoxing wine, and soy sauce. Cook until meat is just browned and transfer to a plate. Heat same pan with oil over medium heat, and saute the sui mi ya cai for a few minutes then combine with the pork in the pan.
SAUCE: In a small pan, heat the chili oil with Sichuan peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and star anise. Wait 5 minutes, then remove the peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and star anise with a slotted spoon. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and allow them to steep in the hot oil. In a bowl, mix the flavored chili oil with garlic, tahini/peanut butter, soy sauce, and sugar. Taste and adjust flavors as needed.
Cook the noodles according to package directions and drain. Place the noodles in a bowl, and add cooked pork and sui mi ya cai and the sauce on top. Garnish with scallions. Enjoy!