For those of you who have experienced them, Uyghur pulled noodles–known as läghmän لەغمەن or längmän لەڭمەن in Uyghur and banmian 拌面 or latiaozi 拉条子 in Mandarin Chinese–are surely a special treat. Expats in China talk about this dish as “Uyghur spaghetti” due to the similar composition of boiled and drained noodle topped with a meat, garlic, vegetables, and tomatoes. The flavor combination may surprise you, and you undoubtably will crave this like a comfort food after you try it for the first time.
Here in the States längmän is hard to find at restaurants. If you live in New York, you can find this at Kashgar Cafe in Brighton Beach, and in Philadelphia you can sample the Uzbek cousin of this dish at Restaurant Uzbekistan or at Samarkand in Bustleton/Northeastern Philadelphia. Otherwise you need to make it at home, or find a Uyghur friend.
The Uyghur name for this dish is likely derived from a Chinese word, either “cold noodle” liangmian 凉面, or “pulled noodle” lamian 拉面 (see here for a discussion about the name and history on Language Log).
Läghmän is a staple food in Xinjiang, eaten by millions on a daily basis. Beyond Xinjiang, it is well-known in the oasis cities west of broader Central Asia (i.e. in the ‘Stans–where Uyghur chefs are held in high regard due to their skills in preparing this dish), and throughout China in large cities like that have Uyghur or Hui communities.
The noodles are a very simple dough of wheat flour, water, and a little salt. Techniques for pulling noodles vary, from methods similar to Lanzhou-style lamian to a simple home coiling method that is relatively easy to learn (see below for images and more info on pulling). Using the coiling method, standard US all-purpose flour can be used successfully.
The ingredients for the topping vary greatly depending on what is available or in season. Key flavors that will generally be present from version to version come from the meat (usually mutton), tomato (which is perhaps the most striking difference when comparing to common Chinese meat stir frys), garlic, and black vinegar. Frequent primary ingredients for the topping include: jiucai (garlic chives), long beans, potato, eggplant, long chile peppers, Chinese celery, bokchoy, napa cabbage, onion, green onion. Seasonings generally include salt and pepper, tomato or tomato sauce, garlic, and sometimes soy sauce, black vinegar, cumin, huajiao, and ginger.
There are a few other blogs out there that do a good job of introducing Uyghur pulled noodles. This one at Uyghurbread is a pretty thorough, with some video segments of the blogger’s visiting mother pulling noodles. Close up detail of the “coil technique” can be found in a beautiful video done by Russian blog Talerka. Another nice intro to the dish can be found at Silk Road Chef, along with a läghmän omelet recipe.
Here are some images from some of my own great läghmän memories in Xinjiang and Ningxia, first from my friend in Urumchi–notice the toppings already prepared, this one with black wood-ear fungus, cellophane noodles, and tofu:
And here is a version with potatoes, beans and carrots at a friend’s place in Ghulja, near the Kazakhstan border–with rose petal tea:
Recipe: Uyghur home-style pulled noodles ئۆي لەغمىنى
Today I went down to Chinatown to see what looked good for a possible läghmän inclusion. I ended up buying some Taiwan bokchoy, peppers, jiucai, Chinese celery, and green beans:
Pulling noodles. Again, refer to the videos previously mentioned for a good sense of how these noodles are done. The dough is incredibly simple, especially compared to the planning and consideration that go into alkaline noodles (by the way, Lucky Peach released their out-of-print first issue “Ramen” as online content–CHECK IT OUT–it includes much on ramen noodle making and alkaline noodles).
Ingredients for the noodles: 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 2/3rd cup of water, and a half tsp salt. Should be plenty for 2 hungry people.
Preparing the topping. While noodle coils are resting, prepare your topping. Fry the mutton, onions, chiles, garlic, veggies, and chopped tomato. Season meat with salt or soy sauce and ground cumin early on in the cooking process. The tomato will tie everything together with a nice faint reddish sauce.
Take the stir-fry off heat and cover. Now it is time to get back to the noodles. Get a big pot of salted water on the boil. Don’t start pulling noodles until your water is ready and boiling.
Pull each noodle from the coil and thin it out with your fingers to make the noodle more uniform in size and shape. From the coil you will thin the noodle into a separate pile. Each noodle gets its own pile. There was a lot of oil on that plate, and chances are good you won’t need to worry too much about the noodles sticking to each other in their respective piles. A good technique for thinning the noodles is to twist a little as you thin the noodle out. If it breaks, its not the end of the world. Just start a new pile.
You can see my friend thinning noodles in the image up above. If your noodles are still very thick, you might want to thin them a second time, after a short rest. For me today, my noodles were already pretty thin, even during the coiling stage. Thick noodles prepared this way are nice too, but you should still be aiming for something thinner than a pencil, for example.
Finally, grab onto the ends of noodles from various piles and take them up onto your hands, much like you would wind yarn. Pick up as much as you can handle at a time and extend your arms to stretch the noodles one last time and toss them into the pot of boiling water. Immediately get some chopsticks or some other utensil and agitate the noodles as they boil, to prevent them from sticking to each other or to the bottom of the pot.
Do not overcook the noodles. Cooking times will depend on how thick they are. Mine were done in about a minute or less. When they float and look like they would be tasty, take them out of the water with chopsticks and/or a strainer. Rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking. If you are eating immediately, rinsing is less important. If you are eating later, rinse to stop the cooking and later refresh them by a quick drop in boiling water again.
Eat the noodles. Place the cold or warmed noodles in a bowl and top with the stir-fried mutton and tomatoes (and whatever other vegetable-) stir fry. Some people like to add black vinegar at this stage: