Tsuivan цуйван (“tswee-wen”), or what I am calling “Mongolian stew-fried noodles”, is a national favorite in Mongolia. It isn’t a primary celebratory food, or a fancy thing that you would take your date out to a restaurant for. It is a greasy-spoon favorite at tea houses or low-brow diners–establishments that I highlighted a few days ago in a separate post. It is a comfort food that is often made at home, as a one-pot dish, possible to cook in an apartment kitchen or even in a ger.
Ingredients for tsuivan vary depending on the cook and what’s on hand. Cooking methods also vary, hinting at my coinage of “stew-fried” in the title of this post. Sometimes the hand-made noodle is boiled in the stewing broth before the sauce is boiled off, and sometimes the noodle is precooked either by steaming a whole rolled noodle (some cooks use a steamer basket right above the boiling meat mixture), and even sometimes by baking flat noodles like a lavash flat bread on a cooktop (here is a link to a Japanese tourist youtube video of tsuivan with a homestay with a Kazakh family).
In researching varied recipes for this dish, I even found one that suggests buying flour tortillas and shredding them finely to use as noodles. After you watch that Japanese video above, you’ll understand why that might even work. Other helpful sites and resources I found include a Russian language video step-by-step, and a helpful blog post “Cooking with Oyuka“.
I really enjoy this dish. Perhaps it is the muttony oiliness, perhaps it is the stewed carrots, but it kind of reminds me of a noodle version of the Central Asian rice pilaf (plov or polo).
I’ve tried cooking this a few different ways now, and the flavor and texture results were similar. The noodles were a little bit gummy, but with some fond from the bottom of the pot. Today, as per suggested in the Russian language video and Oyuka’s blog post, I steamed the big noodle separately, and that seemed to make the noodle easier to shred more finely (with a sharp knife).
Recipe: Stew-fried Mongolian noodles – Цуйван
The basic idea for this dish is very simple:
1. Mix up a simple noodle dough. I used 2 cups of flour to about two-thirds of a cup of water. Cover and let sit while you do other things.2. Coarsely shred or julienne vegetables of choice: carrot, cabbage, [bell] pepper (I used a slightly hotter pepper today), onion, garlic. Some use potato too.
3. Cut up fatty mutton in short thin strips across the grain. I had about 1/2 pound mutton.
4. All of the above gets fried and stewed by adding a little stock or water. Season with salt and pepper. Some use soy sauce and/or vinegar too. I used all of those in my version today. Keep in mind that the noodle is not salted, so the stew should be kind of salty. After the noodle gets added, the flavors will balance.
5. The noodle is rolled out, covered with oil or butter, rolled up (or more often folded up), and then either cut to go into the cooking liquid of the stew, or steamed as a roll before being finely shredded. I steamed the noodle in a separate pot for about 5 minutes. The resulting coil was kind of ugly, but it shredded nicely.
6. The challenge is getting the noodle to crisp a bit on the bottom of the pan when finalizing the dish. This means you have to boil the stock dry with the noodles OR be sure the stock is mostly cooked off before adding the precooked noodles. If there is too much stock, the noodles will want to fuze to the pan. If you are using precooked noodles, keep in mind they don’t need further cooking, you are just looking for little bit of a crust on the bottom.