Then your noodles are taken to the back to be put in soup or fried. They’ll be topped with egg if you opt for the vegetarian version (lamb and pork are also available), and served up for $7.50. “La” means stretched, and “Mian” means noodle. Stretched noodle.
If you’ve ever had spaetzle, you’ll be reminded of it by the firm texture and sometimes-irregular shapes of the hand-pulled noodles, and if you’re like me, will enjoy sitting and eating them in this strange, cavernous place.
I’d been near the Richmond Public Market before, but somehow failed to see its giant red sign on a building I would have otherwise assumed was a parking garage. I very much appreciated that there were bike racks outside, and really had no clue what to expect upon entering.
Inside, it’s a market that looks as though its glory-days are over. Fortunately for me, I think shabby = interesting.
With the exception of a large produce stand, most of the vendors on the ground floor sell cheap wares like DVDs and plastic jewelry, and each have their stands covered with tarp-like netting.
I assume this is to protect them from the sun streaming in through the building’s glass roof, though they reminded me of the makeshift forts we used to build as kids. On the second floor there are permanent shops, food vendors, and a little stage draped in frayed velvet.
I looked at each of the food stalls, delighting in the fact that one makes roti canai (there’s more in my future!) and eventually stopping to watch the man at Xi’an Cuisine as he hand-stretched noodles. The shop is named for the capital of Shaanxi province, one of the oldest cities in China.
The hand-pulling process appears simple, but requires great skill. Making them fresh for each order, the chef would cut off a piece of soft dough and begin to roll it with his palms into a long rope. The action reminded me of rolling soft pretzels, which I learned to do at a shop where I worked for several months in England. The la mian process begins the same way, then gets a lot more complicated. One strand of dough can be pulled and pulled until literally thousand of noodles are held between the stretcher’s hands.
The Xi’an chef’s speed, precision, and casual nature were those of a man who’s stretched many a noodle, and I was mesmerized. Instead of standing in front of the stall for an awkwardly long time, I went home and watched (way too many) youtube videos on la mian instead. If you want to try some for yourself, head to Xi’an Cuisine in the public market. The centre is run-down, but I think it’ll offer more than a few gems.
Here are my favourite two videos – the first because it’s narrated by Alton Brown, and the second because it’s about as old as me and intended to teach kids about atoms. Even I can like learning about atoms if they’re put in the context of food. Go science!
Vegetarian options available