福建拌面 - Fujian-style ban mian

In a stress-induced frenzy a month ago, I was struck by a sudden intense craving for a specific type of comfort food:拌面 (ban mian, literally translates to mixed noodles), a completely underappreciated and little-known street food from Fujian province. Ban mian is a totally generic term, and googling it yields a wide variety of noodle dishes with a dazzling array of toppings. This particular variant, however, is perhaps the most amenable to Americans: it involves peanut butter! When I went home to Ohio for Thanksgiving, I was excited to find that my mom had laid out all the necessary ingredients (like an adult Lunchables) and set out to make real ban mian for the first time in years. Why the hell did I wait so long??

The ban mian of my dreams is poetic in its simplicity. The key is a few obviously delicious ingredients (noodles, sesame oil, soy sauce, peanut butter) served piping hot and topped with chopped scallions for an added kick. The hardest part about making ban mian is using the right type of noodle. Over the years, I’ve tried cooking this with all kinds of pastas out of desperation (rice vermicelli, egg noodles, pad thai noodles…even spaghetti and linguini) and it’s NEVER as amazing as if you just suck it up and pick up some fresh wonton noodles* from Chinatown.

Wonton noodles

They look like this!

Ingredients

1 pack of wonton noodles (contains 3 nests of noodles)
3 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter
Soy sauce, to taste
Sesame oil, to taste
1 scallion, for garnish

Instructions

Boil some water and drop in one or two clumps of wonton noodles, scattering them as you go. Cook until al dente (I think about 5 minutes, but I didn’t really check!). Make sure to reserve some pasta water!

Meanwhile, mix peanut butter, soy sauce, and sesame oil in a bowl with chopsticks, tasting to obtain a good balance of flavors. When the noodles are done, scoop them up and plop them into the bowl, then ladle a spoonful of pasta water in to make the sauce more runny. Personally, I prefer an almost soup-like sauce to complement the soft, absorbent noodles. Mix thoroughly and garnish with chopped up scallions. Ban mian is traditionally a lunch food, but I’d be willing to bet that it’d be amazing at 4 in the morning after a few too many beers, too.

What your peanut butter sauce should look like before you add the noodles

* I am usually afraid of noodles that need to be refrigerated, because if you leave them in the fridge for too long they get all gummy. According to my parents, though, wonton noodles will survive in the fridge for months at a time and can be frozen as well. No excuses left!

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