One of my favorite instant comfort foods is 拌面 (ban mian, meaning “tossed 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. The Fujianese variant, however, is perhaps the most amenable to Americans: it involves peanut butter! And it takes about as much time to cook as instant ramen.
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. They keep in your fridge for weeks and in the freezer for even longer, so there’s really no reason not to stock up.
1 pack of wonton noodles (contains 3 or 4 nests of noodles)
3 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter
Soy sauce, to taste (start with one tablespoon)
Sesame oil, to taste (start with one tablespoon)
1 scallion, for garnish
Optional garnishes: shredded cucumber, kimchi, chili oil, Sriracha, etc. Experiment!
Drop in one or two clumps of wonton noodles into boiling water, scattering them as you go. Cook for 1 minute (or 2 if frozen)—basically just until the noodles are warm and pliant. Make sure to reserve some pasta water!
Meanwhile, mix peanut butter, soy sauce, and sesame oil in a bowl, tasting until you find 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 it’s an easy snack at 4 in the morning, too.