Muslim noodles are a special kind of hand-pulled Chinese noodles made and popularized by the Chinese Muslim minority. Yes, there are Chinese Muslims; they make up about 2-4% of the Chinese population and no, you can’t eat pork or drink alcohol in their restaurants. But where they lack in wine and swine they make up for by dishing out plate after plate of hearty, chewy, succulent noodles. This type of cuisine has become extremely popular among expats here in China, and for good reason:
OH BABY. Food in China is generally cheap relative to food in Western countries, but these noodles give you the ultimate bang for your buck. If you’re a thrifty spender like me, you’ll be overjoyed at the prices of Muslim noodles: one heaping serving runs anywhere from just $2 to $4 US, and you can add as many fried eggs as you want for about 30 cents per egg. Additionally, the generous portion sizes will be more than enough for one regular person. Might want to split a plate with the hubby or the missus (plus you’ll save even more money!)
If you live in a big or mid-sized city in China, chances are there will be at least a small community of Muslims who live there, and many of them earn a living by opening up Muslim noodles restaurants. They’re fairly easy to spot if you can read Chinese characters, but for those who can’t, look for a green sign that will usually read 兰州拉面 (Lanzhou lamian) or include the 拉面 (lamian) characters. Lanzhou indicates that this particular style of noodle originated in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province in China’s northwest, and Lamian refers to the pulling (“la”) technique used to create the long, thin, doughy noodles. Take a stroll through your local neighbourhood; where there are people and buildings, there are probably Muslim noodles.
They’re suited to Westerners’ palates
This one is probably one of the main reasons why Muslim noodles hold a special place in the heart of expats: the flavours and ingredients are familiar to us. Because of northwest China’s geographical proximity to the Middle East and Turkic regions, Chinese Muslim cuisine has been heavily influenced by that style of cooking and possesses a distinct Mideast flair. Most dishes are doused liberally with fragrant cumin (孜然), and because of halal law, lamb and beef are the most featured meats. In addition, many dishes contain potato, onion, eggplant, carrots, and bell peppers, hearty veggies that are familiar to most westerners. Perhaps most suited to our palates, the “Chinese hamburger” (肉夹馍) is a unique dish featuring a whopping amount of cumin-infused ground beef and diced onions or other veggies sandwich between a chewy flatbread. It’s like a cross between a hamburger and a taco! I get one every time I eat at a Muslim noodles restaurant.
Some Americans liken Chinese Muslim cuisine to eating Mexican food, while some Brits like to think of it as resembling certain Indian dishes. Wherever you’re from, you’ll certainly be able to find something to make you feel a bit more at home at a Muslim noodles place.
They have an endless variety of dishes to satisfy anyone
From fried noodles to soups to fried rice and lamb kebabs, Muslim noodles restaurants have an incredible variety of foodstuffs to keep you coming back for more. I’ve been frequenting these joints since first coming to China and I still have yet to try everything they have on offer. Words can only do so much justice, so I’ll let some pictures do the talking. They aren’t the prettiest looking dishes, but who cares about looks when they give you that much food?
Though a small minority, Chinese Muslims have cooked their way into the flesh, bones, and stomachs of Chinese culture and society. With all these tasty options, it is no wonder that expats love eating out at these humble, family style diners. Next time you’re stumbling about in China, check out a Muslim noodles restaurant. You’ll save money, get your fill, AND have something for lunch the next day!