White Bear Dan Dan Mien

In food on 03/03/2009 at 10:28 am

The quintessential dive has cheap decor, a small menu, rock bottom prices, and grumpy service, but the best damned food you crave. For me, that place is White Bear, a Shanghainese  joint in Flushing, and that dish is  擔擔麵. Cousin introduced it to me many moons ago, and now when I go, I must have a plate. The other half feels this way about soup dumplings on Prince St. Good thing these two places are on the same street.

Any food that is QQ has a shot for a soft spot in my heart. For those who are not versed in the pantheon of QQ-ness, it is a texture that is chewy and more. It has a satisfying mouth feel, a resilience that makes you want to eat more, a balance of flavors that hits all the spots on your tongue. It is springy, gliding, and tender verging on crisp. QQ makes mouths and bellies happy.

Dan Dan Mein is the name for two dishes that should have two different names. One type is warm noodles served in a moderately spicy peanut butter and sesame oil sauce, the Taiwan style. The other, the White Bear type, is also warm noodles, but served with braised ground pork in an extremely hot sauce,  Sichuan style, popular in Shanghai. The dish is named after the bamboo shoulder pole that the street vendors used to hoist their stoves, noodles, and secret sauces on back in the olden days of the dynasties.

At White Bear, a frowning grumpy skinny woman who always wears a thin cotton cap, pushed back FOB style, is the mistress of the establishment. Her sidekick mans the huge woks, but can sometimes be seen making trays of wontons, which they are also known for. Those come with bits of chopped preserved vegetable, in soup or with chili oil. I find wonton wrappers generally to be lacking in QQ; I prefer dumplings any day. But the secret sauce for this place is really the chili oil. It is so spicy, literally just the seeds of the pepper plus oil. One time, I made the mistake of asking for more and she barked, “50¢ extra!” Then, the glutton for punishment that I am, said, “Can I buy extra noodle to make at home?” Answer? “NO! We special order from the factory!” Ah, hurts so good.

The closest I’ve come to finding that chili sauce is at Chinese marts, the brand with a frowning matron on it, in black and white, but the lid and label are red. So apropos.

Topping for noodle –
blanched bean sprouts
garlic water (soak grated garlic in water)
chili sauce (your fav brand. mine: frowning matron)
braised minced ground fatty pork (see my other post for recipe)
julienned zucchini or cucumber
chopped cilantro (my new fav veg is watercress. you can substitute here if you hate cilantro, or want to add a refreshing, slightly bitter flavor)

Thick square wheat noodles

Prepare all topping ingredients and set aside.

Cook noodles until al dente. Put toppings on noodle and mix thoroughly. Dig in!


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