No Sweet Sour: Kunming Sour and Spicy Noodles (Suanlamian, 酸辣面)

Suan la mian with tomatoes

Karaoke Noodles

Unlike our recipe for Sichuan-style sour and spicy noodles, which features sweet potato glass noodles topped with a fried egg, this suanlamian noodle soup from Yunnan is made with wheat noodles. Not only does Michelle’s recipe produce a gorgeous bowl of noodles, it also includes an ingenious method of cooking the noodles and a bonus recipe for spiced pork tenderloin to be used as a noodle topping or served on its own as a cold (side) dish.~~Taylor

Text and photos by Michelle Zhao

I can’t think of anything better to warm up the whole body in the cold winter season than a bowl of hot, steaming noodles. In Kunming, there is a unique way of cooking fresh or dried rice noodles in a large bowl-shaped bronze pot together with stock and other ingredients. We call it xiaoguo mixian (小锅米线, xiǎoguō mǐxiàn), small pot rice noodles. This way of cooking the noodles allows the flavors inside the stock to penetrate every single strand of the rice noodle, boosting its flavor.

However, this post is not about small pot rice noodles. It is about xiaoguo mian, a way of cooking wheat noodles using the same method as little pot rice noodles. Although Yunnan is known for its rice noodles, wheat noodles are very popular in both restaurants and private households. Restaurants generally serve fresh wheat noodles, while at home we prefer dried noodles because of the longer duration time for storage.

This recipe is inspired by the 酸辣面 (suānlàmiàn), sour and spicy noodles, I used to order at a KTV (karaoke bar) in Kunming. It was the most delicious version of suanlamian I’ve tasted in my memory. The main reason my friends and I would visit this particular karaoke bar was so that we could order their noodles. Their suanlamian used dried flat noodles, cooked according to the xiaoguo mian method: Instead of boiling the noodles first and adding them to a pre-mixed noodle broth, the uncooked wheat noodles are boiled in the broth. The starch inside the noodles gets released into the broth, resulting in a thickened broth texture while at the same time adding more flavors to the broth.

Ingredients for suanlamian

Flat wheat noodles are best for soaking up the broth. The spicy pork tenderloin is optional, but meat eaters should definitely go for it

One of the highlights of this recipe is using fresh tomatoes instead of adding only dark vinegar for the acidity. The natural acidic taste of the tomato in the broth creates multiple layers of sour flavors. The sourness is at a comfortable level that does not make a face frown from the acidity; the broth is very acidic, yet well balanced with a hint of sweetness.

In the KTV version, slices of spicy pork tenderloin were used as the noodle topping. This type of marinated pork is popular in the delicatessen corner of a food market. After a marinating process, the pork becomes tender, juicy and full of flavor. I used to buy a piece of the tenderloin, slice it at home and serve it as a side dish. This recipe also includes instructions on preparing the marinated pork tenderloin. Don’t worry; I am not complicating things for you. The suanlamian itself is already very delicious, even without the meat topping. If you are in the mood to check out the recipe right away, you can skip the pork.

Suanlamian with tomatoes

Big payoff for little effort with this tomato-based broth and dried noodles

For more Yunnan noodles, see Michelle’s recipes for Yunnan Small Pot Rice Noodles (Xiaoguo Mixian, 小锅米线) and Yunnan Liang Mixian (Cold Rice Noodles, 凉米线)!

Kunming Suanlamian (Sour and Spicy Noodles)

By Michelle Zhao of No Sweet Sour

Ingredients

Spicy pork tenderloin

  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 Chinese black cardamom (caoguo) or star anise
  • 1 green onion
  • teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns, divided
  • 3 tablespoons finely ground chilies (plus more to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seed
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seed

For each noodle bowl

  • 2 large fresh, ripe tomatoes 
  • 1 tablespoon roasted rapeseed oil (or peanut oil)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon red Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 thinly sliced dried red chili 
  • 1 thinly sliced fresh green chili
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) dried medium wheat noodles 
  • 1 handful leafy greens, cut or torn in large pieces
  • 3 tablespoons dark Chinese vinegar (Baoning or Zhenjiang; plus more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
  • 2 tablespoons chili oil, divided
  • 3 to 4 slices spicy pork tenderloin, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1 green onion, green part only, finely chopped

Instructions

Spicy pork tenderloin

  • Bring 10½ cups (2½ liters) water to a boil in a stockpot and add whole pork tenderloin, ginger, black cardamom, green onion and ½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn. Cover the pot and simmer-boil over medium heat for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat—but do not remove the lid—and let the tenderloin soak in the stock for 20 minutes. Remove the tenderloin from the pot, transfer to a bowl of icy water and let it chill until completely cooled down. When cool, remove and pat the tenderloin dry with a paper towel. 
  • In a small skillet fry salt, 3 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorn, sesame seed and fennel seed over low heat until aromatic, about 5 to 8 minutes. Allow spices to cool, then grind them into a fine powder. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the spice powder with ground chilies, tasting to adjust the amount of chili to your liking.
  • Rub the mix on the tenderloin until the spice fully covers all surfaces. Wrap the tenderloin tightly in foil, refrigerate and let the spice work its magic for at least 6 hours. Store in the fridge for up to 4 days. The flavor is at its best from the second day. Thinly slice room-temperature tenderloin for use as a noodle topping (or serve on its own as a cold side dish). 

For each noodle bowl

  • Cut a cross on the bottom of one tomato. Bring water to a boil in small sauce pan, add tomato and boil for 3 minutes, until the tomato skin is starting to peel off. Rinse the tomato under cold water and peel off the skin. Discard the seeds using a small spoon, then finely chop. Set aside. Dice the other tomato into bite-size pieces and discard the seeds. Set aside.
  • Heat a wok (or other medium-size pot) until moderately hot and add oil. Fry garlic and Sichuan peppercorn over medium heat until the aroma releases and the garlic is turning slightly golden; be careful not to brown. Add the skinned tomatoes from step one and stir-fry over medium heat, pressing with a spoon to loosen up the tomatoes until they become a puree-like sauce. Season with salt and sugar.  Add both the dried and fresh chillies (reduce or omit seeds to lower heat level) and stir-fry for about one minute. Add 3½ cups (about 800 ml) hot water and bring to a boil.
  • Add the noodles to the boiling soup and stir with a pair of chopsticks to keep them from sticking together. Cover the wok with a lid and boil over high heat until the noodles become softened. Add the leafy greens to the wok. When greens and noodles appear almost cooked, season with soy sauce, vinegar and one tablespoon chili oil.
  • Turn off the heat when the noodles are just cooked through and transfer into a large noodle bowl. The hot stock will continue to cook the noodles even after being removed from the heat. Top the soup with spicy pork loin slices (if using), green onion, and chopped fresh tomatoes. Drizzle 1 tablespoon chili oil over the top.

Notes

  • Select thin, flat wheat noodles, but avoid using the very thin type that looks like a thread. The wider the noodle, the more flavorful it will get in the broth. Extend the cooking time and add more hot water if you select a type of noodle that is about 1 cm wide.
  • If you use a saucepan instead of a wok for cooking the noodles, reduce the hot water to 600 ml instead of 800 ml. Covering with a lid prevents the stock from evaporating during the cooking process, but you can always add more water if needed. If the broth is too thin, you can remove the lid to let the stock reduce.
  • For added crunch, garnish with a tablespoon of deep-fried peanuts.
 

Michelle Zhao

Michelle Zhao is the creator of No Sweet Sour, an Instagram and blog-based community where she shares recipes and stories of Chinese cuisine, with a particular focus on Yunnan, the southwest province where she was born and raised. Growing up in the capital city of Kunming, Michelle was exposed to many minority cuisines, including Yi, Hui (回), Dai (傣) and Bai (白). These flavors have been missing from her life since she moved to Norway, so her mission with No Sweet Sour is to keep those flavors alive for herself while introducing this most amazing cuisine to the world.

7 Responses

  1. Jim Sweeney says:

    Taylor. First thing I have ever tried from your site that we didn’t love. But then after 6 years this was bound to happen. Would love to see more noodles recipes, however. Good Luck for the new year from your fans in the DC area.

    • Kathy Yuan says:

      Thanks for writing and cooking along, Jim. The sour and spicy flavor isn’t for everyone, we’re glad you’ve kept up with the blog over all these years. More noodles are coming!

  2. Dianna says:

    We love this recipe! Crave it often. Thanks for sharing!

  3. April says:

    I made this without the pork. In addition, I didn’t bother peeling the tomato in the first step. It made for a fairly quick weekday lunch. The broth, although it was made with water, was surprisingly flavorful. The only change I will make for next time, is to use half a serrano vs. a whole and add even more greens. It was quite spicy today but tasty nonetheless. Another delicious recipe from this site!

  1. June 24, 2022

    […] No Sweet Sour: Kunming Sour and Spicy Noodles (Suan La Mian, 酸辣面) […]

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