Chongqing Suanlafen (酸辣粉) Sour and Spicy Sweet Potato Noodles


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Lameizi’s Noodles: A Spicy Girl Graduates

Suanlafen, or sour and spicy soup with sweet potato noodles, always makes me think of Fongchong. We share a belief that spicy and sour, in that order, are the two best tastes, and nothing embodies those tastes better than suanlafen. Not only is it my daughter’s go-to soup in Sichuan restaurants, but one particular memory of her having it in her homeland always makes me smile, reminding me that my spicy girl (lameizi, as they’re known in Sichuan) knows her own mind and will always be her own person.

Fongchong graduated from high school in May, and that in itself is a supremely meaningful accomplishment for someone who came to America only eight years ago, joining a new and foreign family and speaking not a word of English. I’ve written many times of how she finally acclimated to both us and English and then, slowly, eventually—kicking and screaming—to food other than Chinese.

But there are some lines she’s just never going to cross. As this memory exemplifies:

A couple of summers ago, on our annual trip to Chengdu, Fongchong, my nephew Will and I took the fast train to Chongqing for a few days. To my delight, there was one of those modern Asian bakery wonderlands across the street from our Airbnb apartment in the middle of the city. A French-influenced Chinese bakery, it drew Will and me like a magnet on our first morning there: pineapple buns, egg tarts, croissants and cream-cheese pastries; it was heaven with coffee.

Suan la fen and pineapple bun
Suanlafen and pineapple bun. China vs. America in breakfast form

But not for Fongchong. She took one look and made a beeline to the window of a restaurant next door, returning with a take-out bowl of suanlafen, a super spicy, super numbing, super sour bowl of sweet potato noodles topped with a fried egg. That was her idea of a heavenly breakfast. Never mind that in June in Chongqing—whose nickname is the Furnace City—it was already nearing the 90s and 90% humidity by 9 a.m. She slurped down this soup with abandon while we gorged on sugary pastries. She innately knew what the Sichuanese do, that spicy food makes you sweat and cools you down.

Plus, she just knows what she likes. Fongchong will probably never eat a pastry for breakfast, and that’s just fine. I’ll probably never convert to spicy soup in the morning hour either. But I do love this over-the-top noodle bomb for lunch or dinner. Especially when it’s made the Chongqing way. Though a version of it can be had from noodle shops in many parts of the country, Chongqing lays claim to suanlafen, and that’s the version we’ve tried to recreate here.

I asked Fongchong to help with this recipe by finding one online on the Chinese Web that looked appealing to her and translating it for me. I compared the one she chose to others I’ve collected and my memories of watching it made in Chongqing and mashed them all up into a recipe that we find just right.

Ingredients for suanlafen

To make it, you just bring out your Sichuan pantry, line up the noodle bowls, and start an assembly line, putting the sauce ingredients—starting with homemade chili oil (the spicy), Zhenjiang or Baoning vinegar (the sour) and plenty of Sichuan pepper and/or Sichuan pepper oil—directly into the bowl, where they will be topped with noodles, broth, garnishes of crunchy peanuts or soy nuts and cilantro, plus possibly additional greens and the Chongqing pickle zhacai. If you want a protein, you can opt for the fried egg as we normally do. This soup noodle is also easily made vegetarian (use veg broth) or vegan (leave out the egg). If you’re not eating vegetarian, then a teaspoon of freshly made lard in the sauce adds even another layer of velvety goodness and is highly recommended.

You might also want to leave the ingredients at hand so diners can adjust their own bowls, since everyone is different when it comes to spicy soup. In our home, Craig wants less chili heat, FC wants more salt and MSG, and I add more Sichuan pepper oil.

Green Sichuan pepper and green Sichuan pepper oil

I want my lips to buzz like they do in Chongqing, where the love of Sichuan pepper is intense. They particularly favor green Sichuan pepper, in both powder and oil form, and using both is what makes this recipe taste like Chongqing to me.

sweet potato noodles

The “fen” in the name just means that the noodles are made not from wheat but from a vegetable starch, generally either rice or sweet potato. We prefer sweet potato noodles for this dish, both for their substantial, chewy mouthfeel and for the way they affect the broth.

I learned a neat trick from the suanlafen recipe that FC found, which is cooking the noodles directly in broth, flavoring both the noodles and the broth. If you use rice noodles, they will release a lot of excess starch into the broth, but sweet potato noodles do not. They can go directly from pot to bowl with no rinse, leaving an ideal, unclouded broth behind. (If you’re making these noodles late night like we often do, and you don’t want to make or use a couple quarts chicken broth to boil the noodles, you can use the magic bullet Totole or another bouillon powder or paste mixed with water—also giving you an authentic touch of MSG.)

Layering the ingredients in a bowl for suanlafen

A note about the soy nuts: These are the garnish of choice for this soup in Chongqing and Chengdu, and you also find them as crunchy toppings for douhua (savory tofu pudding) and other Sichuan dishes. They are somewhat difficult to find in the U.S., but the online store carries them. Or you can use peanuts.

suan la fen

Even as we eat suanlafen at home in Nashville and celebrate Fongchong’s accomplishment, we all know there are even bigger challenges ahead. She’s staying at home with us and going to community college in the fall, but academic-level English is still a mighty challenge for her (as it is for almost all kids adopted from China as tweens or teens). Sometimes I fear for her in this hyper-competitive world where her peers have been schooled by loving parents since they were in the womb and she missed out on any real education until she was a teen. But I also know that she’s overcome all the other tremendously unfair obstacles life has put in her way. She may not do things the way everyone else does, but she will do things. This much I know. And I cannot wait to see what they are.

lameizi in red graduation regalia
Lameizi (spicy girl) graduates from high school and sets the world on fire

Sour and Spicy Sweet-Potato Noodles (Suan La Fen)

By: Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking


For 2 servings:

  • 200 to 225 grams (about 8 ounces) medium-weight sweet potato noodles
  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth (or 2 quarts water mixed with 1/4 cup Totole chicken powder)
  • Chinese greens (vertically halved baby bok choy, or a few stalks young yu choy or gai lan, etc.)
  • 2 eggs

Sauce for each individual serving bowl:

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons moderately hot chili oil, about half flakes (use less if your chili oil is super hot)
  • 2 tablespoons Zhenjiang or Baoning black vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce (preferably Sichuan-made Zhongba)
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper oil
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon lard (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of ground green Sichuan pepper
  • garnishes of choice: fried peanuts, soy nuts, cilantro, chopped zhacai pickle, chopped homemade pao cai, etc


  • Put dried sweet potato noodles in a bowl and cover with hot water. Soak for 15 minutes or until plump and pliable. This speeds the cooking process considerably.
  • Add sauce ingredients to each soup bowl: chili oil with flakes, vinegar, soy sauce, green Sichuan pepper oil, sesame oil, lard, sugar, salt, ground green Sichuan pepper.
  • Add broth to a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Add greens and boil a minute or so, until mostly done. Remove greens and hold.
  • Add noodles to the broth and boil until soft, approximately 7-10 minutes.
  • While noodles are cooking, fry eggs in a small bit of oil, breaking yolk and cooking completely.
  • When noodles are done, remove them from pot with tongs and add directly to soup bowls on top of the sauce. Remove all noodles from the broth, including any left over.
  • Arrange some of the cooked greens in the soup bowls, then add 2 ladles of the cooking broth into each bowl. Top the noodles with a fried egg and garnish with soy nuts, cilantro and Chinese pickles. Serve hot.

Tried this recipe?

About Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan’s factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for Sichuan heritage brands and Chinese pantry essentials.

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  1. Your daughter is bright and beautiful! Congratulations to your family. I’ve been to Chengdu a number of times with my 19 year old daughter who is from Guangdong. I had the yam noodle soup for breakfast one morning. Delicious but painful! I love reading your inspired and inspiring posts.

    1. Thanks for this very kind note, Kiki! We always love to hear from other American/Chinese families. FC is also from Guangdong! She just has the palate of a Sichuanese. 😂

  2. Congrats to Fongchong on the HS graduation – the world is at her feet! We Mala Market fans are all grateful to Fongchong as the high quality Sichuan products would probably not be in our pantries without her. :-).

    I just made this soup and it’s easy and delicious! I’m definitely putting it in my regular rotation. For others considering making it, it’s very much worth planning a bit ahead and making your own peppercorn chili oil. Thank you for posting the recipe – Please keep the blog entries coming!

    1. Thank you so much, April! You are so right that both the blog and the shop wouldn’t be around and couldn’t thrive without Fongchong.

      I’m glad the recipe worked so well for you, and I want to share with others what you told me in an email——that you also tried it omitting the red chili oil and using only green Sichuan pepper oil. I have no doubt that would make an incredible alternate version of this soup. Appreciate your comments and your support!

  3. Aloha Taylor and Fongchong, and Congratulations to Fongchong on your graduation! What a stunning achievement! It has been fun to “watch” Fongchong grow up in the pages of this site as you both teach the world how wonderful Sichuan food can be. I wish you only the best as you continue to take the world on by storm!

    Thank you to you both for making Sichuan cooking accessible and fun. Several of your recipes are in regular rotation in our house, especially the Sichuan Paigu Mian and Mapo Dofu. We are going to try this one soon as it looks perfect for hot days when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen too much — we love spicy in hot weather too!

    1. Manju,
      Thank you so much for this super sweet message. You can’t know how much we appreciate your following along with both our recipes and our story. We love knowing that other people are cooking along with us and making their own memories.

  4. Congratulations, Fongchong! I’ve been bad about cooking of late, but I’m buckling down this evening and making a proper batch of Gung Bao Di Jing for the first time in a long time. I need to order a couple more things from y’all in the near future, when you’re back, anyway. Keep up the good work, you two!

  5. I meant to say so earlier but, thank you for posting this recipe, it is outstanding! I’m a big fan of hot pot and this has been the perfect dish for this long hot summer, it’s still in the nineties fahrenheit here this week. It’s also proved to be a great way to get dinner on quickly when we get home late. I love making it with a poached egg.

    1. Thank you, Robert! I agree that it’s a great way to get some big flavors on the table with little effort. So glad you’re enjoying it.

  6. Oh, yum!!! Not being a native of the region, I did cut back on a couple of things, ie 1 T chili oil instead of 3, 1/2 tsp Szechwan pepper oil–and it was absolutely perfect. I did eat it for dinner. I brought the broth to a boil, added the noodles and dropped in the eggs to poach about 3/4 of the time it took the noodles to cook, ie about 2 minutes to poach–well, to be honest, I hate runny eggs, so put mine in at the same time as the noodles and later for the rest of the family. They had lovely runny eggs and mine was deliciously hard boiled. This is a spectacular fast dinner recipe!

    1. Poaching is such a smart way to handle the egg! No need to dirty another pan, and it makes it an even quicker meal. Thanks for the great idea and feedback!