Moo meets Marco Polo in dan dan noodles with carrot pickles

Dan dan noodles

Along with just about everyone who is interested in Sichuan food, we in Gourmandistan are fans of dan dan noodles. This classic dish usually calls for pork and some sort of Chinese noodle or ramen. Our current home version uses neither, and we’re mostly quite happy about it.

Dan dan noodles

Our pork-free, pasta-using version started with some surplus ground beef, which Michelle thought of using for dan dan after seeing such a version in Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty credited to someone named Xie Laoban. Our first round featured Chinese-style noodles, but we found them disappointingly pasty and dull, their blandness absorbing the tongue-numbing sauce by turning a dismal grey. Steve suggested a second attempt using fresh pasta (Steve is always ready to make fresh pasta), but Michelle thought dried spaghetti might make a better choice. Buying some more ground beef, she once again mixed the Sichuan pepper, sesame paste, soy sauce and other good things as Steve (somewhat dispiritedly) prepared the pasta according to the directions on the box. Bringing Italy into Asia proved quite pleasant, as the sturdy, al dente spaghetti swam in the sauce and meat without becoming over-soaked like its Chinese cousin.

Pickled carrots

As an accompaniment Michelle made a selection of simple pickles from Barbara Tropp’s China Moon Cookbook, a volume we possess but commonly avoid due to its astonishingly ass-pain-y recipes. These delightful chili-laced carrots didn’t call for Tropp’s usual array of pre-made sauces, spice mixes and other troublesome stuff, nor did an an incredibly easy dish of thinly sliced purple cabbage tossed with a bit of pickled ginger and its pickling liquid then topped with toasted sesame seeds.

Pickled carrots

Someday we may make dan dan noodles with pork, and may try to find some Chinese noodles that don’t suck (up all the sauce). For now, some cow and a box of spaghetti will certainly serve.


(adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty)


  • 1 tsp. ground roasted Sichuan pepper*
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 TB + 1 tsp. Chinese sesame paste
  • 2 TB soy sauce
  • 2 TB chili oil with chili flakes

Meat topping:

  • 1 TB peanut oil
  • 3 dried chili peppers, seeds discarded, and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. whole Sichuan pepper
  • 2 TB ya cai (preserved mustard greens), minced
  • 8 oz. ground beef
  • 1 TB soy sauce

Additional ingredients:

  • 12 oz. dried spaghetti or Chinese noodles
  • Chopped scallions for garnish

Put a large pot of water on to boil.

Mix sauce ingredients together in a large bowl.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add chilies and Sichuan pepper and fry, tossing, for a minute or so. Add ya cai, tossing until heated. Then add meat, breaking up with a spatula as it cooks. Add soy sauce. Stir-fry until the meat is fully cooked and crispy. Set aside.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and put in bowl containing the sauce. Toss, adding some cooking water to thin out the sauce a bit. Top with meat mixture and toss again.

Garnish servings with chopped scallions.

*Stir-fry Sichuan peppercorns in a dry wok or skillet over low heat, tossing until the husks are fragrant (about 5 minutes), being careful not to burn them. Cool. Then, grind in a spice grinder or mini food processor.


  • Servings: about 2 cups
  • Print

(adapted from Barbara Tropp’s China Moon Cookbook)

  • 1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut, slightly diagonally, into thin slices
  • 2 tsp. finely julienned fresh ginger
  • 1 small chili (serrano, jalapeno, etc.), sliced into very thin rings
  • 3/4 c. rice vinegar
  • 1/2 c. cider vinegar
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • zest of one small orange

Place carrots in a bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Let stand for a minute, then drain and plunge into cold water. Drain.

Combine ginger, chili, vinegars, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add carrots, stir and remove from heat. Add orange zest.

Transfer to a storage container and let cool at room temperature. Then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before serving.


  1. I love Fuchsia Dunlop! I have never tried Dan Dan noodles before but I think I would love them going by this recipe. I always thought it was fire-breathing hot?

    I think lamb might also be a good substitute for beef or pork. Noodle texture is super important to me. I don’t like floury noodles or noodles that are too soft either. They should be firm and springy and smooth, very smooth. You’ve done a lovely job with this. Looks absolutely delicious and not too spicy at all.

    • Me too! Her books are great. This was not hot so much as numbing from the Sichuan peppercorns. Though, of course, you could make it lots hotter by adding more chili peppers. Plus, just because it’s what I had on hand, mine used twice the meat that the original recipe called for, which probably cooled it down a bit. But, yeah, lamb would be delicious!

  2. What a wonderful intercontinental bowl! I’m not much of a cookbook expert, so always thankful for a good tip. Fuchsia Dunlop, you say? Going to check out her books asap!

  3. Echoing the above comment! I know what you mean about Asian noodles – some can be really disappointing. Maybe taking China to Japan with some buckwheat soba noodles would work?

    • I wouldn’t want to dis ALL Chinese noodles…though the ones we had were definitely meh. But, yeah, soba might work great. Really, most any sturdy noodle would. It’s a yummy dish.

  4. I nominate you for the “Gourmandistaniest Blogger Award.” I think this is going to be the year of Szechuan for me. I’m smitten. I’ve never heard of Fuchsia Dunlap. But I just think it’s super cool that her name is Fuchsia.

  5. Love anything with Szechuan Pepper. I have Dunlop’s “Szechuan cooking” but have never made DanDan noodles. I agree about Chinese dried noodles not good, but fresh hokkein noodles would work well if you can get them. Now on the todo list! Thanks for the inspiration

    • I don’t think I’ve ever made a recipe from that book that I haven’t loved. And I could say the same for her other books. And how rare is that? Yes, for sure, we didn’t mean to dis all Chinese noodles. We just didn’t make a good choice the first time around.

  6. What a great recipe with beautiful photos. I really like true Chinese food and would like to branch out a little more. This bowl is just perfect. Those quick pickled carrots sound amazing. I’ll definitely try that. Gorgeous.

    • That’s true! It fits perfectly within your theme! It really is a delicious dish. I’ve sort of Asian-ed out foodwise this month, but I still keep thinking about this one.

  7. Preserved mustard greens and sesame paste! I’m impressed. Hopefully they will last for a while in the refrigerator. 🙂 Isn’t amazing how Asian and European cultures both use so many noodles in their dishes? It probably dates back to cost, sustainability (and deliciousness). Such a gorgeous, vibrant dish. I thought it was Korean until I read through the writeup.

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