Suan La Fen is a famous Sichuan noodle dish that is sour, spicy, rich, savory, and many things in between! One of my personal favorites.
Learning how to make the dishes I used to only think to order from a restaurant has really made me miss eating out a lot less. That’s why even though restrictions are a lot less stifling these days, I still do not find myself racing out the door. Of course there will be times when I feel like I want to have something really special at a restaurant, but in the past couple of years my brain has shifted from hey-let’s-eat-at-this-new-place to I-need-to-learn-how-to-make-that-asap.
I am not trying to discount or minimize or even trivialize the impact of this pandemic to all of our lives, but to put it in a few words, it is the reason why I pushed myself to learn something new and to keep busy. I think I would’ve gone mad thinking depressing thoughts otherwise. It just so happened that I decided to focus a lot of my energy on cookery, above anything else. The Internet and online supermarkets made my endeavor possible, and to tell you the truth, I have learned to make A LOT of new things in the past year alone. I have also learned to love a lot of new ingredients.
Frankly, I can’t remember a time when our pantry was as well stocked as it is now. It’s not that we have a lot of things in there ala-Chloe Kardashian; but the variety of ingredients we currently have and our knowledge on how to use them seems to have expanded by a surprising amount in just the past year alone. My brother has also developed an interest in cooking, so sometimes we introduce a new ingredient or share a recipe to each other. We’re all quite literally happily making things and eating things we normally only think about ordering from the outside, and I feel very pleased about the whole thing.
Let’s take this Suan La Fen as an example. I used to only buy this in cup noodle form because I had the impression that it would be a difficult noodle dish to make. The broth has so much flavor to it, I honestly thought it would be like ramen where you would need to cook the broth for hours on end. (I still prefer buying ramen than making it lol.) When I finally figured to consult Google, I found out that this noodle dish was unbelievably easy after all!
Before we go into the process, you might be wondering: What in the world is Suan La Fen? It’s a signature dish from Sichuan, China that has a broth that is both sour and spicy. The ‘suan‘ (酸) and the ‘la‘ (辣) in the name of the dish actually directly translates to ‘sour‘ and ‘spicy‘ or ‘hot‘ respectively. Thus in English, this is called Hot & Sour Noodle Soup. That feels like a slight oversimplification of this dish however.
Aside from its sourness that comes from the black vinegar, and its spiciness that comes from chilis of various forms, the soup itself has quite a lot of other things going on. It’s savory and salty, with some richness and nuttiness to it from the sesame seeds and sesame oil. It has a bit of a garlicky hit as well. The noodles, which are made of sweet potatoes, is incredibly chewy– not to mention, the broth clings to each strand so well the noodles themselves turn into flavor bombs!
Now to balance out any overwhelming sense of sour and spicy in the broth, Suan La Fen is normally topped with pickled mustard (or other Chinese pickled veggies), some peanuts, and a lot of cilantro. I love cilantro, by the way.
Admittedly, this dish is probably not as popular as ramen, mostly because it doesn’t have a “universal” flavor profile, if you will. As someone with Chinese descent, the hot and sour flavor profile is nothing new to me, but I can understand that it might be considered an acquired taste for the rest of the world. You’ll never know if you like it if you don’t try it though.
Personally, I always finish my bowl of Suan La Fen down to the last drop of soup. Yes, even the cup noodles get emptied out lol. I just love the hot and sour combo. I’ve always been a fan of Hot & Sour Soup, so it was easy for me to fall in love with this dish. Admittedly, this dish can pack the heat, so I usually serve this with something to help cool the palate (and your entire being lol) down. Ice cream usually! But in this case, as you will see in the video, I served with some Mango Sago. You will find the recipe for that in another post.
- MAKE SURE TO USE THE RIGHT CONDIMENTS FOR THIS RECIPE. I do not recommend substitutions as I feel it will alter the flavor a lot. I realize Suan La Fen requires quite a handful of Asian ingredients, but all of these condiments are staples in Asian cooking. I encourage you to buy at least small bottles because you can also use them to make SO MANY other Asian recipes.
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERCOOK YOUR NOODLES. We’re using sweet potato “glass noodles” for this. I feel like it’s kind of hard to overcook these because they still retain chewiness despite being boiled tender. Still, be vigilant! Your safest bet is to cook the noodles according to package instructions. You want them chewy and springy, not something that falls apart when picked up!
- BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN YOU HANDLE THE OIL. This recipe calls for heating up some oil in a saucepan until its shimmery and smoking a little, so the oil will be VERY hot when you use it. You need this hot oil to unlock the aroma and flavor of your spices. Basically, you prepare your garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, and chili flakes in a bowl, then pour the hot oil in. The ingredients will SIZZLE the moment the oil contacts them and you will immediately smell all the lovely aromas! This will help your soup become more flavorful. And since we’re using some very hot oil…
- USE A GOOD QUALITY, THICK CERAMIC SERVING BOWL. Extremely hot oil can cause thin bowls to crack. I have experienced this the hard way lol. My thinner ceramic bowl cracked right in the middle because it was not able to handle the heat! So make sure you use a bowl that’s basically heatproof. I recommend thick ceramic bowls so they’ll be pretty to serve in as well.
- IT’S OKAY TO USE STORE-BOUGHT BROTH FOR THIS. Trust me, it will still taste great! In a pinch, I even make broth using bouillon cubes. I typically use chicken broth, but pork or vegetable will also work. Probably not beef though, because it has a stronger flavor. (Haven’t tried but I can imagine!)
- ADJUST AMOUNT OF CHILI AND BLACK VINEGAR TO TASTE. You can add more or take a bit off if you would like. Personally, the measurements below feel universal to me, but then again, I do like spicy things and probably have a higher tolerance for the heat than people who don’t like spicy things. Adjust depending on who’s eating, making sure to start small and adding more as needed. Give it a taste before serving as well.
- DO NOT SCRIMP ON THE TOPPINGS. The pickled veggies, peanuts, scallions, and cilantro not only provide extra flavor and texture, they also balance things out. Since the soup can be pretty intense for some, they keeps things from being overwhelming. (The cilantro especially, though I may be biased because I love the stuff.) Do not skip!
Suan La Fen (酸辣粉), Hot and Sour Noodle Soup
- 50 to 100 g dried sweet potato noodles, depending on appetite
- 1¼ cups low sodium stock, chicken, pork, or vegetable stock is okay
- ½ teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- ½ teaspoon Sichuan or other chili pepper flakes, more or less to taste
- 1½ Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 Tablespoon Chinese black vinegar, or more to taste
- 1 Tablespoon light soy sauce, or more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon dark soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn powder
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ Tablespoons homemade or any Lao Gan Ma chili oil, or more to taste
- 2 Tablespoons pickled mustard stems, za cai, or any pickled vegetable you have on hand
- 1½ Tablespoons roasted peanuts, or more to taste
- Scallions or chives, finely chopped
- Bring a pot of water to a boil, and cook the noodles according to package instructions. Make sure not to overcook to maintain the chewy texture. Drain the noodles and rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to drain completely.
- Heat stock in a separate pot until it comes to a simmer. Meanwhile, in your serving bowl, add ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, and pepper flakes. In a small saucepan, heat the oil until shimmering and smoking lightly, then pour over the ingredients in the soup bowl. They’ll sizzle and release their aroma. Stir together.
- To the bowl, add the vinegar, soy sauces, sugar, Sichuan peppercorn powder, white pepper, sesame oil, and chili oil. Pour in the hot stock and mix well. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Add in the cooked noodles. Top with the pickled mustard stems, scallions, cilantro, and roasted peanuts. Serve immediately.
Watch how it's made
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