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Chinese noodle explainer: Six different strands in NYC

Use our Chinese noodle primer to brush up on six types of Asian pasta found around New York City.

Illustration: Bryan Mayes

Noodle Explainer: La mian

Illustration: Bryan Mayes

Noodle Explainer: Biang biang mian

Illustration: Bryan Mayes

Noodle Explainer: Cu mian

Illustration: Bryan Mayes

Noodle Explainer: Fen tiao

Illustration: Bryan Mayes

Noodle Explainer: You mian

Illustration: Bryan Mayes

Noodle Explainer: Mi xian

Long before the first Italian twirled pasta, the Chinese were rolling out starchy creations as far back as 3000 B.C. Chinese noodles include Shanghainese wheat versions like cu mian and the absorbent glass ones such as fen tiao. Get to know the world of doughy strands beyond lo mein and chow fun.

RECOMMENDED: Complete guide to Chinatown in NYC

<em>La mian</em>

The finest of these hand-pulled noodles are leavened and stretched in the style of Lanzhou, a city in the dusty mountains of Northwestern China. They have a dense, springy texture and are traditionally served in a beef or mutton broth or stir-fried in tomato sauce.
Where to get them: Lam Zhou Hand Made Noodles, 144 East Broadway between Essex and Pike Sts (212-566-6933)

<em>Biang biang mian</em>

These thick, hand-pulled wheat noodles are commonly used in hearty country-style soups  from China’s north-central Shaanxi region. Their onomatopoeic name allegedly comes from the sound of the dough slapping counter as it’s stretched.
Where to get them: Xi’an Famous Foods, 67 Bayard St between Elizabeth and Mott Sts (xianfoods.com)

<em>Cu mian</em>

Usually panfried with sliced veggies and pork, these udon-like wheat noodles are a staple of Shanghainese street food.
Where to get them: 456 Shanghai Cuisine, 69 Mott St between Bayard and Canal Sts (212-964-0003)

<em>Fen tiao</em>

Made from absorbent starch, these fine glass noodles are an excellent vehicle for intense flavors, like the scorching pork-and-chili sauce in the Szechuan classic “Ants Climbing a Tree” (ma yi shang shu).
Where to get them: Szechuan Gourmet, 135-15 37th Ave between Main and Prince Sts, Flushing, Queens (718-888-9388)

<em>You mian</em>

Particularly popular in Cantonese cuisine, these fine egg noodles can be stir-fried or quickly blanched in a broth. When done right, they add a nice al dente texture to wonton soup.
Where to get them: Sifu Chio, 40-09 Prince St between Main St and Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, Queens (718-888-9295)

<em>Mi xian</em>

There are innumerable variations on the rice noodle, but the Yunnan style, mi xian—from the rainforests bordering Southeast Asia—is reputed to be the most fragrant and flavorful, and is typically served in light, fresh soups.
Where to get them: Yun Nan Flavor Garden, 5121 Eighth Ave between 51st and 52nd Sts, Sunset Park, Brooklyn (718-633-3090)