I usually take a big overseas trip in July. This time was to Africa. A direct flight from Kenya back to Tokyo was in the cards, until I read that travelers can get a free 72 hour transit visa in China. The perfect chance to crush a couple bowls of spicy tantanmen in the capital!
I donned my official World Cup 2014 Japan team jersey and set out on a rented bike for a tantanmen . . . sorry . . . dandanmian adventure!
Beijing is amazing by bicycle. The main roads all have dedicated bicycle lanes (though the black government Audis may butt in during heavy traffic). Jutting out like capillaries are the hutong, small streets lined with whatever wants to take up residence. Mostly homes, but a few tiny restaurants end up in the mix. Everything on the hutong feels hidden.
Zhang mama came recommended as a hidden gem.
Just look for the crowded hole-in-the-wall. I read that lines out the door are common, though this time I just had to walk in and push my way onto whatever table had a free chair.
Dandanmian and a beer. 13RMB. That's about two bucks for those budgeting their money.
Remember to mix it up. A big bite of the top will leave your mouth number from the lama, the sansho peppers that you had better love. The middle bite is nothing but noodles. And the bottom. The bottom is a fiery spice mix that required that beer.
Also in the self-service fridge are skewers of vegetables and animal parts, and something that looked like a yogurt drink.
Whatever the other tables were going for, it all looked great. Bowls of spicy oil for cooking the skewers, plates of brown-colored meats and tofu, and lots and lots of noodles.
The flavors get deeper and deeper as you slowly work to the bottom. Power through it, the pain was only temporary. And though I dig the kodawari style of Japanese tantanmen, with more complex undertones, this bowl of the real stuff was solid.
Dongcheng qu fen si ting hutong 4 hao (an ding men nei da jie xi ce)