My wife flew Cathay Pacific in business home from Shanghai for the first time and I suggested she try the famous Noodle Bar in Cathay’s Hong Kong business class lounge. I had never visited, so relied on reports from fellow travelers to publications such as Monocle’s Travel Top 50.
First thing she proclaimed as she entered our apartment, “Humiliation of 3 cities!” (Note: she agreed that I write this with the disclaimer that she “is not a bitchy Shanghai woman!”)
Settling down her and her luggage we unpacked the cause.
At issue is the so-called ‘Dan Dan Mien – Shanghainese Style Noodles in a Spicy Hot Peanut Sauce.’
Dandan noodles is a Sichuan dish that is nothing like the bowl of limp noodles in bland satay sauce served at The Noodle Bar, hence the insult to Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital. The true dish is springy noodles in a fiery, oily sauce.
The insult to Shanghai is attributing the food fail to Shanghai.
The insult to Hong Hong is for both of the above!
Wikipedia has a decent entry on dandan noodles and explains how in some places it gets twisted into peanut or sesame versions:
Dandan noodles or dandanmian (traditional Chinese: 擔擔麵, simplified Chinese: 担担面) is a noodle dish originating from Chinese Sichuan cuisine. It consists of a spicy sauce containing preserved vegetables (often including zha cai (榨菜), lower enlarged mustard stems, or ya cai (芽菜), upper mustard stems), chili oil, Sichuan pepper, minced pork, and scallions served over noodles.
Sesame paste and/or peanut butter is sometimes added, and occasionally replaces the spicy sauce, usually in the Taiwanese and American Chinese style of the dish. In this case, dandanmian is considered as a variation of ma jiang mian (麻醬麵), sesame sauce noodles. In American Chinese cuisine, dandanmian is often sweeter, less spicy, and less soupy than its Sichuan counterpart.
That lost her Cathay before she ever stepped on the plane. Let’s not even start on Cathay’s dishwater take on Hong Kong mainstay milk tea!
However, she did enjoy the several more authentic noodles down the hall at the utilitarian Dragon Air lounge, which is targeted at Chinese travelers, unlike the Cathay pastiche.
Next post, options for authentic eats at Hong Kong Airport.