Far West in the Far East: Eating hand-pulled noodles

Italian pizza-dough tossers get all the glory. While there’s no doubt talent involved in spinning and tossing dough in the air, I’d like to introduce another form of dough-related art: the hand-pulled noodle.

Part skill, part magic (as far as I’m concerned, anyway), the hand-pulled noodle is a carbohydrate-filled thrill. There are numerous noodle stalls here in Kunming; when searching for the hand-pulled variety I look for the counter stocked with the tell-tale lumps of white dough. Most venues are small and — by Western standards — dirty. There’s usually a large pot of broth next to the counter.

After you order your bowl of noodles, the artist gets to work. With the forearms of a manual laborer, he roughly massages and beats it, then begins stretching it out. Dividing the dough between his fingers, he’ll get into a rhythm of pulling it out and them slamming the ropey mess on the counter – pull, SLAM, pull, SLAM. After about five minutes of this, the noodle-maker has produced a bowlful of unbelievable perfect noodles – so small and identical to each other that it seems inconceivable that they weren’t made by a machine (see gallery).

When the noodles are done they are quickly cooked in the broth, and herbs and meat are added. The result is a spicy, savory, carb-lovers delight, and half the pleasure is in eating the freshest noodles you’ll ever find.