A Quick Trip to Shenzhen

Our first taste of mainland China was a weekend in Shenzhen, a city on the border with Hong Kong. It is one of the most prosperous cities in the country due to it’s designation as a special economic zone in 1980. The result is a population explosion from a village of 30,000 to over 10 million today. This rapid growth is due to an influx of people from many parts of China. Shenzhen has an interesting benefit for us as travelers. It is the only city in Guangdong province where the principal dialect is Mandarin. Everywhere else in the region, Cantonese-speakers dominate.

Among Hong Kong residents, Shenzhen is famous for shopping because the goods are cheap. I did buy replacement shoes, but shopping (except at food markets) is not my thing. Instead we visited Dafen Oil Painting Village. Rather than buying, our intention was to treat the village like an outdoor art museum. We thought it might be too chaotic. But it turned out to be pleasant wandering the pedestrianized streets. The other surprise was our lunch of noodles and more noodles—both hand-shaved and hand-pulled.

Noodle Master Making Handmade Noodles in China
Hand-pulled noodles made to order in Dafen Oil Painting Village near Shenzhen, China.

Chinese Handmade Noodles

Noodles are not unique or special to Shenzhen. We lucked out finding a street stall where handmade noodles dominated the menu. The noodle master was only a few feet from our table, kneading the dough and hand-forming the noodles. After ordering, we realized the noodles are actually formed and cooked to order.

We started with a bowl of hand-shaved noodles in a pork broth with cooked lettuce. Delicious, but at another table we spied a dish of hand-pulled noodles that we couldn’t resist. After some help from our table mates who spoke some English, we order fried beef noodles. As you can see, the beef is pretty minimal (perfect for me!). These handmade noodles are easily one of the best things we’ve eaten on the trip. Sometimes the most tasty food is simple—and costs $4.

Fried Beef Hand-Pulled Noodles
Fried beef hand-pulled noodles made to order in Dafen Oil Painting Village near Shenzhen, China. The menu had lots of other handmade noodle dishes as well. The wontons and vegetables in the background looked pretty tasty too, but we left those to our table mates.

Beyond the Noodles

Matt posted a sketch of the artists at Dafen. Use the code word noodles to unlock more details about the village and our visit there. The other find that solidified Dafen in our minds as a worthy day-trip destination: a cute cafe. In the humid temps of that early March weekend, it was hard to leave the cool breeze that came with our coffees.

Matt Drinking a Cappuccino in Dafen Cafe
Enjoying a cappuccino in a Dafen cafe on a warm and humid March day. The leafy balcony allowed for a cool breeze—the setting felt more Italian than Chinese.

Handmade Noodles in Seattle

This was not our first taste of handmade noodles; only our first taste in China. We already knew we loved them. Last year, we watched a demonstration of making both hand-shaved and hand-pulled noodles. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the block of dough turns into chewy, delectable noodles.

Names for Chinese Handmade Noodles

If you’re lucky enough to have a menu of Chinese noodle offerings in front of you, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It seems simple enough. Noodles are called miàn (面). Hand-pulled noodles are lāmiàn (拉面). Hand-shaved noodles are dāoxiāomiàn (刀削面). In practice, I don’t always see the characters where expected. I say don’t worry too much about it. If they’re handmade, it’s hard to go wrong. (And even when they’re not handmade, they’re usually pretty damn good.) By the way, if you’re browsing noodle menus in Hong Kong or Taiwan, look for 麵 instead of 面.

2 Replies

  • Knowing I will never travel to Asia, I have really enjoyed learning about Chinese culture and food through your blog. Insightful AND entertaining. The photos and videos are such an important feature to fleshing out your comments. Matt’s drawings are also very good.

    • Hi Kathy! Thanks for reading my blog (and Matt’s). The cities we’re visiting are new to us, so I’m learning so much myself. I hope I can do the places justice. Glad to have you following along with our travels.

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