Foodie Tales from the Silk Road: Lanzhou Beef Noodles (牛肉面)

After quite a few years of travelling the globe indulging in all the local delicacies we can get our hands on, we’ve come up with a few guidelines we stick to when choosing where to eat. Especially if this is a country where English is not the native language, this helps us with firstly, not ever getting sick (touch wood! Neither of us have been sick so far) and secondly, always sourcing out the best places for a feed.

One Major Rule is this: if the place is rammed from wall to wall, so much that there is a line waiting for food and you have to share a table in order to get a seat, then you have hit the foodie jackpot!

This particular day we find ourselves at the end of our journey along the Silk Road, in the city of Lanzhou, also known as the third most polluted city in China…..YAY for us! In Western China the local dishes have been quite different to traditional Chinese cuisine however in Lanzhou the “Must Try” dish is as Chinese as they come – Beef Noodle soup. After a few weeks of lamb and even yak meat on the menu we were happy to see this return to more traditional styled Chinese cooking.

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It was a complete accident of laziness really, that we found Ma You Bu – it was a horrible rainy day and the restaurant was right beside our hotel! But as we walked in we knew that this was “The Place” to get Beef Noodle (牛肉面). In fact, it’s the only dish they serve! And it was absolutely rammed with locals all trying to get their lunch time noodle fix. DSC02650

If you have ever been to China you would know that finding food is not a hard thing to do, there are restaurants everywhere, and I mean everywhere. From street vendors to tiny holes in the wall to big fancy places that are three stories high, all offering a variety of meals for their local foodies. With so many restaurant options to choose from we knew that for so many locals to cram into a place that only had one thing on the menu, that one thing Must be good!

Beef noodle is not a complex dish it’s made of fresh pulled noodles, with some shallots, ginger and chilli (you can choose how much chilli you want added) in a beef broth. The entire delicious dish only cost 6 yuan which is a little over a dollar.

With prices being this low you can pretty much guarantee that there won’t be a lot of meat in your dish….meat is expensive and you get what you pay for! We did find a little bit of beef in our bowls but to be honest the meal is all about the flavoursome beef broth and the amazing hand pulled noodles, which we could see being made in the kitchen.

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Our meals were made fresh to order and the steaming bowls were placed on the counter for us to take to our seat…which I had luckily scored when some other people got up. In many restaurants, China especially, if you snooze you lose! You have to dive onto those seats like you diving over the home plate in a world series baseball match, and be prepared to take out anyone along the way otherwise you end up missing out.

This may sound a bit ruthless but trust me, the other people going for the seats will be just as ruthless, especially the grannies, watch out for them, they are faster than you think and have bony elbows – and they are not afraid to use them!

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Now that you’ve already degraded yourself in the manners department you might as well add another to the list…..Slurp your noodles!

This is something I actually learnt from watching Anthony Bourdain. Apparently, if you slurp your noodles it lets in air at the same time which in turn helps bring out the flavours of the dish. It’s absolutely true, give it a try sometime!

After devouring our meals, and with our bellies nice and full it was time to move on. This is not the place to sit back and have a conversation, you’re in, you eat, you’re out….. There are others hungrily eying off your seat! In fact I had someone start placing down her stuff to reserve the seat before I was even completely finished.

There are probably a million and one places where you can pick up a beef noodle dish in Langzhou but the Beef Noodles at Ma You Bu were everything we had expected them to be. A scrumptious hearty meal all made with fresh ingredients that is cheap, filling and warms the belly on a cold miserable rainy day.

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