sakura mandarin

When I studied abroad in Shanghai back in my college days, I fell in love with xiao long bao. Xiao long bao are steam cooked pork “soup” dumplings. A pork stock is made then cooled to gelatinize before chopped into small cubes. The cubed “soup” is then mixed in with pork meat before being wrapped into a dumpling. The soup forms when the dumplings are cooked for service. To consume properly without burning yourself, you have to sip the soup from the dumpling or pour it out into a spoon. Afterwards, you add some of the ginger-vinegar to it before eating the rest.

Since that trip, I haven’t enjoyed XLB too often since it’s not a treat you find too often and when you do, it may or may not be very good. Luckily, Philadelphia’s Sakura Mandarin serves some decent XLB. It may not be Shanghai grade, but it certainly satisfies a craving! Don’t forget to try the scallion pancakes too.

Sakura Mandarin
1038 Race Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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joy tsin lau

After the success of January’s National Foodspotting day eat-up, us Philly Foodspotters decided we should meet monthly to eat and spot!

philly foodspotters: shao, dan, alex

Last weekend was the February Philly Foodspotting eat-up and since it was Chinese New Year earlier in the week, we thought it would be proper to enjoy dim sum over the weekend. We met up on Saturday afternoon at Joy Tsin Lau in Chinatown.

philly foodspotters: chris (w/ the “i just ate chicken feet” look), lou, gwen

A lot of food was taken off the carts, and here’s just a couple of the things we ate:

vegetables in tofu skin

shrimp dumplings

chicken feet

pork shumai

egg tarts

If you’ve never had dim sum before you should definitely stop in and check it out. There are some pretty delicious small bite dishes and it’s a pretty inexpensive meal (<$10-15/person).Thanks Shao for getting this one all set up and making the reservations. Follow Philly Foodspotting ringleader Alex for updates on the March eat-up.

Joy Tsin Lau
1026 Race Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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nanzhou hand drawn noodle house

Nanzhou Hand Drawn Noodle House is one of the first places I ate at when I moved down to the area about 2 years ago. It’s a real tiny place, seating maybe about 40 or less. On busy days, you may have to knock elbows with strangers at the communal round table (I’ve done it before). It’s worth it though, you can get a pretty tasty (and cheap) bowl of noodles.

Their noodles are fresh and hand drawn right in the back. You can see em from the dining area. I was fascinated when I saw chefs in China doing this and was glad that I found a place here that pulls noodles!

The following was ordered at our table:

beef noodles

seafood noodles

lamb noodles

peanut sauce noodles

I don’t go to Chinatown as much as I used to, so it’s been a while since I made it back here. You bet I’m glad I stopped by though. Everything was pretty good, though I’d stick with the beef noodles. I went with the lamb this time and it just wasn’t as awesome as I’d hoped. There were a lot of bones and it just wasn’t as enjoyable as the beef (beef was my go-to previously). My brother got the seafood and he seemed to enjoy it. In addition to everything, I ordered peanut noodles to share. They’re only $3, so why not! Pretty fantastic too. I was totally craving these for lunch yesterday….if I only worked nearby…

Nanzhou Hand Drawn Noodle House
927 Race Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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cooking: dan dan mian (擔擔麵)

So I spent 6 weeks in Shanghai, China for a study abroad program back in school. It was easily the best 6 weeks of my life and I got to try some pretty amazing food while I was out there. Only then, did I first get to try and realize what Sichuan food was really like. Shanghai is not in the Sichuan province, but in China, they have region specific restaurants all over and you can experience foods from the different provinces when you’re in a big city.

Anyway, what I’m trying to get across… I went to a Sichuan restaurant and my mind was blown. Sichuan food uses hua jiao, the Sichuan peppercorn, which gives Sichuan food it’s tingly, numbing mouthfeel. Not only did I become addicted to hua jiao, I also became addicted to Sichuan dishes such as dan dan mian (a spicy noodle dish) and mapo doufu (a spicy tofu dish). The entire time I was there, I couldn’t get over that the Chinese food served in the US is nowhere near as awesome as the food in China. Within weeks of being back in the US, I was China obsessed and craved some of the food I was eating just weeks ago. Luckily, I stumbled across Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty and ordered it immediately.

hua jiao, sichuan peppercorn

Back in college, I cooked a lot from this book and her Hunan cookbook, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. I learned a bunch about the ingredients used in Sichuan and Hunan dishes and had many fantastic meals. Unfortunately, I haven’t been making Chinese food as of late. No real reason, I just kind of forgot about it I guess. Luckily, I had a hankering for dan dan mian the other day and I pulled out Land of Plenty and came up with a recipe which is kind of a mix between two of the dan dan mian recipes she has in her book.

some of the ingredients you may need (clockwise from bottom: noodles, scallions, sesame paste, shaoxing, peanut oil, chili oil, sesame oil, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, ground roasted sichuan peppercorn)

Dan Dan Mian 擔擔麵
Adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty
Serves 2-4

-1 lb. chinese noodles (I like to use Twin Marquis lo mein noodles
-6 scallions, chopped

ingredients for meat
-1 tbsp peanut oil
-1/2 tsp ground roasted hua jiao
-4 oz ground beef
-2 tsp light soy sauce
-1 tsp shaoxing

ingredients for sauce
-1 tsp ground roasted hua jiao (can be adjusted to spice preference)
-1/4 tsp salt
-4 tsp sesame paste
-1 tbsp light soy sauce
-1 tbsp dark soy sauce
-2 tbsp chili oil

Before you start, make sure you have everything ready to go. When you cook in a wok, you have to move quickly, so it’s important everything is at hand.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Let this come to a boil while you follow the next steps. Do NOT place the noodles in the water until you’re done making the sauce.

Heat up the peanut oil over med-high heat in a wok. Just before it starts to smoke, toss the hua jiao in and stir fry quickly until fragrant. Immediately add the ground beef followed by the shaoxing. Once the meat has been separated, add the soy sauce. Stir fry until a little crispy, but not dry. Set aside when finished.

Next, whisk together all the sauce ingredients in a medium sized bowl until smooth. Make sure the sesame paste is no longer clumpy. Take about half of the scallions and toss them in the bowl. The result should look similar to this:

Once the sauce is finished, place the noodles into the water and cook for about 4-5 minutes. Drain noodles and immediately place into the bowl with the sauce. Top with ground beef.

At restaurants, the dish is served like so, sauce on the bottom, noodles, and topped with the meat. Of course, you have to stir it all up. This is why I use the large bowl. It can get messy if it’s placed in a smaller bowl.

dan dan mian

Once mixed all together, sprinkle remaining scallions on top.


This dish keeps me sane between visits to Han Dynasty.

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han dynasty

It all started Monday morning as I was reading my tweets and checking e-mail. Michelle of An Empty Fridge gave me a heads up about Han Dynasty’s monthly tasting. Every first Monday, Han Dynasty holds a $25 tasting and they bring out all kinds of dishes that you can try. When I read previously that Han Dynasty was a Sichuan restaurant, I was immediately interested in checking this place out at some point. I used to live in central NJ and there was an awesome Sichuan restaurant there that served legit Sichuan food, with hua jiao (Sichuan peppercorn) and all…NOT your typical American takeout Chinese garbage. Since moving to the Philly area, I haven’t found any places that quite satisfied my craving for authentic Sichuan cuisine…until now…

I was out on inspection on Monday, so that was the only thing that could have stopped me from attending this dinner since I wasn’t sure what time I would be finished. Around the lunch hour, I felt pretty good about our progress and gave Han Dynasty a call…

“Walk in’s are for suckers!” Han Chiang said to me on the phone as I told him I might call back if work runs too long. I laughed…but at the same time a little shocked at what just happened. Then he said he was joking and said it was no problem if I couldn’t make it. Just that little interaction made me wanna go even more. This guy was hilarious.

Anyway, when I got to Han Dynasty, there were tables of all sizes placed adjacent to each other (rounds, squares, rectangles). I luckily sat at a table with a lazy susan, closest to the kitchen. They started to bring out the food to our table, eventually bringing out other plates to some of the others after.

fuqi feipian (夫妻肺片)

They started off with two cold apps, a beef tendon dish with a chili vinaigrette and one of my favorites, fuqi feipian (夫妻肺片), which is a beef offal dish consisting of thin slices of tongue and lung with a chili vinaigrette of some sort. That fuqi feipian was delish. It was tasty and had a lot of ground hua jiao, which numbed my lips and tongue just after a couple bites.

mung bean noodles

The next appetizers they brought out were Taiwanese sausage w/ slices of garlic and spicy cucumbers. The noodles came out soon after. There was a spicy mung bean noodle, a chili noodle, noodles with minced pork (or beef – don’t remember), and my all time favorite Sichuan dish, the dish that got me so into Sichuan cuisine…dan dan mian (擔擔麵). The dan dan mian was fantastic. It had a good amount of spice, with the perfect hint of sesame paste in the sauce. Ahh, it was heavenly. I’ve bought a Sichuan cookbook since my time in Shanghai a few years ago and learned to make dan dan mian…but I still can’t quite make it like this. Han Dynasty’s dan dan mian is close to what I had originally. This dish alone is reason enough for me to come back!

dan dan mian (擔擔麵)

rabbit dry pot

After the noodles, the entree dishes started to make their way out. There was a frog dish which was great. It reminded me of a similar frog dish I had at a Hunan restaurant in Shanghai. Some of the other dishes served were a dish of Chinese broccoli sauteed with garlic, fish w/ veggies, pork in chili sauce, a rabbit dry pot, and a dish of crispy beef slivers.

frog dish

crispy beef slivers

The final dessert was a sort of tang yuan, a sweet soup with glutinous rice balls.

tang yuan

I was officially stuffed and entering a food coma towards the end of the meal…though at the same time, I was euphoric. Some buddies and I got caught up in conversation that we ended up being some of the last people there. Han came by and gave us some boxes to take home some of the leftovers! Dan dan mian leftovers for later! Woot!

Han, thank you so much for filling the Sichuan sized hole in my stomach. I’m so glad you are close by and I will certainly be returning. I still have to try one of my other favorite Sichuan dishes, mapo doufu (麻婆豆腐).

Huge thanks to Michelle for the heads up on the tasting. I’m glad I made it out!

Sidenote: Dan dan noodles at Pei-wei Asian Diner are nowhere near the taste and flavor of true Sichuan dan dan mian, don’t be fooled.

Han Dynasty
108 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

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