I spend a lot of time rhapsodizing about the rou jia mo. Usually, I say that it is among my favorite of all the world’s sandwiches. It may also be the first, with a chewy bun that’s existed for 2,000 years and a long-stewed filling that traces its history back another 1,000 years to the Zhou Dynasty.
But it’s not easy find in the United States. That’s why I’m stoked that it’s available filled with either pork or lamb at Mian Pull Noodle, inside the new 99 Ranch Market in Fairfax, as a “stewed burger.” Not the most poetic description, but I’ll take it.
The counter staffer crisped up the arepa-like bun while the noodle chef hastily clapped and pulled a blob of dough into wide noodles for my soup. The soup, a “spicy braised broth” filled with roast duck, was visually impressive, but I immediately tore into the “burger.” Most of the rou jia mos I’ve eaten (including in China) were deeply savory with a hint of five-spice-inflected sweetness. The spicy cumin lamb in this one is legitimately hot, with a trace of numbing Szechuan peppercorn that blended seamlessly with the heavy wash of earthy cumin. It isn’t what I’m used to, but I liked it just as much, if not more. Next time, I will try the more classic pork version to see how it stacks up, but I’ll still have to get a spicy cumin lamb sandwich, too.
Still, Mian’s raison d’être is its noodles. The wide noodles are appropriately flat, with lacy edges, similar to Italian mafalde. The oily broth is more aromatic with spice than spicy, but still a pleasure to eat. The duck skin had lost its crispness in the soup, but none of its appeal. It was still a well-rendered, tasty piece of duck, which paired wonderfully with the noodles, bok choy and daikon in the bowl. I didn’t come close to finishing after inhaling the lamb sandwich, but I didn’t regret my order. A little hand pulled noodle soup is better than none at all. But finding a rou jia mo in my new home is the very best. // 10780 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax
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