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[Eat It]: Sesame Noodles

Welcome to Wei Xiang Zhai, a restaurant with all of the charm of a crack house and some sesame noodles that are just as addictive.
2011-03-22 14:34:00

Eat It is a regular feature that cuts to the core of a given restaurant's menu, highlighting a specialty, favorite, or otherwise good thing to eat.

I've been told that Wei Xiang Zhai has been slinging noodles for years, but it’s never been made clear to me exactly how many. I asked the counter attendant and she just looked straight through me to get the order from the next person in line. I’ve read Chinese testimonials from people in their forties who have Proustian childhood associations with the place. I’ve even tried to scratch through the archaeological record of grime on the walls, thinking maybe I could get some sort of tree-ring count. For now, my estimate is somewhere around 30 years.

The menu on the wall here is also telling. A great deal of items are marked with stickers bearing the character “无”, another word for “mei you”, none. Some have started to accumulate layers of grime themselves, which leads me to believe that over the years they’ve winnowed the menu down to a few saving graces and if ever there were one at Wei Xiang Zhai it’s this...

Every day at meal time you’ll see line form out the door here and this is why. It’s their sesame noodles (麻酱面, ma jiang mian). 7.5rmb gets you a 150g helping of wheat flour noodles boiled to a perfectly springy, al dente texture and smothered in a sweet, creamy, peanut-buttery, sesame sauce and a healthy lashing of chili oil. They toss in a few cubes of dried tofu and chives for good measure. This bowl of noodles has the euphoria-inducing qualities of a mild opiate. Once you take a bite you forget about your surroundings. The surly counter attendant, the grubby rag that the server used to wipe your place at the table, the bits of debris and grease smears she carelessly left behind. They just seem to disappear. You stop worrying about how thoroughly they wash their chopsticks and, for that matter, if they bother to use soap in the first place. Even the alternating hoiks and slurps issuing from the octogenarian sitting next to you turn into the rhythmic ocean waves you hear on one of those "sleep sounds" machines you keep on your night stand.

The noodles themselves might not be enough for you so order a side of beef soup (小牛汤,xiao niu tang).

It’s a rich, curry-infused broth, glazed with a shiny raft of oil on top. For the extra 6rmb, you’ll feel amply sated.

You’ll see these items at nearly every table and I’m thoroughly convinced that they are the lifeblood of this restaurant. Other items simply pale in comparison, but if you feel like branching out, the spicy beef noodles (辣酱面,la jiang mian) are a worthy candidate.

This one’s pretty straightforward. You’ve got noodles and chunks of beef in a chili-charged beef broth. It’s pretty hard to screw this one up and for just 2rmb kuai more it's a lot more filling.

A little word of advice, though: I wasn’t joking about those chopsticks. They look really dodgy. You might want to bring your own. Or thumb your nose at Mother Earth and swipe a pair of disposables from a nearby dumpling stand.

For a complete listing of Wei Xiang Zhai, click here.