Following its rise to popularity during the winter, we finally had a chance try a snack, the name of which didn't make any sense — grilled cold noodles (烤冷面, kaolengmian).
We pictured this as some kind of stir-fry of Korean cold noodles (Naengmyeon) on a portable barbecue grill. Why take a delicious cold dish and heat it? That's like asking a sushi chef to heat up the fish.
However, this is a different animal altogether. A thin, pre-made sheet of dough (it's dough, not a noddle, despite the name) is placed on the same kind of flat skillet that is used to make jianbing (many vendors sell both). The cooking process is also jianbing-like: an egg is cracked upon it, then spread over the dough. It is then sprinkled with some scallions, chopped onions, and cilantro, then flipped over. As the egg and the other side heat up, the cook slathers on a bit of hoisin sauce, and if you like, hot sauce (lajiaojiang).The now coked dough and egg entity is then rolled up and cut the dough into slices, looking very much like grilled squid at this point. It's served in a paper bowl with two glorified toothpicks that can either be used to stab the noodle rings, or as makeshift chopsticks Ta-dah! Fresh grilled cold noodles.
So, we're not sure if the dough is actually cold prior to heating, but they're not grilled, and they're not noodles. This is causing us to doubt the snack's supposed Harbin origins, since everything else about its moniker is patently false.
The smell was a little like grilled trotters, and tasted like jianbing with spicy chili sauce, but chewier, and with the egg flavor more apparent. The chopped onions make you feel it's a healthy dish (see? It has vegetables!) and the eggs also add some necessary protein. I regretted that I didn’t ask for chili sauce or powder, since my colleague said the chili one was perfect (Editor's note: it is). All in all, it's a delicious, RMB 5 snack food, that can fill up half of your stomach. Just maybe don't have five bowls after walking out of a bar in 2am, although you may very well want more than one.
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Photos courtesy of Tracy Wang