Could any cuisine rival Italian for its obsession with the humble noodle? If so, it would almost certainly be Chinese.
In my years of food exploration, I've never found a culinary rabbit hole that goes quite as deep as the subject of Chinese noodles. Most of the Italian preoccupations, such as thickness, sauce retention and regionality apply, but Chinese noodles raise the complexity with multiple flour bases (wheat and rice flour, primarily, or a combination of the two, plus tapioca flour and corn starch), not to mention matters of suitability for soups, stir fries or sauced noodles.
There's also an intense focus on texture. From slippery to crunchy to chewy to almost meaty—mouthfeel is thought to be almost as important as flavor. And those were just the variations I've experienced personally while exploring the new crop of Chinese restaurants that focus on handmade noodles in Central Ohio.
The sound of skilled hands pounding dough into submission and turning it into fresh strands of Sino-deliciousness is becoming a common refrain around town. Be they hand-torn, hand-stretched, hand-pulled, knife-sliced or run through a cutter, fresh Chinese noodles are popping up in dishes with surprising frequency and expanding our range of available real-deal Chinese cuisine as a result. Here are some of our favorites.
Chinese Beef Noodle Soup
10 E. 12th Ave., Campus, 614-817-1360
Since this campus joint is clearly oriented toward Ohio State University's Chinese student population—half the menu is in Chinese only—and can be confusing to the uninitiated, my shorthand for satisfaction is simple: Ask for the scallion oil noodles with pork. These medium-width handmade noodles are served at room temperature and feature a satisfying chew. The added scallion oil and pork strips make it an absolute sledgehammer of savoriness, while julienned cucumber provides a welcome counterpoint of freshness.
787 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side, 614-732-5939
Don't let the “Thai” part fool you. Jiu Thai is resolutely and exclusively Chinese. Stretched and hand-torn to order, the thick tangle of wide and meaty noodles known as biang biang has become a justifiably sought out menu item. Topped with bean sprouts, bok choy, cilantro, sesame seeds and chili flakes, this dish delights with a wide variety of pleasing textures, a deep umami slant and just a tickle of spicy heat. Service is especially accommodating and more than capable of answering any dish-related questions.
Peking Hot Pot
743 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side, 614-210-0888
Hand-pulled noodles are such a significant feature of this restaurant that the owners installed a demonstration window that looks into the kitchen so you can watch as they're skillfully being made to order. Peking is unique in offering noodles in a range of thicknesses (wide, thick and regular), which are then incorporated into a broad variety of soups or stir fries. The beef flank soup here is a winner, with a slightly spicy beef broth reminiscent of pho, tender beef flank and silky noodles.