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In Arcadia, an International Noodle Master Offers a ‘Secret Menu’ Four-Foot-Long Noodle

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n Chinese culture, there’s meaning in everything—especially food. With the Chinese (Lunar) New Year beginning Friday, there’s another chance to get a fresh start after an, especially harrowing year.  

For Esther Yuan, partner and manager of Lan Noodle, it’s time for “one bowl, one noodle.” The longevity noodle served at her restaurant is about three to four feet long and symbolizes the long life ahead. As the lore and tradition go, the extra-long length is also for protecting people from any danger. 

When Yuan first arrived in Los Angeles, she craved the taste of home but couldn’t find it anywhere. She decided that Angelenos needed the experience of authentic Lanzhou noodles in their lives. So, in the summer of 2019, Lan Noodle came to life in Arcadia with Chef Chengshan Gao’s help. Unlike most noodle joints across L.A., Lanzhou noodles are handmade for every customer and come in eight traditional sizes.

Braised Beef Noodle with 'Triangle noodle.' Photos courtesy of Esther Yuan.
Braised Beef Noodle with triangle noodle

Yuan said Chef Gao is one of the top five Lanzhou noodle makers in China, and he dominates his kitchen with his Kung Fu-inspired technique. Casually hand-pulling dough and blindly throwing it over his shoulder straight into a boiling hot pot, he displays edible art in motion. 

Yuan’s first meal of every year is a piping hot bowl of Lanzhou noodles. For people looking to start their year in a similar nature, she recommends the longevity noodle dish that is not on the official menu but can be made upon special request or the wide flat noodle representing the wide path of success ahead. Like Yuan, first-generation immigrant Gary Ho believes in the power of tradition for the new year, ordering food weeks in advance to make sure the celebration feels, and tastes, complete. 

Lanzhou Street Noodle with thin round noodle. 

When Ho moved from Taiwan to Monterey Park in 1990, he and his family had difficulty finding restaurants and markets selling authentic Chinese foods. Since then, things have changed rapidly. He now uses the popular app WeChat to purchase foods “fresher than supermarkets.”

This year’s grocery list obtained in a cashless exchange that took place at a designated pick-up location includes fresh abalone, scallops, shrimp, chicken, wild mushrooms, and fish, Ho said. Da Peng Tsai, Ho, roughly translated as “the big bowl (you wash your face in) dish,” is described as an enormous bowl of expensive foods that will bring good fortune for the new year. 

In addition to this big dish, Ho plans on having Chinese gold nugget shaped shrimp dumplings to bring wealth and Nian Nian You Yu,  a whole fish, representing an inexhaustible amount of wealth. For Yuan, dumplings and fish are also high on her list of things to prepare. However, her traditions expand beyond food.

Signature Lan Noodle with Chives and flat noodle option. 

Growing up in Dalian, China, she remembers her mom buying new clothes for her family and everyone bathing before midnight. They’d later celebrate holding lanterns while they set off fireworks into the night sky. 

“Everything is new from the inside to the outside,” she said. Entering the year of the ox, Yuan hopes for one thing: that life returns to normal. Early in the pandemic, her shop’s windows were smashed and broken into, and she said that customers could no longer get the whole experience without dining in. 

Yanzhou noodles are traditionally served “popping hot” for people to enjoy; however, when people order noodles to-go, Gao now cools the noodles and separates them from the broth. While things have been difficult, Yuan said she still feels gratitude. Her best hack for Lanzhou noodles to-go is to either eat it right away (even in your car) or to warm the noodles before putting them in the broth.

 

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A post shared by LAN Noodle (@lannoodle)

She said the restaurant has recovered from the break-in at its Arcadia location and is finally opening a new restaurant it had planned to open last year. This week she hosted a soft opening in West Covina, where Gao is working on an expanded menu and passing his legacy down to the next generation of Lanzhou noodle masters. For Yuan, this was her biggest goal—to share what home tastes like to her with others, regardless of race or background. She said she’s grateful for the circulation of culture throughout America. 

“I think all the cultures are deserved to be preserved and passed on,” she said. “It’s like the wisdom of all the people around the world.”

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