Knife-cut noodles, or daoxiaomian, involves quickly slicing pieces of dough into a pot of boiling water.
It takes a special person to make knife-cut noodles.
A chef has to hold a heavy piece of dough on one shoulder, while slicing off long, thin strips in quick, successive motions into a cauldron of boiling water.
“The most difficult part of my training was getting the angle between the knife and dough right,” says Zhi Suqin, the head chef at Quanjin Business Hotel in Taiyuan, Shanxi. “It’s important that the knife never leaves the dough, and the dough never leaves the knife.”
Knife-cut noodles, or daoxiaomian, are a specialty of Shanxi, a province in northern China famous for its range of wheat-based noodles.
Zhi has been making knife-cut noodles for 32 years, and he can shave 90 noodles a minute. Every variable matters, from the angle of the knife to the type of knife and flour used.
“Normally, we use flour with low levels of alkalinity and higher levels of gluten,” he says. “The gluten gives the noodles strength and a chewy texture.”
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As for the knife, there are two types—a flat knife and a knife with a hook. He prefers the latter.
“It’s made with silicon steel,” he says. “After it’s sharpened, there are no blunt edges.”
The noodles that it makes, he says, look like willow leaves—long, slender and thin.
“When I first started learning how to make knife-cut noodles, the more I practiced, the harder it seemed,” Zhi says. “But later on, when I got the angle right, it became a lot easier.”
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The finished noodles are served with zhajiang, a soybean paste popular in northern China, tomato sauce, and various toppings including sliced cucumber, garlic, and sesame.
It’s a fast-moving operation. On a given day, Zhi can make two to three bowls of noodles a minute.
“Why do people like eating knife-cut noodles? Because they have a unique texture,” he says. “They’re firm and smooth. I know that when guests eat them, they will be satisfied.”