Sweet & Sour Fish Thickened with Starch and Baked Noodles

Sweet & Sour Fish Thickened with Starch and Baked Noodles is a famous traditional dish among Han Chinese in Kaifeng. It falls into the Henan cuisine category and is concocted by putting together two famous dishes: Sweet & Sour Fish Thickened with Starch and Baked Noodles. Sweet & Sour Fish Thickened with Starch has a long history. According to Memoirs of Eastern Capital (Kaifeng), it was already very popular in markets of the city during the Northern Song Dynasty. The major ingredient of this dish is top-grade carps, preferably Huanghe carps. After initial processing, the knife is slanted and roof-tile-rows-like patterns are cut into the two halves of the fish. Put it into hot oil and cook it thoroughly. Then, condiments including sugar, vinegar, ginger minces, cooking wine and salt, in appropriate amounts, are added to boiled water and starch is mixed with it to make it thick. The juice is heated until the oil, sugar and vinegar blend together. Put the cooked fish into the plate. Splash the starch juice over it and the purplish red, wonderfully fragrant, fresh, and tender dish is done. It is sweet and sour, with a tinge of salt. Baked Noodles is also known as Dragon Whiskers Noodles.

Story behind the Dish

According to All about Kaifeng, government officials and ordinary people of Kaifeng in the Ming Dynasty would give each other very thin noodles called “Dragon Whiskers Noodles” as gifts of luck each year on the 2th day of the second month on the Chinese lunar calendar—the day when the "dragon king raises his head". Initially, the noodles were cooked in water. Later, several rounds of improvement were introduced and people began to fry them in oil until they became yellowish. Fluffy and crisp, they are eaten with meat and fish after juice is absorbed into them. This is why the dish is called "Baked Noodles”. In about 1930, master chefs in Kaifeng initiated the practice of covering “Sweet & Sour Fish Thickened with Starch” with fried “Dragon Whiskers Noodles”, creating a famous dish welcomed by customers—" Sweet & Sour Fish Thickened with Starch and Baked Noodles”. The two-in-one dish has a distinctive flavor, for one can dip noodles into juice while eating fish. Later, Hand-Pulled Noodles were introduced to Kaifeng and people began to pair fried Hand-Pulled Noodles with Fish Thickened with Starch, making it even more inviting. “Sweet & Sour Fish Thickened with Starch” is refreshing and delicious. What’s wonderful about it is that one dish has two different flavors. The saying "Enjoying dragon meat and dragon whiskers during one single meal” is convincing evidence of its good reputation as an essential delicacy at banquets.

Traditional Delicacy

 “Fish Thickened with Starch and Baked Noodles” is a delicious food reminiscent of tradition in Kaifeng. It has long enjoyed a good reputation. Baked Noodles are also called Dragon Whiskers Noodles. According to All about Kaifeng, the second day of the second month each year on the Chinese lunar calender was considered by people in Kaifeng the time when the "dragon king raises his head". “Guests at banquets eat Dragon Whiskers Noodles, which are also given as presents.” At that time, Dragon Whiskers Noodles were cooked in water. Later, they were baked, hence the name “Baked Noodles”.

Fish Thickened with Starch and Baked Noodles is Kaifeng’s traditional specialty comprising two famous dishes: Fish Thickened with Starch on the one hand and Baked Noodles on the other. Legend has it that when Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty fled Beijing and arrived in Kaifeng, master chefs of Kaifeng Prefecture prepared “Fish Thickened with Starch” and “Baked Noodles” for her as a tribute. Cixi was seized with a sudden impulse when she saw the two dishes, saying the carp might have fallen asleep in the plate and it needed a quilt to keep it warm. She picked up chopsticks and covered the fish with the noodles. This is the root of the famous dish name “Fish Thickened with Starch and Baked Noodles”, which is purplish red, wonderfully fragrant, fresh, and tender. As thin as human hair, the baked noodles are fluffy and crisp.

Preparation steps

1. The scales, gills, and offal are removed. The fish is washed clean. Each of the two halves is cut into 7 or 8 crescent slices. Put the sautéing pan over medium heat, add peanut oil (1,500 grams), pour in the fish and fry it when oil temperature is 60% hot. Cease heating (withdrawing pan from fire) a few times in the process. Allow the afterheat of the oil to play its role until the fish is thoroughly cooked. Then, put the pan back. When oil temperature rises, scoop it up and let the oil drain away;

2. Put the cleaned sautéing pan over high-temperature fire. Pour in water. Add sugar, vinegar, cooking wine, refined salt (5 grams), ginger juice, and chopped scallion. Thicken the mixture with wet starch. Stir it with a spoon. When the juice boils, pour in 50 grams of hot oil, and then splash the juice over the fish;

3. Blend white flour with refined salt (3 grams) and alkali. Press the mixture until it becomes a piece of dough. Sprinkle water on the chopping board and knead the dough on it many times. When the dough becomes tough enough, rub it into strips, then pull it many times until you see 12 thin threads. Cut off the two ends. Keep the middle parts (about 50 grams). Fry them in oil until they are as yellow as a persimmon. Scoop them up and place them into the plate. The noodles can be served with a Huanghe carp.

Copyright by Zhengzhou Municipal Tourism Administration