For a Cityweekend assignment, I criss-crossed Shanghai to sample some of its scallion noodle offerings, a seemingly simple dish that nonetheless surprised me with how many nuanced interpretations I tasted. Here are my top three:
Da Ke Tang Pu’er Teahouse (大可堂普洱会所) / Xuhui District (Dianping)
This enormous, beautiful old-school teahouse has a minimal food menu. However, one of those is a phenomenal version of scallion noodles (RMB30). The noodles are exceptional in their simplicity and quality, thin and springy and fresh. My order came pre-tossed and plated, with just the right amount of soy sauce and smoky roast scallions, plus a marvelous sheen of scallion oil. Da Ke Tang’s luxurious décor makes for a pampered Shanghai experience, but I would highly recommend going with a friend or two to help ease the cost of its ultra-premium teas (required spend of 300RMB per person minimum).
Nong Tang Wontons (弄堂小混沌) / Jing’an District (Dianping)
On the other end of the price spectrum, Nong Tang Wontons is in one of the old lanes squeezed among Nanjing Xi Lu’s commercial buildings (1025弄, 107号). Well-received by Jing’an’s white-collar lunch crowds for its wonton soup, Nong Tang has one other featured item – scallion noodles. A real slurp-worthy amalgam of flavors: in addition to those same smoky scallion bits, I tasted subtle flecks of chili, salty cubes of smoked tofu, plus a handful of customizable additions. Best of all, one delicious bowl of noodles plus one hard-boiled egg, seaweed soup, and a 7-Up totals just 9RMB.
Din Tai Fung (鼎泰丰) / Multiple Locations (Dianping)
Despite the endless hype, there is something magical about Din Tai Fung’s commercial palaces (of standardized joy). What is most glorious about its scallion noodles (葱花拌面, 29RMB) is the reversal of flavor concentration –the pile of braised scallion, sprinkled with freshly chopped pieces. This ladleful of umami heaven packed more vinegary, spring onion intensity than any other component I tasted, with the exception of Ding Te Le’s salty pork & scallion topping. Din Tai Fung’s noodles seemed designed to play second fiddle, rounder and softer, to best mix with that goopy mess of scallion glory.
Old Jesse (老吉士) / Xuhui District
This classic Shanghainese kitchen had the best roasted onions out of the bunch, the same as on their famous 葱烤鱼头: slightly crispy, pungent and smoky. The noodle’s seasoning is mostly derived from soy sauce, and rather light on grease.
Shanghai Min (上海小南国) / Multiple locations (Dianping)
Shanghai Min’s scallion noodles were noticeably saltier and more savory than its counterparts’, and comes with a side dish of mincemeat sauce that is amusingly similar to bolognese sauce. Thus, the least traditional, but certainly one of the more interesting refinements I ate. They sell a big plate at 38RMB, or this small bowl at 10RMB.
Ding Te Le / 顶特勒粥面馆 (Dianping)
This cramped and narrow 24/7 noodle and congee shop dishes out a bowl with thin noodles and very little sauce, so that the mixture is just slightly salty. There is enough oil to allow for the mixing, but flavor is all in the scallions and pork shreds, which unfortunately are relatively scant. But not necessarily a bad option at three or four in the morning.
Jian Guo 328 (建国328) / Xuhui District (Dianping)
A good version, heartily portioned but a bit too much noodle relative to scallions and sauce. Like Din Tai Fung and Old Jesse’s noodles, these too are mixed tableside. Additionally, the restaurant is notable for its adherence to a no-MSG policy (the proprietors are Taiwanese, which shows in the relatively streamlined menu and the purity of flavors).
Big Era Noodle Shop (大时代美食面馆) / Xintiandi (Dianping)
Here, the sauce is more “saucy” than oil, which is unfortunate because the sauce is also on the thin side, resulting in a bit slimier of noodles than I would say is ideal. But on the flip side, a big bowl of the stuff is 8RMB including two shallow-fried eggs (荷包蛋).