Mian Geda: Not Quite a Dumpling, Not Yet a Noodle
Mian geda up close
Against Northern Chinese noodles, mian geda may not measure to the knife cuts and the hand-pulled in unapologetic looks and name. Humble origin notwithstanding, mian geda is treated with more thought at JTYH Restaurant. They offer a hearty Shanxi interpretation in two different soups built from pork stock: Napa cabbage with dried shrimp and tomato egg drop. The kitchen crew, as led by chef Shi Hong, makes huge bowls of mian geda to order, painstakingly forming each piece by hand. Shi turns out a substantial one that in its asymmetry look more offal than noodle and tastes quintessentially Northern Chinese.
Mian geda was christened by its appearance and not its make. Mian can take on several meanings with wheat flour as one in Chinese; geda denotes lumps, often specifically pimples. Mian geda's direct English translation as wheaten lumps or worse, dough pimples then -- suggesting a DIY disguise crafted by Martha Stewart by way of Ana Gasteyer -- may make the uninitiated balk.
It is no wonder mian geda often goes by an English alias -- dumpling knots (or the inverse), in reference to unstuffed versions found in such cuisines as British, American, and Caribbean. Some may even find similarities between mian geda and German spaetzle. Few in China though would link mian geda and jiaozi (stuffed dumplings) in species, even if they're considered to be in the same family of wheaten foods.
Names in Chinese are often symbolic and weighted in meaning. When it comes to food, euphemisms can abound as Chinese people tend to wax in grand, if not poetic, fashion. With little pretense, mian geda is Chinese food at its most rustic -- so much so that it is hardly ever available in restaurants. When it does appear, it can be a mark of faithfulness to Northern Chinese cooking.
A bowl of Napa cabbage mian geda soup at JTYH
At JTYH, the soups match the heft of their mian geda, resulting in neither element negating the other. The soup of Napa cabbage is slightly briny from the dried shrimp and the tomato egg drop version recalls the conventional dish of eggs stir-fried with tomatoes. (Although for some, the latter may seem more like a vastly upgraded take on Spaghetti O's.) The garnishes are differentiated as a result -- scallions are strewn on the Napa cabbage; the tomato egg drop is topped with cilantro -- and punctuate the flavor of each.
Manager Annie Fu says that the kitchen will accommodate vegetarians by omitting the pork stock. They are also willing to adapt the recipe to serve vegetarians who follow a Buddhist diet that prohibits alliums.
JTYH has been around in some incarnation for nearly two decades based on Fu's calculation; close to three years in Rosemead and 10-plus as Heavy Noodling in Monterey Park.
At the time of publishing, mian geda in its two versions are the only items in Chinese on the otherwise bilingual menu. According to server Stephanie Xu, there was already uncertainty in using 'cat ears' for the orecchiette-like noodles stir-fried with slivers of pork loin, carrots, and cabbage and glazed with soy sauce. Fu admits they were stumped when it came to translating mian geda and so it was left in Chinese -- at least for the time being.
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