Weekend afternoonsor weekdays after a van disgorges a gang of exhausted day laborers in front of the temp employment agencies down the blockthe slurping can be deafening. The last block of Eldridge Street is home to Super Taste, a narrow warren specializing in hand-pulled wheat noodles, pointed out to me by Calvin Trillin. These noodles are delivered so hot, temperature-wise, that it's a matter of both good etiquette and good science to suck them down with a loud rush of cooling air. Your first exposure ought to be No. 2 on the menu. When "hand-pull noodle w. Beef in Hot & Spicy Soup" ($4) arrives, the concentrated broth is brownish red, with little drops of chile oil dancing on the surface. In the depths lurk strips of sautéed beef, baby spinach, and a generous hank of noodles. These might be the best noodles of your life.
Though English is rarely spoken in Super Taste, the menu, like some professor of noodle history, mounts a learned and earnest discourse in English. "Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles, also known as Beef Noodles, originated from the city of Lanzhou," references a narrow metropolis, more than 20 kilometers in length, on the southern bank of the Yellow River in Inner Mongolia, where the noodles "were sold in the streetsas early as Han Dynasty and Tong Dynasty." Less romantically, a tourist guide describes the city as filthy and says it's choking on fumes. Extolling the virtues of the beef strips deposited in the soup, the professor notes optimistically: "Cattle eat [a] variety of grasses and conquer hundreds of diseases." Thank you, Elsie.
These noodles may remind you of Korean-Chinese cha chiang mein, made by slapping great wads of dough on a prep table to break down the gluten. But while the cha chiang mein fall magically into squarish strands as they're whacked, the Lanzou dough is pulled, folded over, and pulled again, till the noodles reach the desired irregular circumference. The attention to detail exhibited by the staff at Super Taste could put an Italian artisanal pastificio to shame. So careful are they, that when you ask for carryout, the noodles are put in a separate container from the broth, so as not to become mushy before being eaten.
The bargain-basement collection of a dozen dumplings ($3) is the equal of those at any of the area stalls, with the loose filling of pork and scallions encased in sheets of dough with a thickness measured in millimeters. The sweet shallot dipping sauce tastes like something a Frenchwoman might squirt on her raw oysters. Skip everything in the vermicelli section of the menu. These choices represent a parallel universe populated with pale, factory-made rice noodles that have none of the wheaten goodness of the hand-pulled. A third type, something like a Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodle dish, is featured in "peanut butter noodle" ($1.50), but this dish seems mainly directed at children and the extremely hard up.
Look around the dining room some Sunday afternoon and you'll see half the slurpers working on bowls of "hand-pull noodle w. Pork Bone in Soup," ($6). Served in a giant metal mixing bowl rather than the usual plastic receptacle and featuring six or more knuckly marrow bones with bits of meat adhering, this soup not only reunites the rich broth with the bones that generated it but gives a good folksy chew in the bargain.
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