Chinese Pan Fried Noodles with Tofu

~ Vegetarian ~ Noodles and Tofu ~ Tofu ~ Ethnic ~ Asian ~ Wok ~ Lee's Recipes ~

Pan-fried Chinese pasta provides a crispy bed for meat and vegetables.

Serves 6

A pan-fried noodle cake is an ideal base for all types of toppings. In this variation, tofu, fresh shiitakes, garlic chives or leeks, and carrots, tossed in a savory sauce, are served on a bed of crisp, golden brown noodles. Instead of tossing the noodles in the wok, you can rinse them and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread the noodles out on a rimmed baking sheet. Brown them on both sides under a broiler, watching them carefully. Make fine crispy Chinese noodles with all kinds of egg pasta, an assortment of savory vegetables and tofu.

A staple of everyday Chinese life, noodles are an extraordinarily versatile food . They're cheap, lend themselves to the whim of the cook or what's available that day, and most important, they're filling. That's why in China you find noodles in small, humble shops as well as large, refined restaurants.

Nina uses a Taiwanese chef's method of frying then tossing noodles. He boiled a batch of thin egg noodles, drained them, and put the hot noodles into an oiled pie pan. Once cool, the noodles formed a compact "cake." The chef poured some oil into a well-seasoned wok, heated it until it was near-smoking, and dropped the noodle cake into the pan, swirling it around over high heat. When the noodles were crisp and golden, he effortlessly flipped the noodle cake into the air and over so that the other side could cook until brown ("Two Sides Brown" was the name of a favorite noodle dish Nina ordered every time she went to a Cantonese restaurant near the cooking school she attended). When the noodles were done, he flipped them onto a heated platter and set about making a stir-fried dish of tofu with vegetables in a savory sauce. The result was superb: Crisp and tender noodles were smothered with a colorful mélange of shredded vegetables garnished with slender pieces of tofu, all coated in a garlicky soy sauce.

Tossing egg pasta in a wok.
Nina Simonds tosses egg pasta in a wok.

In China each region has its own noodle variety: In the north, where noodles are believed to have originated, traditional flour-and-water noodles are hand-thrown, a skill that is becoming more and more rare. Hand-thrown noodles have a silky texture that is especially appealing in soups and sauces. In a cooler climate, wheat-based staples are more common than rice so noodles are consumed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They also may be made with other grains such as sorghum and oats.

In western China, wheat flour noodles and bean threads or cellophane noodles (made with mung bean starch) are especially popular. The famous Sichuanese classic "Ants on a Tree" is a dish made with ground pork and cellophane noodles. Once cooked, bean threads become almost gelatinous since they soak up the liquid they are cooked with. In eastern China, where food is generally more refined, delicate noodles made from rice are enjoyed in soups and stir-fries, or deep-fried into crispy nests where they may form a bed for stir-fried mixtures. And in the south, egg noodles are more the norm in dishes like "Two Sides Brown" or soups.

Various types of egg pasta can be used.
Various types of egg pasta can be used.


Various types of egg pasta can be used. Tofu

1/2 pound firm tofu, cubed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine or sake
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Put the tofu in a bowl.

Add the soy sauce, rice wine or sake, sesame oil, garlic, and cornstarch. Toss lightly.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.


Olive oil (for the pan)
1/2 pound thin egg noodles, angel hair, or vermicelli

1. Generously oil an 8- or 9-inch round cake or pie pan.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for 8 minutes or until they are tender but still have some bite. Drain them and transfer to the pan or pie plate. Press them evenly into the pan and let them cool into a cake.

Noodles are cooked  al dente before they're browned.
Noodles are cooked al dente before they're browned.


Sauce and Vegetables

5 tablespoons rice wine or sake
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
6 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 pound snow peas, ends snapped, strings removed
5 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 3-inch piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, washed, stems removed, and thinly sliced
2 leeks, cut in 1 1/2-inch long julienne slices or 1/3 pound garlic chives, cleaned, ends trimmed, and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots

Mise-en-place:  each ingredient, garlic, chives, snow peas,  shredded carrots, is ready in a small bowl.
Each ingredient: garlic, chives, snow peas, shredded carrots, is ready in a small bowl.

For the sauce:

In a bowl mix 2 1/2 tablespoons of the rice wine or sake, stock, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, pepper, and cornstarch; set aside.


  1. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the snow peas for 10 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer the peas to a bowl of cold water. Drain well.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet. Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of the oil, and heat it until very hot but not smoking. Add the tofu and toss lightly over high heat until the tofu changes color and separates. With a slotted spoon, remove the tofu from the pan and transfer to a plate. Clean out the pan.
  3. Set the oven at 200 degrees. Reheat the wok or skillet. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil, and heat until nearly smoking. Invert the noodle cake into the pan and cook to a deep, golden brown, swirling the pan from time to time to keep the cake from sticking. Flip the noodle cake over and brown on the other side. Transfer to a heatproof serving platter with plenty of room around it; keep warm in the oven.
  4. Reheat the pan, add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, and heat until very hot. Add the ginger and garlic. Stir-fry for about 10 seconds or until fragrant.
  5. Add the mushrooms, leeks or chives, and carrots. Stir-fry over high heat for about 1 minute.
  6. Add the remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons rice wine or sake. Cook, stirring, for 1 1/2 minutes.
  7. Stir the sauce into the pan. Cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Add the tofu and snow peas and stir just to heat them. Spoon the tofu, vegetables, and sauce over the noodle cake.

Tofu, vegetables, and a garlicky sauce are pan-fried with crisp, golden noodles.
Tofu, vegetables, and a garlicky sauce are pan-fried with crisp, golden noodles.



Source: adapted from recipe by Boston Globe, Food, Wednesday March 9, 2009
Note that original recipe uses chicken. I substituted tofu.