The art of the hand-pulled noodle: Lanzhou-style 'fast food' in Edmonton's Chinatown

Chef Fuqing Qin moved to Edmonton to open one of the first restaurants in northern Alberta that serves northwestern style Chinese hand-pulled noodles.

'Using the unique hand-pulling technique — it’s like performance. It’s a show.'

Chef Fuqing Qin can turn a ball of dough into hand-pulled, ready to cook noodles in two minutes. (Adrienne Pan)

At age 58, Fuqing Qin came to Edmonton to open his first restaurant, nearly 30 years after he first trained to make hand-pulled noodles in northern China.

Speaking in Mandarin through a translator at his restaurant Fuqing Lanzhou Noodles, Qin told CBC's Radio Active that he loved making them from the beginning.

"It's really special, you won't see this anywhere else in the world," he said.

"Other noodle cuisine require a machine or a knife to cut the dough and make it work. This cuisine — using the unique hand-pulling technique — it's like performance. It's a show."

Originally from the northern China province of Heilongjiang, Qin spent eight months working under a master chef at a Lanzhou-style restaurant in China — six of those months were devoted to learning to make hand-pull noodles.

During that time, he was taught to turn a lump of dough into a long strings of noodles using only his fingers, in just two minutes.

Depending on the technique, Qin can make them thin, regular or flat.

He's still mesmerized by the process, he said.
At Edmonton restaurant Fuqing Lanzhou Noodles, master chef and owner Fuqing Qin makes the noodles himself. Video shown at double speed. 0:34

"I'm amazed by how just a piece of dough can be pulled to make a small strings of noodles. Its fascinating," Qin said.

"That's the most unique part of the style, how fresh the noodle is because it is handmade right in front of you."

The style originated in northwestern China, but is sometimes called the "Number one noodle in China" because of its widespread popularity, Qin said.
Fuqing Lanzhou restaurant serves hand-pulled noodles, lamb skewers and handmade dumplings in Edmonton's Chinatown. (Adrienne Pan)

Qin immigrated to Canada in 2001. He lived in Calgary until he moved to Edmonton in 2016 to open his restaurant on 97th Street and 108th Avenue.

When he realized how few restaurants in northern Alberta serve the cuisine, he decided to bring his form of "fast food" to the city.

Not speaking English has made it difficult to start a business here, Qin said. But the food has connected him with a community.

Chinatown Dining Week starts Thursday. One of the participating restaurants Chef and Owner brings his special hand-pulled noodle technique to Edmonton all the way from northeastern China! 8:18

"Just because of the restaurant, I've made a lot of new friends," he said.

"Many people like the flavour of the noodle, especially for people who are from China. And they are so amazed they can find the same thing here in Edmonton.

"They love it and they just automatically become friends."

Qin said if he ever has trouble understanding customers he can always refer to the menu's number system to get their orders.

He recommends people try the No. 2, a beef bone broth soup with baked beef, vegetables, a little cilantro and, of course, his hand-pulled noodles.

It's their featured menu item during Edmonton's Chinatown dining week from Jan. 17 to Jan. 27, which highlights restaurants in the neighbourhood that are serving two-course specials for $15.

Qin said it's also his favourite dish.

When it comes to the noodles, he said, it's not about the ingredients but how you make them.

"It's nothing really special about the dough: all purpose flour, there's a little bit of salt to increase the tension."

"It's more about the technique."

With files from Adrienne Pan