A Rather Salubrious Experience

Hello, my name is Lù Āndé (陆安德), and I am interning at the Embassy in Beijing in the Science, Technology and Education section.

Let me today shed more light on the Mandarin Chinese language by looking at a very special character.

The in pinyin ordinarily looking word Biáng would seem unequalled in any Chinese dictionary. But in fact, it does not even appear in the Kangxi Dictionary (康熙字典), which was compiled in the 18th century and contains some 47,000 characters.

Biángbiáng miàn is called one of the “ten strange wonders of Shaanxi (陕西十大怪) and describes in fact a noodle dish. And here is what it looks like:    


Would you like to see it a bit larger?

This character, which is made up of a whopping 58 strokes, took my Chinese co-worker half a minute to write by copy-pasting it. I find that quite impressive (she says she wouldn’t know how to remember the character).

According to China Daily, “Biáng” is an onomatopoetic name. It refers to “the sound the chef makes when he pulls the dough into noodles and bangs them against the table”.

The origin of the character is not exactly clear. The fact that it cannot be found in the Kangxi Dictionary indicates that it may have been created only in the last two hundred years. The components of Biáng – for example speak (言), tiny (幺), and horse (馬) – could potentially tell us something about its coming into existence. But there is no historical evidence for this. So perhaps, it was merely a witty marketing stunt by a Shaanxi noodle store owner.

Be it as it may, this notorious noodle is today also sold in Beijing. So I decided to go out and taste Biáng Biáng noodle for myself.

And this is what I encountered:

With assorted ingredients this rather spicy dish plays with the senses and, to protect from cold Shaanxi winters, heats up from within. That is if you manage to eat the noodles! They are wide and long, heavy and slippery, and the noodle is in fact the biggest one I have ever seen in any dish.

My companion and fellow intern Yǐn Ānjùn (尹安俊), who shared the dish with me, praises Biáng Biáng noodle as “the best dish” he has tried in China so far. I, too, will return to have more for sure – perhaps after an unusually hard physical workout.