To Hakka or Chow
In the world of Indo-Chinese noodles, there are two main themes: Hakka noodles and chow mein noodles. But first, why Indo-Chinese cuisine in the first place? Chinese immigrants to India came from the Hakka-speaking provinces of Southern China in the late 18th century, to work in the ports of Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Madras. They brought their foodways and Indians fell in love with the flavors of China. So when they cooked their favorite Chinese dishes, they put their spin on them by adding Indian spicing and cooking methods.
India has created wildly popular brands of Indo-Chinese “Schwezuan” chili sauces and beloved noodles. I used Ching’s Chili Sauce for this dish, but any hot sauce you love will work. Siracha, gochujang, and Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp too, but make sure to dig down and get some of the ground chilis lurking on the bottom. If you want to make Sichuan chili oil, my recipe is quick and easy.
Cumin & Lamb
One of the most popular Indo-Chinese dishes is Hakka noodles, made with lots of vegetables and a liberal dose of chili sauce. I admit that I was all over the place with this recipe, torn between the flavors that I love in the Chinese noodle world and the famous Indian Hakka and chow mein street food. In the end, I present a soulful blend of all three. This shows off the heady marriage of cumin and lamb inspired by dishes from Xi’an, the capital city in the northwestern Chinese province of Shaanxi. The most famous ambassador of the cuisine of Shaanxi in the U.S. is Xi’an Famous Food, a restaurant chain based in New York City chain which I’ve eaten in. I have loved this pairing of lamb and cumin ever since my first lunch there years ago.
To Tofu or Paneer
Tofu and paneer are satisfying substitutes for lamb if you are looking for a vegetarian or vegan recipe. I almost always have the ingredients needed on hand and am especially happy when there is corn to throw into the mix, either fresh or frozen. I love its sweet pop, and it goes with any other vegetable you are using. If you need inspiration, there a list of proteins instead of lamb. I also have a list of flavoring elements, herbs, and spices to try. These noodles are also a perfect way to use up any leftovers that need a home.
When it comes to noodles, the sky is the limit. Traditional Indo-Chinese choices would be either Hakka or ramen noodles. However, if you are gluten-free, rice noodles, either thick or thin, and glass noodles, which I’ve photographed below, are both welcome. My current favorite is japchae noodles made from sweet potato starch by Assi of Korea. They are opaque, but become clear when cooked, and have a satisfying chew.
If you would like to make a noodle dish that swings more Chinese, take a peek at my Sichuan noodle recipe. Have fun playing with your food.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Cumin Lamb Indo-Chinese Noodles
- 7 ounces dried noodles ~ Or 8 ounce fresh noodles, see Notes below
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil ~ Or any oil you have
- 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whole Sichuan peppercorns ~ See Notes below if you can't find
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1/2 pound ground lamb
- 2 teaspoons garlic ~ Puréed, grated or finely minced
- 2 teaspoons ginger ~ Puréed, grated or finely minced
- 2 to 4 teaspoons chili paste ~ See Notes below
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce ~ See Notes below for subs
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ You will probably need more, double for Kosher
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar ~ Or apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup scallions ~ Finely sliced
- 2 cups vegetables ~ See Notes below for ideas
- sesame seeds ~ Toasted
- scallion greens ~ Chopped
- cilantro ~ Chopped
- chili flakes
- Sichuan peppercorns ~ Coarsely ground
- Sichuan chili oil ~ Drizzled
- Gather your ingredients.
- Cook the noodles as instructed on the package. Make sure not to overcook them because they will be heated through with the sauce and vegetables.
- In a small pan over medium heat, toast the cumin and Sichuan peppercorns for a minute or two until fragrant.
- Grind into a powder in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
- Add oil in a saucepan or dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown the lamb. When almost fully cooked, add the ginger, garlic, and ground cumin and Sichuan peppercorns. Cook for a minute or two until the garlic no longer smells raw.
- Add in the vegetables, chili paste, oyster sauce, soy sauce, salt, vinegar, and spring onions.
- Cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables have softened; about 3 minutes.
- Add in the noodles and stir well to combine. Heat for a minute or two and make sure to taste for enough salt, vinegar, and heat from the chili sauce. Garnish with any or all of the garnishing ideas above.
- Use the noodles you love: ramen, udon, rice noodles (wide or thin), glass noodles, Hakaa noodles, etc. Spaghetti even!
- Sichuan peppercorns are not hot but give you a nice tingle. If you can’t find them:
- Use 1/2 tsp black pepper mixed with 1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
- White pepper, do a mix of black and white. If using ground pepper do not toast but add directly into the sauce.
- Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) or chili flakes of your choice are also good subs.
- Chili sauce ideas: Sriracha or gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste), Schezwan sauce or chutney ( I used Chings Red Chilli Sauce), homemade chili oil making sure to dig down and get the chili flakes too, or buy Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp. Or a homemade Schwezwan sauce posted by Hayley of Jagruti’s Cooking OdesseyJagruti’s Cooking Odessey.
- Substitutes for oyster sauce:
- mix together 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- fish sauce 1:1
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons tahini (or any seed or nut butter or purée), 1/8 tsp salt, and 1/4 teaspoon sugar. Soy sauce is thinner than oyster sauce and it isn’t as sweet, so this little recipe gets you close.
- Vegetable ideas:
- red or yellow onions thinly slivered
- capsicum: red, green, yellow pepper
- bok choy
- corn: baby or grown-up
- snow peas
- If you are not a lamb person, swap out the lamb for any ground meat of your choice.
- Vegetarian or vegan: Use paneer or firm tofu crumbles to replace the lamb.