I didn’t even know what it was before I tasted it, but I knew there and then that I’d been missing it all my life. I’m talking about Henan Hui Mian: braised broad noodles with lamb from Henan province in China. NYC chowhounds know it as “Fantastic Big Flat Lamb Noodle Soup” and fantastic is a pretty good descriptor for the one I had as well. The first bite I took of this famous Chinese snack had me floating off my chair. I was elated and it just got better as I inevitably made my way to the bottom of the bowl. This savoury lamb broth with its fresh hand-pulled broad noodles and its perfectly seasoned pieces of lamb meat packs a muttony punch. The soup also contains bean thread noodle, daylily, long thin slivers of seaweed, cilantro, a few leaves of bok choy and the occasional wolfberry. You can add to it some Changkiang vinegar and a condiment made up of dried chilli flakes in oil with sesame seeds, something I highly recommend. This is one serious life-affirming bowl of soup.
Where can one find this bowl of lamby goodness? At Lotus Bleu Restaurant in Verdun. It’s a hole-in-the-wall, mom and pop kind of place with very sparse décor and harsh neon lighting. It’s anything but upscale and that’s just fine with me. What really counts is that he food is yummy and the people there are incredibly friendly and helpful.
And if all the place served were just the Life-Affirming Lamb Noodle Soup™, that would be great in itself. But wait, there’s more! Daoko chicken is also a famous Henan dish. The preparation involves basting the chicken with a honey-water solution, deep-frying it and then braising it with a bunch of aromatic spices. The result is a fragrant and tasty bird with soft yielding meat and delicious almost completely de-fatted skin. The chicken is sold by weight as is the stewed beef which is sliced thin and served with a dressing of herbs and crushed red pepper.
But wait, there’s still more! They have a refrigerated display case filled with mystery meats and cold preparations. I’ve seen, on different occasions, pork tongue, pig’s ear, duck necks and even something the nice lady there was reluctant to confirm was pig’s rectum. Most of these are served as cold appetisers. I’ve only tried the duck neck. It’s spicy and very meaty, and eating it can be a bit of work, but it’s worth it.
If you go there during the day you might have the chance to try the steamed buns (baozi), the large pan-fried dumplings which come in meaty and meatless versions, or the glutinous rice in bamboo leaf (zongzi). I strongly suggest you try the steamed buns. The large dumplings are somewhat like the ones at Golden Stone, but both the wrapper and filling are superior here. The zongzi are a bit skimpy on the filling, but they still make for a great, cheap and filling snack.
You thought that’s all there was to this place? Think again! They make dumplings. Damn fine dumplings. The lamb and Chinese cabbage ones are crazy good. There’s also a hot pork and rice noodle soup that, while it doesn’t hold a candle to the Life-Affirming Lamb Noodle Soup™, is still pretty darn good, too. My sister couldn’t stop eating the Chinese cabbage with hot and sour sauce we had ordered one evening even if she was already full, and I really can’t blame her.
The menu also features some Sichuan favourites like “Boiled sliced fish in the Szechuan special spicy sauce” and “Home-style double sautéed pork slice” (twice-cooked pork) as well as a bunch of other seemingly out-of-place items such as Thai-style stir-fried noodles or rice.
On top of that the food is dirt cheap. You can walk out of there full to the gills for about $10 per person.
I’ve been three times at different hours and the place is never full. The patrons are almost all Chinese and almost all there for the lamb soup and the chicken. There are also a lot of people getting take-away chicken. Don’t miss this place. It’s a keeper.
Lotus Bleu Restaurant
4847 rue de Verdun
Five minutes west of Verdun metro station.
Opening hours are 10am to 10pm, closed on Tuesday.
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