Friday Recipe: Shanghai Xu Chao Mien

(Note: I've changed the transliteration of the name of the dish since the original version of the post. I think it's now the correct pinyin transliteration. Please correct me in the comments if you know, and it's still wrong.)

Today you get the recipe for one of my very favorite dishes. Since I
married a Chinese woman 14 years ago, I've learned a lot of chinese
cooking, and of all of the things I've learned to make, this is probably
my favorite. It's called Shanghai Xu Chao Mien. It's a variant of
what's called Lo Mein in the US, except that it's actually authentic.
And as is typical of authentic dishes, it's much better that
the crap you get at a typical chinese takeout in the US. (Chow mien is a
traditional chinese dish, but it's got nothing to do with what we call
Chow Mien in the US; "Chao" means "stir fried", and "mien" is noodles -
chow mien is stir-fried noodles.)

This is the shanghai variant of the dish. It uses a different kind
of noodle, and a very different sauce. You'll have to go to a chinese grocery store for the two key ingredients. Finding them can
be a bit of a problem, because they're typically not well-labelled in english, but they're well worth the trouble.


First, you need a kind of shrimp paste which is the base of the sauce. It's called sha-cha, and it's made from a mixture of chilis,
garlic, fermented brill-shrimp, and oil. It's usually sold in small glass jars, labelled "barbeque sauce" in english. It's a dark paste, which has red chili oil floating on top of it. Thanks to a commentor, a picture of a jar of the brand I use appears to the right.


The other is the noodles. The typical lo-mein noodle is a sort-of square-profile yellow egg noodle. Shanghai Shu Chow Mien uses a plain flour noodle, which is thicker and wider - the noodles are between 1/4 and 1/2 an inch wide, and they're a sort of pale-tan white. They're sold fresh in the refrigerator case, not dried. They're usually labelled "shanghai noodles". Thanks to Google, you can see a picture of the kind of noodles I use to the right.


  • Sha-cha sauce.
  • Two chicken thighs, cut into thin strips.
  • Soy sauce.
  • One full package (1 lb) shanghai noodles.
  • 12 baby bok-choi, cut in half, or an equivalent quantity of some other nice leafy green vegetable.
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced.
  • One half of a large onion, thinly sliced.
  • Bean sprouts - about 1 cup, or more if you really like them.
  • Soy sauce
  • Green parts of two scallions, finely minced.


  1. Mix the chicken with about 1 teaspoon of sha-cha and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, and let it marinate for about 10 minutes.
  2. Boil the noodles for one minute, then rinse with cold water, and
    toss with enough oil to prevent them from sticking together.
  3. Boil the bean sprouts for about one minute, then rinse them in
    cold water.
  4. Put the wok on high heat, and add enough oil to stir-fry the chicken. Then add the chicken, and stir fry until it's just cooked through, and then remove it and put it aside.
  5. Add a bit more oil to the wok. Then add the onions and stir
    until they start to turn brown around the edges.
  6. Add the garlic, and stir around for 20 or 30 seconds.
  7. Add the green vegetables, and stir until the leafs start to wilt.
  8. Add the bean sprouts and the chicken back to the wok. Stir until
    everything is hot.
  9. With a spatula, pull all of the cooked ingredients up the side of the wok, leaving an open area in the center. All of the liquid from the stuff cooked so far should accumulate in the bottom of the wok. Let
    most of it evaporate.
  10. Add a bit more oil, then put a teaspoon of sha cha sauce into the oil, and stir it around for about 10 seconds. Then pull everything else
    in the wok back down, and mix it together, so that the sauce covers everything.
  11. Add the noodles, stir around to mix everything together. Add a
    tablespoon or two of soy sauce (to taste), and stir until everything is
  12. Add the scallions, give it one last stir, and then remove from the heat and serve.

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Re #2:

I most likely screwed up the pinyin. There are multiple "sh" sounds in chinese; "x", "sh" are slightly diffent forms of the "sh" sound. ("x" is closest to english "sh", "sh" is the same with your tongue curled up and touching the roof of your mouth.) And it's a shanghainese dish, so there might also be variations in the transliteration for the different dialect.

Searching around a bit myself, I think that the correct transliteration is probable "xu chao mien", not "shou chow mien".

i think the pinyin is shang hai chu chao mian, but i'm a bit rusty on my pinyin as well!

Well if I can see the Chinese characters then I can give you the pinyin for it.
btw my name is Xu(first name) Chao, and my middle name on Facebook is Mein. I loled at this title.

I Tried this recipe this weekend with a friend who lived in Hong Kong for several years. (I've got a fairly extensive Oriental shelf in my pantry, so I had everything already.) She said she'd had xu chao mien many times, so she knew what it tasted like. She said my/your version was almost right; she thought that the versions she had eaten were a bit spicier.

She did say I was mispronouncing "xu".
She said it was pronounced "xu".
I said, "Yeah, xu".
She said, "No, not 'xu'. "'xu'".
I cleverly replied, "Yeah, that's what I said"
She said,"No, you said 'xu'. It's pronounced 'xu'."
This went on all night..

I'm confused about the name. What is the Chinese character for "xu", or what does it mean `literally'? Might it be "xi" for `thin' (as opposed to "cu" for `thick') or "shi" for `style'? Thanks to you (and your wife) for clarifying.

That sounds really good.
Chinese food is really amazing and I can't live without it. I totally want to try that recipe now


Personally, I believe that Chinese is one of worlds truly great cuisines - every bit as amazing as the ones that typically get a lot of respect, like French. Real chinese food is amazingly good, amazingly broad, and has its own very special way of working with ingredients and flavors that's really completely different from anything else. It gets no respect in the US, because here it's seen as take-out food. That's a damn shame.

This noodle dish is basically simple family food. But I can't think of any cuisine in the world where simple family food is better.

And fancy chinese food is just beyond belief. When my wife and I got engaged, we went to Taiwan to visit my in-laws, and they had a celebration dinner with a bunch of friends. We went to a decent, but not great restaurant. The chef was a bit constrained, because I don't tolerate MSG well, and many of his stock ingredients had MSG in them. But there are still a few dishes that I remember... He did a dish with big ocean crabs... I don't generally like the big crabs; they're usually dry, and they've often got a bit of an acrid, almost pneumonia-like tinge to their flavor. But this chef did something with it - chopped it up in the shell, dipped it on cornstarch, fried it, and served it in a sauce loaded with pepper, garlic, and ginger... It was one of the best crab dishes I've ever eaten. (And I spent 6 years living on the Chesapeake bay eating Maryland blue crabs, the sweetest, best crabs on the planet.)

I challenge any french chef in the world to make a better crab dish than that. They can't do it.

> I challenge any french chef in the world to make a better
> crab dish than that. They can't do it.

As the "trois grands" of my youth, Dumaine, Point and Pic are long gone and French cuisine is not what it used to be, I cannot easily rebate this. However, if I were looking for a good crab dish, I would look more toward Portugal than France. This is where I go now when I want good seafood. Except jellyfish, holoturia and similar Asian delikatessen of course. And I'm not so sure Berasategui, Arzak, Adriá or some of their gang would not be up to your challenge.

Besides that and the fact that I think that to speak of "chinese cooking" is the same as to speak of "european cooking", thanks for the recipe :-) Maybe you got some Scheszuan ones to spice the maths ;-)

By El Guerrero de… (not verified) on 28 Nov 2008 #permalink