If you assume that food trucks are a modern concept, think again. The only thing that’s “new” is the truck part. Humans used to be the vehicles for street food, so the whole idea had legs well before it had fuel-powered wheels.
Tan tan refers to an across-the-shoulder pole carried by food peddlers in old Sichuan. Baskets—one with sauce and the other with noodles—dangled from each end of the pole, providing an inexpensive and nourishing meal to strolling locals. Eventually the noodles were named after the pole, coming to be known as "peddler's noodles.”
The traditional, original Chinese recipe is a chili-laced noodle soup strewn with ground pork, preserved vegetables, and scallions. My own version combines minced vegetables and tofu with a black bean-chili-garlic-peanut butter sauce to make a ground meat-like hash that coats the noodles with deep, dark essence and crunch.
• You can get the rest of the recipe going while waiting for the noodle water to boil.
• Make sure you use a large-enough, deep-enough pan to house the volume of this dish.
• I alternate between Lee Kum Kee Black Bean-Garlic Sauce and Chili Black Bean Sauce for his recipe, as they both work very well. You can also use a plain chili paste or any chili-garlic sauce.
• Use the least-processed, freshest-tasting peanut butter you can find. The salt measurement in the recipe is based on the creamy, lightly salted variety I use in my own kitchen. So keep that in mind if you are making the recipe with unsalted peanut butter, and adjust the seasoning accordingly.
• Almond butter can be swapped in for the peanut butter.
• Use the firmest firm tofu you can find. If you have any doubts, you can firm it up further by boiling it, already diced, for about 10 minutes well ahead of time. Drain and dry it thoroughly before adding to the stir-fry.
½ cup peanut butter (smooth, lightly salted)
½ cup black bean-garlic sauce (see note above)
1 tablespoon agave nectar, light-colored honey, or brown sugar
1 cup very hot water
1 tablespoon grapeseed, canola, or peanut oil (plus more, as needed)
1 heaping cup minced onion
½ pound shiitake mushrooms - wiped clean, stemmed, and minced (generous 4 cups)
1 stalk celery, minced
Scant ¼ teaspoon salt
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and minced (1 cup)
12 ounces very firm tofu, in small dice
½ pound bucatini, linguine, long fettuccine, or spaghetti (or fresh long Chinese noodles, if available)
• Chili oil, red pepper flakes, or a dab of extra chili paste
• Steamed green peas and/or edamame decorating the top
• A tuft of cucumber – in thin strips or minced
• Very thin ovals of scallion green scattered around
• Lightly toasted peanuts or cashews on top