Sometimes a word in Chinese so perfectly captures a mood or feeling that the English approximation seems woefully inadequate. To take one example, the Chinese combine “hot” (热) and “noise” (闹) to describe the loud and lively nature of local hotspots, but in English, the best we can do is “bustling.” To experience what China’s “hot noise” is really all about, head to Wei Xiang Zhai. Not for the claustrophobic or timid, this wildly popular noodle house demands that you elbow your way to a table for your chance to slurp down a bowl of the city’s best sesame paste noodles (麻酱面, májiàng miàn).
Don’t be intimidated by the Chinese-only menu here. It may look long and complicated, but over the years, the character for “sold out” (无) has become a permanent menu fixture, collecting dust and reminding diners that once, long ago, there were other options here. But when your signature dish is this good, you just don’t really need to offer anything else – although the kitchen staff do sling beef curry soup (小牛汤, xiǎo niú tāng) alongside the sesame noodles with surprising speed.
To order, simply sidle up to the counter and point to the table of pretty much anyone who has managed to snag a seat and is slurping away at an outrageously photogenic dish of sesame noodles. And while they’re pretty as a picture, it’s all about beauty and substance, as the chili oil, sesame paste and scallions come together for a mind-blowing holy trinity of sweet, spicy and salty perfection.
Once you’ve placed your order, you’ll receive small coupons for each bowl of noodles. If you’ve come at a busy time (which, to be honest, is most of the day), hover intently over a table where the diners appear on the verge of finishing up. This isn’t a place to linger and chat over a leisurely meal, so turnover is quick. When you’ve secured your seat, clip your coupons to the numbered clothespin (to indicate which table you’re at) and flag down a harried waitress. This is her signal to also clean the empty bowls off the table from the previous diner (which may or may not actually happen) before bringing your order. Just remember, it’s part of the “hot noise” experience.
Eat one bowl and don’t be ashamed to circle the block and head back in for a second go-around. Yes, they’re that good.
Editor’s note: This review was previously published on July 24, 2012.