While in China, I plan to gorge on mian in its innumerable incarnations. Traditional mian is always made from the same two basic ingredients–wheat flour and water. So, it is the method of forming the noodles that gives each variety of mian a distinctive flavor and texture.
There is mian cut from sheets of dough into very wide strips, micro-thin hairs, or somewhere in between. There is mian pulled by hand into long, thin coils. There is mian made by slicing slivers from dough as hard as a block of wood into a boiling pot of stock. There is mian made by piping a long stream of batter into fragrant oil. There is mian pulled from a roll of dough into small flecks with chopsticks. And so on.
I have experienced some of my most satisfying bowls of mian (and grilled lamb on a stick) in Muslim restaurants. This afternoon we savored a few different types, including the la mian, 拉麵, or pulled noodles, being made here and later steeped in lamb broth and topped with fresh garlic and black vinegar.
My grandfather used to make la mian for us without much ado. Maybe to him, it was like making a sandwich. Beginning with one coil of dough, he would flick his wrist and suddenly it became two. Then again and two became four. With a few more swift movements and twists, suddenly he had an armful of white noodles, all just the same length, width, and thickness. It was magic.