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Zhenjiang Wok Cover Noodle 镇江锅盖面

When you come to the historic city of Zhenjiang in Jiangsu (15 minutes by high speed rail from Nanjing), you will see the humble wok cover noodle 锅盖面 served everywhere in street side stalls, small eateries, restaurants, and also hotels. It is a staple and unique food icon of Zhenjiang. 

锅盖面 is pronounced "ku keh mie" in Zhenjiang dialect.

Of course, throughout China, every region and every town have their own version of staple noodle dish. What sets Zhenjiang's wok cover noodle apart, is the floating wooden cover in the large wok of churning, bubbling, steaming boiling water for cooking the noodles.

The fir wood 杉木 wok cover is said to prevent the noodles from overcooking and also impart a subtle fragrant wood smell to the noodles.

How did this peculiar wood cover noodle come about in Zhenjiang? 

In the old days, north China had a wheat and noodle culture while south China had rice culture 南米北面. Three major rivers run across China from west to east. The Yellow River in the north, Yangtze River to the south, and Pearl River further south.

In order to unify the peoples of the three major rivers, the Qin dynasty (221 BC - 207 BC) built canals running from north to south connecting the three rivers. Using the canals to transport soldiers and supplies, the Qin dynasty subdued the southern kingdoms and created an unified China for the first time in 214 BC. 

View of modern Zhenjiang city from the pagoda of Jinshan temple

The canals brought wheat and noodles into south China. The city of Zhenjiang (population > 3 million) is at the intersection of the Grand Canal and the Yangtze River. Noodles is said to come to Zhenjiang during the Song dynasty (960 - 1276).

But, no one really knows how wok cover noodle came about. There is, however, an urban legend, a somewhat comedical story of its origins. 

The Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911) emperor, Qian Long (reign 1736 - 1795) was on another survey / inspection trip to his southern realm. The Qing dynasty had diligent emperors such as Qian Long during its heyday. Emperor Qian Long visited the south seven times during his reign.

The emperor stopped at a popular noodle stall for a break. The stall holder Mdm Chang was so in awe and frightened by the emperor's presence that she forgetfully left an undersized wooden wok cover floating inside the wok of churning, boiling, steaming hot water.

Anyway, emperor Qian Long was accidentally served the noodle from this wok and he liked it so much that he personally requested for Mdm Chang to thank her for the delicious noodles. Since then, wok cover noodle became a food icon and daily staple of Zhenjiang. 

Traditionally, the noodles used for wok cover noodle is known as "jump noodles" 跳面. It is made by kneading wheat flour into dough and flattened by pressing a fat bamboo pole over it. The noodle maker press the dough by sitting on the pole and bouncing on it, hence "jump noodles".

The wheat dough is pressed into thin translucent sheets, folded over into many layers, and then cut into strips with a special knife. The handcut noodles used for wok cover noodle dish were hence relatively broad.

The noodles are tender with a subtle bouncy spring to the bite. It's as if energy from jumping on the noodles are absorbed by the strands and are released when we bite into them.

Today, very few shops make the handcut traditional jump noodles. Most use generic machine made noodles which now come in broad and slender gauges. 

There are two type of soups for wok cover noodles, white and "red". 

White is a stock made by boiling chicken and / or pork. 

"Red" is a blend of soy sauce, black vinegar, lard, fermented soy bean paste, spices like cinnamon, star anise, pepper, etc and chicken / pork stock. Very elaborate! 

Both soups have their die hard fans, both rich, complex and deep in flavours in their own way. 

Finally, the toppings range from basic to elaborate and lavish, hence wok cover noodles is for everyone. I mean caters to different preferences and affordability. 

I enjoy the basic wok cover noodle topped with just aromatics like coriander, chives, spring onion and squares of fried tofu.

Other toppings include choice of pork kidney, liver, intestine, tripe, rib, shredded pork, pork ball, beef brisket, tendon, waxed sausage, eel 长鱼, prawn, duck / chicken egg, etc.


The people of Jiangsu and Shanghai love these eels which are known locally as long fish or 
长鱼. They are plentiful in the Yangtze and its tributaries. Blanched eel is a favourite topping for wok cover noodles of Zhenjiang people.

Wok cover noodle is also enjoyed with another Zhenjiang food icon, salted pork knuckle terrine. It is salted pork knuckle, boiled, deboned, then chilled with pork stock and gelatine.

I only had wok cover noodles during my recent, first visit to Zhenjiang. Had it in restaurants and hotels but not yet at any street stall. 

Now, I feel like going back to Zhenjiang just to eat at different wok cover noodle places from street to restaurants 😋

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China, Jiangsu, Zhenjiang

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Written by Tony Boey on 3 Jun 2024


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