The first thing you notice about cold roasted noodles, a favorite street food in Heilongjiang Province, in the far northeast of China, is that they aren’t cold.
We are not dealing here with a dish that will relieve you of the marshy days of August, like cold sesame noodles; or like Korean mul naengmyeon, a bowl of beef broth in which strands of spaghetti-like vegetable starch are found under shards of floating ice; or like buckwheat soba wrapped on a bamboo mat alongside their cold sauce, tsuketsuyu. Roasted cold noodles are meant to be eaten hot, right next to the griddle.
They don’t look much like noodles either. In shape, they look more like a rolled up and filled omelet, as you’ll see if you watch them being prepared through the front window of Followsoshi, a stall inside a Chinese micromall in downtown Flushing, in Queens.
After placing your order at the counter, one of the cooks pulls a single “noodle” – a translucent whitish sheet, about six by eight inches – from a stack submerged in a bowl of water. It’s streaked like a husk of corn, which has sometimes led people to compare cold roasted noodles, not quite rightly, to tamales. The imprints of the dough are stamped by a press. The idea seems to be to mimic the effect you would get if you left rows of moist, starchy noodles sitting side by side until they cool and come together in one ridged piece.
This sheet is slapped onto a crepe plate and quickly oiled. Immediately, an egg is cracked on it and spreads over the surface. Before laying the eggs, it is spread with roasted peppers in oil and sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds and cilantro which sink into the surface.
Next comes one of the many toppings: braised sweet pork with pickled potato matches; or crawfish chopped in a garlic seasoning of Sino-Cajun origin; or hot dogs, a standard garnish in Harbin and other cities in Heilongjiang. In Flushing, the sausages are rather lean and are called “King of the Sausage”. This budding monarch is also featured in “cold noodles for meat lovers,” along with sweet diced bacon, pollock, and a white sauce that Followsoshi simply calls “parmesan”.
Scattered over the filling are chopped red onions and, like a Mission burrito, lettuce. The two long sides of the noodle are folded back towards the middle to form an envelope which is turned over so that the seam is underneath. More chili oil is rubbed on top before the entire husk is sliced and transferred to a take-out container.
This all takes about three minutes. A full serving takes a little longer to eat, depending on how much time you spend admiring how the ridges capture the chili oil so that while each bite varies slightly, the smoldering heat is a constant. If this is your first time eating cold roasted noodles, you can expect the dish to leave the dough stiff and chewy. In fact, aside from a few golden spots that are almost crunchy, most are soft and chewy, much like mochi.
When I eat Followsoshi’s cold roasted noodles, I tend to think they are more interesting than the other stall specialty, jianbing. Their preparation is similar, although instead of noodle sheets, a jianbing begins with a pancake batter. Thin, crunchy layers of fried dough are stacked on top of the filling before the jianbing is folded.
In truth, Followsoshi does both dishes very, very well. It also offers frills that help it stand out in the city’s growing jianbing industry. Standard dough is made from mung beans and produces a softer, more pliable pancake than the wheat dough used by some other manufacturers. For an extra dollar, you can have a green spinach pancake, a beetroot pancake, or a soothing plum-colored pancake made with purple rice. While King Sausage is once again offered as a garnish, there are other choices that aren’t available with cold roasted noodles: Chicken Parmesan, spicy ramen, and simple slices of roasted duck with hoisin.
Followsoshi is the work of Yibo Han and Peng Li, two young entrepreneurs born in China and now living in Rego Park. Mr. Han is from Tianjin, one of the two main centers of jianbing activity. Neither owner went north to study the cold noodles roasted at the source in Heilongjiang; their research was limited to Beijing and other cities in lower latitudes. Both were struck by the similarity of the two preparations, despite having different geographical, cultural and historical origins. (Jianbing has been around for centuries, while cold roasted noodles seem to have emerged in recent decades.) They opened Followsoshi, their first food business, in November.
Compared to Manhattan’s Chinatown, where commerce started to slow down when Covid took to China and didn’t really recover, Flushing is relatively busy, in part because it caters to people who live nearby. . Queues for orders at Followsoshi can take place on the sidewalk at noon and in the morning. Jianbing is particularly popular for breakfast.
While it’s no secret that both dishes are the stars of Followsoshi, other pleasures lurk on the menu: miniature steamed and puffed baozi balls the size of a fig, stuffed with ground pork; golden wheat pancakes folded over scrambled eggs and Chinese chives; beef pies with the crust seared on a hotplate until wonderfully crisp and flaky, like a well-baked croissant; and rolling donkeys, spirals of sweet red bean paste and elastic paste sprinkled with ground roasted soybeans.
Followsoshi shares his space with three other food vendors. Only one bears his name on the yellow awning above the entrance: Corner 28, which sells roast duck, pork and other Cantonese staples. Another sells take-out sushi and keeps a refrigerator case full of branded sodas and bottled tea.
This can be useful because Followsoshi’s drink list is limited to plastic bags of milk extracted from plants. The one called “multigrain soy beverage” is sweetened soy milk thickened with powdered beans and grains to the consistency of pancake batter. Another is basically sweet oat milk containing part of the oats. Either way, it goes down much better than you would expect from oatmeal in an IV bag.
What the stars mean Due to the pandemic, restaurants are not categorized by stars.