If you make your way to southwest China and the province of Yunnan, you will encounter rows of noodle shops serving just one thing: guoqiao mixian. You'll be handed a bowl of rice noodles and a platter of chicken, thinly sliced pork, tofu skin, bean sprouts and vegetables. And then without saying a word, a server will come and pour steaming hot chicken broth into your noodle bowl and instruct you to throw the rest of the ingredients in. In Yunnan, pickled vegetables and homemade chile sauce are regular condiments. But in the States, not so much.
The direct translation for guoqiao mixian is "crossing the bridge noodles," and the name comes from an old wives' tale: An imperial scholar was studying for his exams on an island on a lake in the city of Mengzixian in Yunnan. His wife would bring him food daily but found that by the time she crossed the bridge to bring him soup, the noodles would be cold and the noodles soggy. So she separated the ingredients and mixed them together after she crossed the bridge. And thus a new dish was born -- a symbol of her affection.
The dish, like American chicken noodle soup, is comforting and ideal for a rainy day (pray for rain). It's similar to pho ga, Vietnamese chicken noodle soup. This makes sense. Vietnam and Yunnan share a border, and rice noodles are a hallmark in both areas.
In Los Angeles there are a handful of Yunnan specialists and these noodles, an emblem of Yunnanese cuisine, are always on the menu.
Here's where you can score your own bowl:
Yun Noodle House
Tucked in the President Square food court adjacent to Daikokuya, Yun Noodle House is an overlooked vendor. They specialize in Yunnan-style noodles, and there are 21 varieties to choose from. If that's overwhelming, we recommend sticking with the No. 1, the house special rice noodle soup. It comes with chicken, pork and vegetables, and you can adjust the spice level to your liking. 1220 S. Golden W Ave., Suite E, Arcadia, (626) 446-1668.
Spicy City is a Yunnan and Sichuan specialist, though, unfortunately, individual dishes' lineages are not marked. But for a taste of specifically Yunnanese-inspired food, we recommend anything with mushrooms (Yunnan is also known for its variety of mushrooms) and of course, the "crossing the bridge" noodles. The noodles are a perfect pairing to the restaurant's mostly spicy plates. It's large enough to comfortably feed six people. 140 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 280-0186.
Yun Chuan Garden
Yun Chuan Garden has consistently been one of the top Yunnan restaurants in Los Angeles for years. Quality is top notch and there's something about the broth for the bridge noodles that outranks all others; it's deep and layered and richly aromatic. Pair it with a small plate of cold pig ears, marinated in an oily chile sauce. 301 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 571-8387.