Lagman (лагман) is a dish that is very common in Central Asia, China, and much of Russia. While the basic recipe has perhaps hundreds of local variations, this simple and filling dish always consists of noodles floating in broth or soaked in a savory sauce with vegetables and often features meat, spices, and various savory sauces as well.
The various components are often laid out buffet-style for each person to add according to their individual tastes.
How Lagman Got Its Name
(Почему так называется?)
Thought to have first appeared in China, lagman is considered a national dish of the Uighur and the Dungan (Hui) peoples, two mostly Muslim minorities of China. Over the course of time, and thanks to the Uighur and Dungan migration, and Dungan people’s frequenting the silk road as well-known traders, lagman became more and more popular throughout Central Asia. Today, it is beloved in Kazakhstan, Kurdistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan, from where it would then travel to Russia as many of those lands became part of the Russian empire. Indeed, lagman seems to be an ideal food for travelers, as is can be prepared in just two pots over a fire: one for preparing the meat and vegetables for the sauce/soup, and the other for boiling the noodles.
The name lagman comes from a modification of the Dungan word “lyuman,” literally meaning “stretched out dough.” The name is likely even older than that, however, and likely has wide cultural connections. The Chinese, for instance, have a dish made of wheat noodles called “lamian.” The Greeks had a pasta dish called “laganon.” That name lives on in English as the source of the word “lasagne.” In short, pasta, as a high-calorie, easily storable food, likely spread like wildfire through human populations once it was invented – fast enough that the original name was kept largely intact as it was transfered between cultures and languages.
As the name implies, the main component of lagman is noodles, which are rolled and stretched by hand. The noodles are combined with a thick sauce or broth made from vegetables and/or meat. Mutton or beef is most commonly used, but the choices and combinations for vegetables, meat, and seasoning in lagman are endless.
The two essential parts of lagman are most often referred to in Russian as “lapsha” (лапша) and “vadzha” (ваджа). Vadzha refers to something resembling a very thick stew that is not meant to be eaten on its own, but rather added to broth or other ingredients.
How and When Lagman is Eaten
(Как правильно есть лагман?)
Lagman, a simple, filling, and flexible dish, is a staple of Central Asian and Chinese diets and is eaten quite often in those countries, sometimes twice a day.
Lagman is sometimes served with the various components (noodles and broth, vegetables, meat, sauces, etc.) in separate bowls, and diners mix and match as they please. However, it is also often served in a single bowl to each diner with a bed of noodles topped with the meat, broth, and so forth.
The methods for eating lagman are as numerous as the ways to prepare it. You can use a fork or chopsticks. Chopsticks are known in most Turkic languages as “tyakchalar” (таякчалар) or something similar and in Russian they are known as simply “sticks” (палочки). The broth is usually drunk straight from the bowl or can be more civilly taken care of with a spoon.
In its cultural relevance, this simple food is somewhat akin to soup and bread in the West and has many connotations of hospitality, community, and good fortune. One Asian legend states that the first lagman was prepared when three traveling merchants met at a crossroads. One had a cauldron, another flour and meat, and the last vegetables and spices. The last man also had culinary and diplomatic skills and suggested that they all pool their resources. Thus, they settled near a spring and the cook/diplomat produced the first lagman. The legend continues, saying that a Chinese dignitary passed by, smelled the cooking, asked for some, and, upon eating it, was so amazed that he granted the three travelers a safe and duty-free stay in his territory.
The Chinese, whose culture is steeped in symbolism, also consider lagman a dish which connotes love, perhaps a connection to previously mentioned story of its origin. Three weary travelers coming together, pooling their resources, and producing a dish that, in the end, is definitely comfort food par excellence.
Preparing Traditional Lagman
(Как правильно готовить лагман?)
Lagman comes in many, many variations. In Russia and most of Central Asia, it is usually served in broth and resembles a very thick noodle soup. However, in more eastern lands, it resembles spaghetti. In fact, there are endless debates throughout this large part of the world on how to properly prepare and eat it (only with a fork, twirling the fork in a spoon, with thick sauce, thin sauce, etc.).
The most convenient tool for cooking lagman is a good, thick cauldron (known as a “казан” or “kazan” in Russian and most Turkic langauges). But if you don’t have one, just grab any tall cast iron pot with a thick bottom.
The main part of traditional lagman is the homemade, hand-stretched noodles. Of course, today, store-bought noodles are far more common, but making these noodles isn’t too hard, even if it requires some patience. Since the noodles must be stretched by hand, the dough should be as elastic as possible. Thus it’s extremely important to choose your flour correctly. The method which produces the best results is mixing the highest quality and next-highest quality wheat flour.
For each kilogram of flour you’ll need 300 milliliters of water, 2 eggs, one teaspoon of vinegar, and salt to taste. Pasta recipes will often skip the vinegar, but it is precisely that which will give your dough the extra plasticity and allow you to stretch it without too much exertion.
Pour the flour into a deep bowl, make a well, gently pour in the beaten eggs, and a little warm water. Start to carefully fold the mixture into dough, and add extra flour to thicken it if need be (but don’t add too much or the dough will be too thick to stretch!). Then aggressively knead the dough until it’s homogenous and stretchy. The longer and stronger you knead the dough, the more elastic and adhesive it becomes, making it easier for you to stretch it later. Make the dough into a ball, wrap it in cellophane, and put in a cool place for thirty minutes to an hour.
Now you get to stretch the pasta (растягивать лапшу). Divide the dough into pieces and roll it into thick strands. Carefully coat each strand with vegetable oil and let them sit for 10-15 minutes. After that, start to stretch the dough. Start by rolling the dough tightly between your palms and the table, trying not to break it. Do this to each strip twice and stretch with your hands. The pasta should remain on the table, which makes it easy to roll and keeps it from breaking. The first time you make it the pasta may not turn out like you want, but keep trying. Real noodles are an unforgettable and tasty experience!
Cook the pasta immediately. Fill a deep pot with water, add salt and bring to a boil. Without lowering the heat, put the pasta into the water for 3-5 minutes. Don’t stir the pasta, otherwise it will clump. Then, put the pasta into a strainer and rinse with cold water. After that put the pasta in a deep dish and coat it with vegetable oil so it won’t stick together.
If you do use store bought noodles, use regular spaghetti. This has the right texture to eat with a thick dish like lagman.
Great Lagman Recipes
|Традиционный лагман||Traditional Lagmann|
– 500 граммов баранины
– 1 кг муки
|Ingredients for the sauce:
– 500 grams roast lamb
For the pasta:
– 1 kg of flour
|Овощной (вегетарианский) лагман||Vegetarian Лагман|
– 1-2 ст. л. растительного масла
Вегетарианцы могут приготовить вкусный и ароматный лагман совершенно без мяса.
– 1-2 tablespoons oil
Vegetarians can prepare delightfully delicious and aromatic лагман perfectly without meat.
Our Favorite Lagman Videos
This video shows a culinary amateur making noodles in her kitchen. It may be helpful for those just starting. Notice how her hands are oily and she slowly, carefully stretches the noodles into thin strands.
A seasoned veteran prepares lagman at a restaurant in Chicago. Though copying her technique may be difficult, notice how she begins with rolling the dough on the table, and the speed with which she stretches the dough evinces maximum elasticity.
A homely gentleman takes you through the whole process from start to finish. The Russian-language narration goes pretty slowly, which might be annoying to some, but probably welcomed by folks looking to practice their listening skills. The music is also an entertaining plus.
All of the above by Michael Smeltzer
Making Lagman in Central Asia with SRAS
One of the cultural classes we have done with SRAS as part of our study abroad program in Bishkek is a cooking class. In the cooking class we were taught how to make Lagman, one of the main dishes of the shepherding cultures of Central Asia. It is a good, filling, and simple dish perfect for life in the mountains or for a lunch that will keep you going around Bishkek for hours!
The ingredients can be separated into two main sections, the noodles and the sauce.
The noodles we made fresh from flour, water, and cooking oil (we used sunflower). The sauce can contain just about anything including thin strips of meat (usually sheep or beef), vegetables (we used diced peppers, onions, garlic, and cabbage), and spices (we used cumin and salt).
The first step for making lagman is to prepare the noodles. You mix the flour and water into a thick dough and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour. During that hour, the meat and vegetables can be prepped for cooking.
After the hour has passed you take the dough out, separate it into small balls and roll them out into strings about as big around as your pinky. We then let them rest under wax paper with some oil brushed on them for about 10 minutes while we cut some more vegetables.
After having let the noodles rest, we rolled them into even longer and thinner noodles so that they ended up being about half of a pinky in thickness, or less, and wrapped the noodles around our hands to keep it stretched out. The noodles are ready to be boiled then which our chef-teacher did for us and it did not seem to take very long for the noodles to be cooked.
The noodles are boiled and removed from water and another pan is set on high heat, after the pan has been pre-heated well enough for a droplet of water to sizzle on the pan, the strips of meat are tossed in with oil and cooked most of the way and then removed from the pan. The vegetables are added immediately after followed by the cooked noodles and meat. Once the flavors have had some time to meld together, the spices are added and everything is left to cook until the vegetables are cooked al dente. They are supposed to still have some crunch to them when the lagman is served.
Serve in a bowl with spoon, fork, salt, bread, and tea. That is lagman, really a very simple dish but incredibly filling and everyone recommends you eat it while in Central Asia. Do not forget to try both types of lagman, the dry and the wet versions. Welcome to Central Asian cuisine.
This section by Ian Walker
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