When Stretched food cart owner Jason Jaime first had a bite of the long flat biang biang noodle, it was the start of what he says would become one of his life’s goals — to focus on the noodle dish that originates from Xi’an, China.
“I wanted people to try these. It’s unique. It’s delicious,” Jaime says. “It’s something that you crave.”
Located in ColdFire Brewing Company’s popular food cart pod, Stretched hand pulls noodles and experiments with various flavors to accompany them. Jaime admits that his approach to the noodle is more of an interpretation, and the dish is finding its audience with local foodies.
Jaime has had a long history in working in kitchens in the area. He’s worked at B2 Wine Bar, Sixth Street Grill, George + Violet’s Steakhouse in Springfield and the short-lived Hard Knocks in Cottage Grove. But it was a job at Xi’an region-focused 221 BCE near the University of Oregon where Jaime was introduced to various dishes of Chinese food and began a passion for biang biang.
“I had a bite of my first dish, which was a noodle bowl,” Jaime recalls. “I was like, ‘This is my favorite food.’ It was tomato egg and pork zha jiang, which I have on my menu because that was like the first thing I really loved.”
Jaime worked at 221 BCE until the restaurant had to replace workers with family members to cut down on costs. The restaurant closed in June 2020, but Jaime’s passion for the biang biang noodles persisted and it even seeped into his house. He jokes that he couldn’t even reference the noodle around his wife unless he was going to cook it. He had learned the recipes at 221 BCE but he slowly tweaked them into his own dishes. “It took years for me to start developing,” he says.
Jaime opened after hosting a few pop-ups throughout town. He says he and his wife do most of the prep and cooking along with his brother, who uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy. He has two other employees, but he says they work part time.
Stretched is in a food truck that ColdFire Brewing Company is letting Jaime borrow. But he’s hoping to raise $30,000 to buy his own truck that offers modern amenities and has more room for him to cook and his brother to take orders.
Biang biang noodles are known for their length, which requires a labor-intensive process from making wheat dough from scratch every morning to stretching it, Jaime says. And noodles are temperamental depending on the weather, he says. A longer noodle has more consistent thickness than shorter ones, he says. Noodles aren’t flavorful, he says, so that’s why they require strong sauces.
“I tell people when you eat the bowls, try a little bit of the toppings off the top, then you’re just mixing it,” he says. “You just want to be constantly mixing it. You want to get down there and get that chili oil mix, the pork and the tomato.”
Jaime laughs that he’s a “a white Mexican making Chinese food.” Although he hopes one day to visit Xi’an with his staff, he throws in other Asian regional cuisines influences into his dishes, such as adding Korean chili flakes and Japanese miso paste.
But he’s found commonalities with biang biang noodles and the Mexican cuisine that he’s grown up with. He recently created a special that brought together the noodles with posole, a soup often made for special occasions that has diced meat, hominy and a red chili-based broth. For Jaime’s special, he substituted the hominy for biang biang noodles and included pork shoulder and broth.
Even though Jaime calls his biang biang noodles an interpretation of the Chinese cuisine, he says he’s won over many UO Chinese international students when they eat there. When eating there, some of them tell Jaime that his food reminds them of their mom and dad.
“That’s a big compliment,” Jaime says. “I’m just out here trying to make good food and spread the love.”
Stretched is at ColdFire Brewing Company, 263 Mill Street. Hours are 4 to 9 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays and 4 to 8 pm Sundays. For more information on hours, menu and GoFundMe, find on Stretched on Facebook and Instagram. Know of a food cart we should highlight? Send an email to Chow@EugeneWeekly.com.