[Update: Dandan Soul Food is closed]
Jerome Plassat is the owner of popular Sheung Wan joint Dandan Soul Food From Sichuan, which he runs alongside his wife Anna. He tells Adele Wong what it’s like to work with one’s spouse 24 hours a day, and why he gave up trying to convince Hongkongers that dandan noodles don’t actually come with peanut sauce.
A little background
Jerome Plassat was born in France, and first set foot in China eight years ago when he flew over to visit his then-PRC-based sister. Plassat embarked on an Asia-wide adventure that took him through different Chinese cities until he landed in Shanghai, where he met his Chongqing-born wife. The two decided to start a food business leveraging Anna’s restaurant background, and came to Hong Kong to scout locations. Ever since securing a prime ground floor spot at the Grand Millennium Plaza last year, the couple has been dishing out 200 to 300 bowls of mala noodles nearly every day.
I see that you’re serving and working the register whenever I come to your restaurant.
I just want to make sure all the orders are right. I don’t want to be the star – I want the dishes to be the star. I try to remember my customers; I try to give extra to customers who come here often.
How did the idea for a dandan noodle shop come about?
We had several concept ideas but we thought noodles were something that was easy to start with. It’s a single dish that you can replicate with a lot of different toppings. It’s not that hard to cook in the kitchen. You can prepare quite a lot in the morning, and it can last all day. Anna’s noodles, I can eat them every day. It’s fresh stuff – you don’t need to rely on a lot of frozen or weird supplies.
Why Hong Kong and not Shanghai, where you guys met?
Shanghai wasn’t the right spot to open a restaurant because they already had a lot of Sichuan restaurants, plus setting up a business in China can be tricky for a foreigner. If you don’t have the right funds, if you don’t have the right support at the right time, you can fail very quickly. Hong Kong was a good option for us. Setting up a company here takes a couple of days.
How’s it like working with your wife? Do you argue a lot?
Obviously we do, but we’ve known each other for eight years so we know each other very well, our good sides and bad. Usually when we argue, it’s my fault — I can be a bit temperamental, sometimes I get nervous, I sweat the small stuff more than she does. But, honestly, when we argue it’s over the small stuff. I think we agree on the important things. We’re stuck together now like 24 hours a day, so it’s normal when sometimes there’s a bit of tension. My wife’s an amazing person, she has so much patience with me.
What makes your dandan noodles special?
Soul. No honestly, truly, without bullshit. Everything that we can get fresh is locally sourced. As for the Sichuan peppers, my wife is from a small village in Sichuan so she knows people there and she sources the peppers from there. They’re the best you can find. They’re not processed at all, they’re simply dried.
Is it true that Sichuan dandan noodles don’t come with peanut sauce?
The real Sichuan dandan mian doesn’t contain peanut. When we first opened, we didn’t have the peanut version, as this is a Shanghai or east China invention. But many customers came here and said, “This is not dandan mian, dandan mian has peanut sauce.” It was too difficult to keep telling them: “No, this is the Sichuan version.”
People really wanted peanut sauce. My wife said, “No, you can’t put peanut in this.” So every day I was saying, “Please, can you try?” And then in the end, she made this peanut sauce version and we called it the Chengdu version. But to be honest this Chengdu version is not really from Chengdu.
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