Hand-pulled noodles originating from Lanzhou, China, shine at Ruyi on State Street

Stepping into Ruyi Hand Pulled Noodle, diners immediately get a glimpse through the open kitchen at how the food is made.
throwing noodles in the air to make pasta at Ruyi
Photo by Sharon Vanorny

Stepping into Ruyi Hand Pulled Noodle, diners immediately get a glimpse through the open kitchen at how the food is made. Dough is transformed into golden strands right in front of customers’ eyes as the owners share the art of hand-pulled noodles.

Xia (Tina) Jia and Chaofu Lin, who moved to Madison from Illinois in 2015, opened the State Street restaurant in early January 2020 because they wanted to share the cuisine with more people. Hand-pulled noodles originated in Lanzhou, China. Lanzhou is the largest city and capital of the Gansu Province in Northwest China.

Because of the difficulty in hand-pulled noodles, individuals must be professionally trained, like Jia and Lin. “Hand-pulled noodles are usually considered as food and a form of art,” says Jia. “The noodles are known to be completely handmade, and the act of pulling the dough forms the individual strings of noodles.”

As far as they know, Ruyi is the only authentic Asian hand-pulled noodle restaurant in Wisconsin. Some of the most popular dishes at Ruyi include beef — braised beef and spicy beef with hand-pulled noodles are among options. Jia and Lin added several new items to the menu during the pandemic.

Xia (Tina) Jia (left) and Chaofu Lin (right) and Melody Lin (Center) in front of Ruyi

Xia (Tina) Jia (left) and Chaofu Lin (right) specialize in making a type of hand-pulled noodles that originated in Lanzhou, China. The couple’s daughter, Melody Lin (middle), helps out at Ruyi. Photo by Sharon Vanorny

They offer a cold dish made from dry noodles, special sauce, vegetables and a choice of meat. They also began serving spicy hot pot with vegetables and meat, known as “malatang” in Mandarin. Jia says malatang is a good choice for those who like some spice. Customers can also order sweet buns to go along with a main noodle dish. Ruyi offers the buns in three flavors — taro paste, red bean paste and matcha tapioca.

Jia and Lin’s daughter Melody Lin frequently helps at her parents’ business, serving as a cashier or working in the kitchen. “It’s nice that I have the chance to be involved in the business,” she says. “It has created many learning opportunities and I see it as a big aid to my future studies.”

Lin says the restaurant keeps the family busy, but when they do have time away, they enjoy taking walks along Lake Mendota.

bowl of beef noodles

Beef with hand-pulled noodles. Photo by Sharon Vanorny

Like many other businesses, Ruyi faced challenges due to the coronavirus. It had to decrease indoor seating and change the business model. Jia and Lin partnered with third-party companies to offer delivery. Jia says they did what they needed to do to stay in business. Jia and Lin encourage customers to order on the website or call in and pick-up the food, because the commission they pay for the third-party deliveries is high.

“We were very hesitant to partner up with them, as the whole concept around our noodles is that they are freshly made right before serving [them] to the customers,” says Jia. “With delivery, the timing is uncertain for every single order.”

Now that things are reopening, Ruyi has increased its indoor seating capacity. And its sidewalk cafe will be available through April 2022. They opened it in April 2020 through the city’s Streatery program, which allowed some restaurants to expand seating areas into the street and parking lot spaces.

person making noodles

Photo by Sharon Vanorny

Photo by Sharon Vanorny

Although business is better now than it was during the onset of the pandemic, Jia says it’s not at pre-pandemic level yet. Despite that, they’re still looking ahead.

“We opened Ruyi with the idea of possibly opening up a second store or more,” Jia says. “We hope to spread one of China’s top 10 most historical noodles and have as many people enjoy it as possible.”

Hywania Thompson is a Madison-based freelance writer.Footer that says Subscribe with covers of Madison Magazine