‘NoodleBot’ taking over restaurant kitchens in China

‘NoodleBot’ taking over restaurant kitchens in China

Meet China's noodle chef of the future -- looks like Ultraman, cooks like Martin Yan
noodle-bot in China -- main
A "NoodleBot" slices its 100th bowl of the day at a noodle stall in Xining, Qinghai Province.

Latest food fashion in China’s noodle restaurants: replace the sweaty, grumpy chef with a harder-working, never-complaining “NoodleBot.” That is, a robot programmed to slice noodles.

These iron noodle chefs have made headlines on China's Internet recently for their quirky looks and awesome productivity -- a “NoodleBot” can slice 150 pieces of noodles per minute, which makes them about three times more efficient than a human chef.

Chef Cui: The original ‘noodle-bot’

“NoodleBot” -- which sells for around RMB 14,800 (US$2,330) -- was invented by Cui Runquan (崔润全), a 36-year-old farmer-turned-restaurateur from Hebei Province in central China.

I invented this because I want to free all sliced-noodle chefs from hard labor.

-- Cui Runquan, inventor of "noodle-bot" Chef Cui

Cui created his first robot in 2007 and received the national patent for his invention and the brand name, Chef Cui, in 2008.

“I invented this because I want to free all sliced-noodle chefs from hard labor,” Cui told Beijing TV (in Mandarin only).

Cui said that although he is only a middle-school graduate, he has always had a knack for machinery.

“From the moment I first got the idea, it took me three months to create the first Chef Cui,” said Cui in the same interview.

More on CNN: Ultimate guide to Chinese dumplings

According to Cui, his son designed the head of the robot which resembles Ultraman, a character from a Japanese children’s sci-fi show.

Sliced-noodles spiced up

"NoodleBots" make a specific type of Chinese noodles called dao xiao mian(刀削面). It’s a main course that originated in Shanxi Province and is now popular throughout China.

Our next step is to launch the noodle-pulling robots by the end of this year.

-- Duan Wanhu, manager of Tianxiang Food Machinery Factory 

The chef holds a large chunk of dough in one hand and uses a knife to slice off pieces of noodles into boiling water. The sliced noodles are shaped like willow leaves and have a rich texture. They are usually served with sliced beef.

Dozens of factories around China are now producing “NoodleBots.”

Besides Ultraman, other versions include popular Chinese cartoon character Pleasant Goat (picture), Pigsy (picture) from Journey to the West, or Pinocchio (picture).

“I come here for dao xiao mian often,” said a customer at a Nanjing noodle restaurant that hired a “NoodleBot” about a month ago, as reported by China News (in simplified Chinese only). 

“The taste of the noodles is the same but the presentation is better,” continued the customer.

The restaurant’s boss, Chu Zhaoyin (储照银), said the noodle stall has received one-third more customers since "NoodleBot" started manning the kitchen, largely due to the novelty value.

noodle-bot in China -- inline 1Looking like a villain from "Doctor Who," "NoodleBots" are a hot item for restaurants in China.

Next goal: Noodle-pulling robots

“Noodle-slicing robots can help restaurant owners save labor cost,” said Duan Wanhu (段晚湖), manager of Tianxiang Food Machinery Factory, one of the “NoodleBot” manufacturers in China.

“There is also the hygiene issue,” added Duan. “Human chefs sweat in summer, and the sweat goes into the noodles. Robots don’t.”

The factory started producing the robot two years ago. Now it assembles about 20 “NoodleBots” a day for clients from noodle-loving provinces like Xinjiang, Gansu and Shanxi. The Heibei-based factory has also been contacted by customers in France and Taiwan.

The latest version of Tianxiang’s “NoodleBot” can slice 160 pieces of noodles per minute. The one-meter-tall robot can produce three to five bowls of dao xiao mian every 60 seconds, depending on the size of the bowl.

Restaurants can also control the shape of the noodles, ranging from 70 centimeters long and three centimeters thick to three centimeters long and 0.3-centimeters thick.

“Our next step is to launch noodle-pulling robots by the end of this year,” added Duan.

“The main difficulty was to achieve the correct strength of hand-pulled noodles, and now we have solved the issue,” he said.

More on CNN: 31 dishes: A guide to China's regional specialties

Fancy a bowl? Here are some of the restaurants that employ “NoodleBots,” according to various Chinese media.

1. Beef Noodle Restaurant, 9 Yuanlin Xi Lu, Liuhe District, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province 江苏省南京市六合区园林西路9号
2. Wangweilai Noodle Restaurant, 137 Wanquan Dong Lu, Taiping Jie Dao, Wenling City, Zhejiang Province 浙江省温岭市太平街道万泉东路137号旺味来面馆
3. Leshan Robot Dao Xiao Mian, Bei’er Zhong Lu, Tiexi District, Shenyang, Liaoning Province 辽宁省沈阳市铁西区北二中路