Sunday, 13 November 2011

World of Noodles 8: Cheung Fun 腸粉

King prawn cheung fun
Cheung fun 腸粉 is made from a 'batter' of rice flour and water, which is steamed to produce thin rice noodle sheets. On its own, it's bland and flavourless, but when this silky smooth rice noodle roll is combined with a filling and a sweet soy-based dressing, it becomes the stuff of dreams.

Traditionally, cheung fun is a southern Chinese breakfast dish, and it's found in cafés, congee stalls and dim sum restaurants. In the case of the latter, I find its presence on the menu reassuring, as it's a sign that a restaurant has good dim sum credentials. After all, any two-bit joint can reheat bought-in dumplings, but only a proper dim sum restaurant will have skilled chefs that can make cheung fun from scratch.

Golden cuttlefish cheung fun
My favourite kind of cheung fun? Seafood such as prawn or scallop is always a winner, and you can't go far wrong with cha siu pork. However, given the choice, I actually prefer zhaliang (炸兩), which consists of cheung fun wrapped around a fried dough stick (you tiao 油條). A new favourite of mine is golden cuttlefish, which sees a filling of deep-fried cuttlefish paste in tofu skin. Some like cheung fun pan-fried with soy sauce, whilst others prefer it simply dressed with XO chilli sauce.

Pan-fried cheung fun
Being Cantonese, I've always taken cheung fun for granted, and it took a trip to Beijing, a few years ago, to realise how much I love this noodle. I was wandering around a food court when I stumbled upon a stall that served freshly made cheung fun. Cantonese isn't really spoken in Beijing, so I had to switch to Mandarin, a language I'm not particularly proficient in, to place my order.

What was served looked like a dog's dinner. I was distraught, and out of nowhere, I went off on a rant along the lines of, 'You're having a laugh if you think I'm going to eat that. That's not cheung fun. I should know. I'm Cantonese. You're going to have to make me a new one.'

I was in shock at my angry outburst, not least because it was in Mandarin. I apologised straight away for my tone, but nonetheless made it clear that I wanted a replacement. They, too, were apologetic and a fresh portion was served up. Peace was restored, and as I walked away from the stall, it dawned on me that this humble rice noodle has a very special place in my heart.


  1. Now the only time I tried cooking this, I didn't realise it needed and steaming and boiled it... ended up with rice mush. Tasty with some toppings and soy, but mush none the less. It's still something that I have yet to eat out, but as I keep hearing such good things about it, i think i should try it soon.

  2. I really wish someone could come and teach me how to make this. I love them. Particular favourite is the pan fried ones, or the yau cha gwai one. Mmm.

  3. Now that's passion!! Well done for standing up to good cheung fun. It's the least we could ask for. :)

  4. I've never had pan fried ones.

    I love the savoury doughnut one the best...

  5. Gworm - are you sure you weren't working in a Beijing food court in 2007? Give me a shout if you ever want to check out cheung fun.

    Lizzie - my Dad can make cheung fun, but it's difficult to get right in domestic kitchens. In fact, many restaurants have special steamers to make cheung fun. And then there's the problem in getting the 'batter' to the right consistency!

    Crispy - I haven't been so eloquent before or since in Mandarin! That's the power of noodles!

    Kavey - you can get the pan-fried ones at Dragon Palace on Earl's Court Road. There's a review on my blog (Dec 2010).

  6. Yum!! When I go and visit my grandma in Macau, there's these little street side "diners" that only sell congee and har giows and the most deliscious cheung fun topped with a sweet sauce like hoi sin, and a peanut buttery type sauce. A squirt of chilli on the side...and it's the best breakfast Cantonese style ever!

    Do you know about the cheung fun factory in chinatown? It's in the little alleyway opposite Wong Kee's on Wardour St. I think they supply to local restaurants and supermarkets. Cheap too.

  7. I'd love me some cheung fun right now! Char siu cheung is my favourite :)

  8. Cheung fun are amazing. Prawns are my favourite, but I do want to try those cuttlefish ones at Princess Garden.

    I've been to the cheung fun factory mentioned by gourmetbelly — Lo's Noodle Factory on Dansey Place. I like their lo bak goh too. They did tell me that they don't usually sell the plain cheung fun in quantities of less than six packets; but you can buy just a single packet of the ones with prawns and spring onions cooked in.

  9. g-belly / kake - thanks for the tip, I've heard of Lo's Noodle Factory (more details from Su-Lin's blog
    here) but haven't been. I'm sure what they sell is good, but you can't freshly-made cheung fun imho.

    catty - I also like cha siu, but the thing is there's often cha siu (and prawn for that matter) overload when it comes to dim sum!

  10. I love the story about the rant at the food court. Sometimes I wish I had the nerve to do that.
    Not really tried Cheung Fun to many times. Some I've liked and some I've not. Best are still in Hong Kong.

  11. Mzungu - the rant came from nowhere, and I can still scarcely believe I delivered it in Mandarin! One lesson learnt is that Beijing isn't the best place to sample cheung fun, and as you point out, Hong Kong is where it's at for this rice noodle!