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A Craving for “Pig Intestine” Rolls a.k.a. Chee Cheong Fun (猪肠粉) or Rice Noodle Rolls

June 25, 2012
chee cheong fun

Chee cheong fun or rice noodle rolls–the object of my childhood desire

When I was pregnant with Isaac, I was so ready for them. Like a tennis player light on her feet, ready to lunge and meet the furry, yellow ball head-on, I was expecting the cravings to arrive in rapid succession.

Would it be pickles of every shape, size, and hue? Or my favorite hawker dish, savory carrot cake (it’s actually made with radish)? Perhaps I’d want to smear my mom’s sambal terasi (chili with shrimp paste) on everything in sight from noodles to burgers, to steak. The anticipation, however, was all for naught. Five months in, despite a hearty appetite, I wasn’t craving nada. Heartburn soon set in, I lost my taste for food, and before I knew it, Isaac was born.

As it turns out, cravings are capricious, and like an unexpected guest, they show up as and when they please, and often overstay their welcome. This craving arrived with little fanfare but lingered until it was satisfied.

It all started with a conversation about rice flour. One thing led to another and my mind was soon drifting to a childhood dish I used to have almost every day during recess in the school tuck shop (aka canteen)–chee cheong fun (rice noodle rolls). Before I knew it, I just had to have it.

Chee cheong fun (“zhu chang fen” in Mandarin) is a very simple dish, usually eaten for breakfast or a snack. The first two characters in its name, “chee cheong,” means pig intestine, an unfortunate moniker in my opinion, but I can see how the rolls might resemble them in some people’s eyes. And “fun” refers to the rice noodles (sha ho fun) used to make them.

wide rice noodles

These “rice ribbons” are actually wide sheets that can be cut into noodles to make Thai rad nah and Chinese beef or seafood hor fun.

There are many variations of this dish. The version of my childhood comprises plain rice noodle rolls blanketed in a sweet sauce nutty with sesame oil, and topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. In Penang, the sauce is given savory depth with the addition of black shrimp paste (petis or haeko). Fried shallots, dried shrimp, and green onions may make an appearance, sometimes cooked into the rice noodle rolls or showered on top.

tian mian jiang

One version of the sweet sauce drizzled over chee cheong fun has sesame paste (left) and sweet flour sauce (tian mian jiang, right) as ingredients. Both are available at Asian markets

Here in the U.S., you’ll find the Cantonese version called “cheong fun” at dim sum restaurants. They are usually filled with fresh shrimp, barbecued pork, or my favorite, you tiao (fried dough sticks).

In all cases, chili paste is optional.

While the rice sheets are a blank canvas to soak up the sauce, its texture is important. They should be soft and springy, not dry and stiff. In Seattle, they are delivered fresh daily to local Asian market I frequent and I am content to buy them. Should you decide to bring a package home with you, try and eat it the day of, or at the very latest, the next day.

If you can’t find the rice noodle sheets, or if you prefer to be in full control, you can make them yourself using this recipe or this one. Do note that if you are gluten-free, the store-bought version will most likely contain wheat starch.

So why not have a go at it, even if just for the pleasure of boasting to your friends that you ate pig intestines.

~~~

Chee Cheong Fun with Sweet Sauce

Truth be told, the sauce maketh this dish. And no two hawkers make their sauce the same way. I scoured the internet for various recipes for the sauce and after consulting here and here, I came up with two adaptations of the sweet sauce. The first uses sweet flour sauce (tian mian jiang) and Chinese sesame paste, two ingredients you may (try dan dan mian), or may not, ever use again. The other contains hoisin sauce, something you can easily slather onto a rack of ribs and barbecue on the grill. Both taste familiar and I’ve tasted similar versions served by some hawker somewhere in Singapore. The choice is yours.

Makes: 3 to 4 servings
Time: 10 minutes

1 (2-pound) package rice sheets (sha ho fun)
Sesame oil
Toasted sesame seeds

Sauce #1
Makes about 2/3 cup

2 tablespoons sweet flour sauce
2 tablespoons sesame paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water

Sauce #2
Makes about 2/3 cup

1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water

Gently unfold the rice sheet bundles  (my 2-pound package gave me 3 bundles) until each has only two layers and measures 12×10 inches. The sheets are very fragile so they will inevitably tear somewhere. Don’t worry about it.

Cut each 2-layered sheet into half (there will probably be a line or a tear [!] to guide you) and roll them up into cigars. Cut each roll crosswise into 1/2-inch thick pieces.

To make the sauce, mix all the ingredients together in a small microwavable bowl. Microwave on medium for 45 seconds to 1 minute and stir until all the sugar dissolves. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

This dish is usually served at room temperature and you don’t have to do anything if they’re fresh. But if the rice sheets have been in the fridge or if you prefer to warm them up, place a damp paper towel over them and microwave on low for 1 minute. They should be soft and springy. Microwave in 30 second increments till the desired texture is reached.You can also steam them for about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour the sauce over, drizzle with more sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

~~~

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sliu permalink
    October 27, 2012 11:35 am

    I just used your sauce recipes for my store-bought cheong fun noodles. They were exactly the kind of sauces I was looking for. I am from NYC and I always buy the cheong fun yu dan dish from the food trucks you find in Chinatown. There was a cart that I used to go to when I was a child for this dish, but he left 7 years ago and has never came back. Ever since, I’ve looked for a cart that made cheong fun the way he did. Now I can make it right at home! The only thing missing from this recipe is a peanut butter sauce!

  2. xrc permalink
    July 13, 2012 1:03 pm

    Nice blog – to help you out with the turnip cake confusion, it’s called law bok go in chinese. Law bok is chinese turnip/radish/daikon. Carrots on the other hand are typically called hong law bok, or “red turnips” since that’s what they look like. The more you know..

  3. June 27, 2012 3:49 pm

    I love ha cheung at dim sum~ I’ve only seen the char siu cheung once, at dim sum in Hawai’i and I didn’t get to try any!

  4. June 27, 2012 9:34 am

    Hi Pat, I had this often when I was in Singapore and Malaysia and never knew what the name meant (good thing!) Another surprise from your post– the secret sauce. I’ve never seen sweet flour sauce, which explains why I couldn’t pinpoint the taste. I will be looking for it now– I’m sure the Asian market down the street, which sells the rice noodle rolls, must carry it. Nice post!

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