Cheung Fun: The Taste of Canton

Beloved worldwide, the traditional recipe for the velvety, translucent rice noodle roll is a nod to Cantonese history and culture.

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Cheung fun is a rice noodle roll stuffed with shrimp, beef, vegetables or other savoury ingredients. Photo by: Pkheawtasang/ iStock.

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Silky-smooth and delicate are adjectives commonly associated with cheung fun—a classic Cantonese-style dim sum. Given its tube-like appearance, its name roughly translates to “pig intestine noodles” in the native tongue. While the rice noodle rolls remain a local breakfast favourite in southeast China’s Guangdong province, variations of the recipe are relished in Chinatowns and Asian food joints around the globe. 

Dress code

The rice sheets by themselves lend a muted flavour to the dish, but it is the cohesive effort of the fillings and the soy sauce dressing that elevates it to new heights. Pork, beef, shrimp, prawn, scallions, eggs, and even plain vegetables are some of the favoured picks for the stuffing, which can be customised to suit your taste buds. 

Route to its roots

The dish, scarfed down by platefuls in Guangdong province (erstwhile Canton), first appeared in Luoding City as early as the Tang Dynasty. Similar versions popped up in nearby regions and went by distinguished names. When few natives migrated to Malaysia in the 19th century, the recipe moved with them and came to be known as chee cheong fun. The staple cemented itself as a cultural icon of the immigrant population. In Penang, it is served with hae ko, a type of shrimp paste in Hokkien dialect.

Ingredient immersion

Traditionally, there are two main types of cheung fun: pulled and drawer. Pulled cheung fun—made of rice flour, wheat starch, chestnut flour, and cornstarch—is prepared by pouring the rice flour slurry onto a steaming rack covered with a cloth, and results in a luxurious texture. Drawer cheung fun are made from rice flour batter on flat drawers that slide into a commercial steamer. Interestingly, the former is not always readily available to buy and is mostly only eaten in high-end restaurants. It is said that the recipe is guarded by a few people and, hence, is more expensive, catering to a niche market. 

Table manners

Drizzle soy sauce, grab a pair of chopsticks and dig in for breakfast, lunch or dinner. 

Best Bet

An authentic take on cheung fun is hard to find outside the region even in mainland China. When the virus loosens its grip on the South Asian country, a ticket to Guandong and a hot plate of cheung fun from any of its many restaurants and cafés await.

Cheung Fun: The Taste Of Canton

The origin of the dish can be traced to southeast China’s Guangdong province. Photo by: undefined undefined/ iStock.

 

Shrimp and Scallion Cheung Fun

Recipe by Arbin Tamang, Head Chef of Chufang Asian Kitchen and Bar, Mumbai.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups rice flour

3 tablespoons tapioca starch

2 tablespoons wheat starch

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons canola oil (use more for greasing the pan)  

1 1/2 cup lukewarm water

1 cup boiling water 

For Dipping Sauce

2 teaspoons light brown sugar (or raw sugar)

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

For Shrimp & Scallion Rolls

1/2 batch cheung fun batter

1/4 cup dried shrimp (optional)

1 tablespoon oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup chopped scallions

toasted sesame seeds

 

INSTRUCTIONS

● Combine rice flour, tapioca starch, wheat starch, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add canola oil and 1 1/2 cup of lukewarm water and whisk until smooth. Pour boiling water. Set aside and allow the batter to rest for 45 minutes.

● Use a 10-inch aluminium square cake pan for steaming the rice noodles. Alternatively, a nine-inch round cake pan works just fine. Simply adjust the amount of batter per batch. The noodles should be about 1/8 inch thick, so the batter should just cover the bottom of the pan evenly. The home-made noodle may come out a little thicker than its restaurant counterpart.

● Use a wok or a deep skillet for steaming, and ensure it has a lid. Fill the vessel with at least two inches of water. The cake pan containing the batter should be able to float on the surface of the water. Cover the entire cooking vessel. Bring the water to a gentle simmer.

● Brush the bottom and sides of the cake pan with oil. Place the oil-coated pan atop simmering water until warm. Give the batter a good stir, and then carefully pick up the pan (it’ll be hot), and pour some batter in. Swirl it around quickly so it evenly coats the bottom of the pan. For the 10-inch square pan, the chef used 1/3 cup of batter. (Make sure that you give the batter a good stir each time before using it, because the rice flour tends to separate).

● Once the pan is coated, place it on top of the simmering water, cover the pan, and steam for three minutes.

 

To make the dipping sauce

Add sugar and water to a saucepan and heat until all of the sugar fully dissolves. Add the dark soy sauce and oyster sauce and gently simmer until the sauce is thin, but coats the back of a spoon in a translucent layer. Set aside.

 

To make the shrimp & scallion rolls

● Move to this step once the cheung fun batter is ready. In a strainer, rinse the dried shrimp (if using) under running water. Soak them in warm water for 10 minutes. Drain, and roughly chop the shrimp. Set aside.

● Add oil and chopped shrimp to a small pan over medium heat and sauté for about two minutes. Add salt and scallions, and stir until combined. Remove from the heat and set aside. If you’re not using the shrimp, simply sauté the scallions with oil and salt for a minute, and set aside.

● Cook your rice noodle according to the instructions above and take the cake pan off the simmering water (if using store bought rice noodle sheets, simply lay the noodle out in a flat layer on a clean surface).

● Spread two tablespoons of the shrimp and scallion mixture all over the surface of the noodles, and sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds over it. Use a rubber spatula to carefully part one side of the rice noodles from the pan, and roll it up tightly such that it resembles a cigar.

● Move it onto a cutting board and slice into 1-2 inch pieces with a sharp knife dipped in warm water. Plate and garnish with sesame seeds, scallions, and serve with dipping sauce.

 

To make the fried dough rolls

● To make this Chinese fried dough rice roll, toast two crullers in the oven until crispy (refer to instructions on the package. Usually a few minutes at 176 °C will do the trick). Split each cruller in half.

● Take the cooked rice noodles, and roll each half of a cruller in a rice noodle sheet. Cut into pieces and serve with dipping sauce.

 

This feature appeared in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller India July-August 2022.

To read more stories on travel, cities, food, nature, and adventure, head to our web forum here or our new National Geographic Traveller India app here.

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  • Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.

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