[Image: A large dark plate with two piles of thin, translucent noodles, one on each side. The pile on the left is somewhat larger and has fewer straggly ends.]
It's still ingredient month! Each week in January I'm covering a different ingredient commonly used in Chinese cuisines, giving the different names you might find it under, suggesting some dishes that include the ingredient, and explaining any other background information that might be of interest.
This week's ingredient is perhaps my favourite type of noodle: 粉絲 (fěn sī). These thin, translucent noodles are made from various starches; the ones I'm most familiar with are pictured above and are made from mung bean starch, but I've also come across versions made from sweet potato starch.
粉絲 have several names in English: glass noodles, cellophane noodles, bean thread noodles, bean threads, glass vermicelli, mung bean vermicelli. They are also sometimes referred to simply as "vermicelli", but I find this name rather too general, as it can also be used for noodles made from rice or wheat. sunflower-recipes points out in comments that in Chinese you may also see them listed as 冬粉 (dōng fěn), 粉條 (fěn tiáo), 紅薯粉條 (hóng shǔ fěn tiáo), or 紅薯粉絲 (hóng shǔ fěn sī), with the 紅薯 in the last two of these indicating sweet potato.
Glass noodles are soaked in warm or hot water before use, for varying lengths of time from 15 minutes up to two hours. One thing to note about them is that they're very hard to break apart when dry. For this reason, they're sold in bunches of several different sizes; I prefer to buy the ones sold in multipacks of 50g bags, despite the extra packaging involved, since this gives the most flexibility (50g is around the right amount for a single serving).
When purchasing 粉絲, it's important to check the ingredients. My favourite brand, originally recommended to me by sunflower-recipes, is Longkou (龍口); the ingredients in these are listed as "peas, green bean, water" in English and "豌豆，綠豆，水" in Chinese. They're pictured after soaking on the left in the photo above, and I also have photos of the packaging and the unsoaked noodles.
One to avoid is Tiantan (天壇) brand, which are shown on the right in the photo above (and before soaking in this photo). They include cornstarch (玉米澱粉); this weakens the noodles, making them much more likely to break. You need to be careful here, since the Tiantan packaging is deliberately designed to mimic the Longkou packaging, right down to using the same photos for the serving suggestions.
Here are some dishes made with 粉絲:
|螞蟻上樹||mǎ yǐ shàng shù||ants climbing a tree|
|This poetically-named dish consists of glass noodles (the tree) cooked with pork mince (the ants), chilli bean sauce, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and a pinch of sugar.|
|羅漢齋||luó hàn zhāi||Buddha's delight/monk's vegetables|
|The proper Chinese version of this dish bears no resemblance to the limp collection of tinned vegetables that often turns up in Anglicised Chinese takeaway food. Glass noodles are a must-have ingredient, particularly when served at Chinese New Year, as their long lengths symbolise long life.|
|涼拌三絲||liáng bàn sān sī||three-sliver salad|
|The name of this dish literally means "cold mixed three threads"; one of the threads is usually 粉絲, while the others might be finely-julienned kelp, carrot, wood ear fungus, or lightly blanched spinach.|
|越式炸春卷||yuè shì zhà chūn juǎn||Vietnamese-style spring rolls|
|A popular dim sum dish, these deep-fried rice-paper-wrapped rolls include glass noodles in the filling along with minced pork and prawns and various finely-chopped or shredded vegetables.|
|酸菜魚||suān cài yú||fish soup with pickled greens|
|This sour and savoury fish soup sometimes includes glass noodles along with the fish and pickled greens.|
And here are some links to other people's posts about them:
- Honolulu Star-Bulletin: The choice is clear
- The Chinese Soup Lady: Glass noodles or bean vermicelli
- Wikipedia: Cellophane noodles
2 In Chinese, rice vermicelli are 米粉 (mǐ fěn). I'm not entirely sure of the general Chinese name for wheat vermicelli, but I do know of one type called 麵線 (miàn xiàn), which are popular in Taiwan; see Wikipedia for a little more info on these.