There is a secret food in China that people in the south eat almost everyday, yet in other countries it’s virtually impossible to find outside of a dim sum restaurant or Chinatown. That food? The slimy, squishy but amazingly delicious changfen.
It comes from Cantonese dim sum food, but it is a regular breakfast food in most places in southern China. In English it could be translated to rice noodle rolls, but it literally translates to “intestine noodle,” something I’m glad I didn’t know the first time I tried it, (I might have taken it literally). There is nothing gross about the food though. Despite it looking very much like some slimy intestine, all it is is a kind of rice paste burrito.
The way they make it is quite unique. They start with usually two or threw kinds of powders or starches mixed with water to make a runny, white paste. (white flour, wheat starch, tapioca flour all can be used.)
They spread the paste out across the bottom of a metal tray that fits into a steamer. Added on top is whatever the filling you like, usually egg with shrimp, beef, lettuce or whatever. It is steamed for a few minutes until the skin stiffens and the food cooks, then it is rolled up with a spatula into a tube, tossed on a plate, cut into pieces and doused in soy sauce. It usually takes less than 5 minutes which is why it is such a popular quick breakfast.
The changfen wrapper itself doesn’t have much taste, but with the filling and the soy sauce they tend to be more savory than sweet. But they have different types of course, with different flavors.
I recently had a red colored one, with stiffer, less watery skin with the inside shrimp surrounded by something crunchy and the outside drizzled with peanut butter. It might sound weird, shrimp drizzled with peanut butter, but it worked. And my favorite guilty pleasure is changfen with a youtiao, or a fried bread stick, in the middle. Yummmmmm.
Honestly it’s a food that I would expect to hate. I’m a”texture” eater and things like jello, or even an overripe banana, can make me want to puke. It’s not the taste but the feeling of eating it that makes it so gross to me. It’s one of the reasons I tend to stay away from most sushi or seafood. I don’t like slippery, slimy foods.
But I’m obsessed with changfen and I don’t know why. It’s impossible to pick up with chopsticks (just slips right up of your grasp) and doesn’t have any real flavor besides the filling or sauce. And yet, just this week I ate it twice even traveling 30 minutes by bus just to go to my favorite changfen restaurant. (Which also happens to be next to my favorite bookstore and favorite ice cream shop, so that’s a nice coincidence.) For me a dim sum dinner isn’t complete without one, or two, types of changfen.
Like I said, this isn’t a common dish on Chinese menus, but if you go to a dim sum restaurant, or happen to see a stall in a Chinatown, then I totally recommend you give it a try. If this picky eater enjoys it so much, then you will too!