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Chinese Fen Si (Cellophane noodles)

Chinese fensi: cellophane noodles
Chinese cellophane noodles

Fensi in Chinese cuisine

Fensi is one of commonly used ingredients in Northeast Chinese cuisine. For the translation in English, I had to look up online, the formal term for it is Cellophane noodles.

Although some people use ‘Chinese vermicelli’ to refer to ‘Fensi’, (even sometimes when I have to explain what it is, I always say Chinese vermicelli too), it is really not the same thing.

Chinese vermicelli are made from rice, and can be served as main ‘stable food’, like ‘noodles’, but ‘Fensi’ is always used in (sharing) dishes or soup cooked along with either meat or vegetables – at least in Northeast cuisine, while vermicelli is never part of Northeast food.

In a book written by one of my favorite Chinese writer, she describes ‘Fensi’ as ‘rain drops from the sky like threads, and Fensi is just that thread being collected’ — What a beautiful and romantic description!

Preparing Chinese Fensi

Fensi can be made either from potato (starch), sweet potato (starch), mung beans (starch). And it comes in different shapes – flat, round, slim like thread, or fatter like a small tube… They all can be called ‘Fen’, but ‘Fensi’ really only refers to the ones are ‘threads’ like. And I prefer the ‘mung bean’ ones for salad or vegetable soup dish, while potato ones for stir-fry or soup with meat.

As ‘Fensi’ normally comes in ‘dry’ form, and packed in a little ‘bunch’, they becomes difficult to separate it when you only want a little bit. We normally use scissors to cut it, but still the little pieces would jump out everywhere.

Once Fensi touches (warm / hot) water, it absorbs water easily, and
softens very quickly, especially with Mung bean made Fensi. But at the same time, it needs to be eaten quickly as well, otherwise it would dry up the soup or any sauce in the dish, and gets a bit sticky.

However, it becomes perfect ingredient in the fillings of pastries — if the vegetables leave too much excess ‘liquid’ in the fillings, and become difficult for wrapping, ‘Fensi’ can help absorb the ‘liquid’, while contributing a good taste and texture in the filling. :)

Buying it outside China can be a bit difficult if you are not close any Chinese / Asia shops, the vermicelli sold in the supermarkets is not really an alternative. But almost any Chinese / Asia shops sell it, which makes easier. However, there are different brands in the shops, tastes are not exactly same, my grandma used to say the good Fensi, after cooking , became nice transparent, and very smooth in the mouth.

  • It can be cooked in the salad: soak Fensi in hot water first, then raise and mix with green leaves, I like it with Chinese leaves, for example.
  • It can be cooked in the soup: when the soup is almost done, but dried Fensi in, and keep on cooking very few minutes.
  • It can be used in the fillings, for example, vegetable dumplings’ fillings: soak it first, then chop it into small pieces, and mix with other ingredients. See one of the recipes.
  • It can be fried with oil, and becomes crispy.
  • It can be stir fried with mince, for example, one of the famous dish called ‘the ants climbing up the tree’.
  • It is almost ‘A Must’ when eating ‘hot pot’: when the soup base in ‘hot pot’ is boiling, put ‘fensi’ in, in couple of minutes, it can be taken out, dip and eat. (but for the best taste, you need the best quality fensi).

And at the very last, don’t confuse with the ‘modern term’ Fensi in China with the food ‘Fensi’. Since the pronunciation ‘fans’ can be related to ‘Fensi’, so ‘Fensi’ became a popular modern term nowadays used to refer to ‘Fans’, as in ‘a huge fan of somebody’.

Related posts:

11. Chinese home made noodles: Da Lu Mian
50. Chinese noodle recipe: soy bean paste mixed noodles / zha jiang mian
71. Noodle recipe: A simple traditional Chinese noodle recipe
86. A different kind of Chinese noodles: Flat noodle sheet soup


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