Tuesday, January 05, 2010


One of the marvelous cheap eats in Chinatown that I have loved for as long as I can remember is steamed rice-sheet noodle, commonly called Cheung Fan: 腸粉 - also sometimes referred to as Chu Cheung Fan: 豬腸粉 (pronounced 'chee cheong fun' in Singapore).
Neither of these appellations is attractive in translation, as the first term (腸粉) means "intestine (腸) rice-noodle (粉)", and the second term, chu cheung fan (豬腸粉) could be interpreted to mean "pig (豬) guts (腸) rice-noodle (粉)".
There are no guts, nor anything porky, in this comestible.
The unlovely name evokes the appearance, with quite a bit of poetic license.
It is a soft tender sheet of rice-noodle with flavourful inclusions, translucent white, slightly glistening, moist and smooth on the tongue, very easy on the digestion. It is rolled over after cooking, hence the perceived similarity with digestive organs.

NOTE: 腸 (cheung) is perhaps best approximated by pronouncing it as 'cherng'.


To make cheung fan, a mixture of rice flour and water is poured into a sheet pan and steamed, the finished product then rolled loosely, and cut to form chopstickable segments.
Common variations are shrimp roll (Ha-Cheung: 蝦腸), dry shrimp roll (Hamei Cheung: 蝦米腸), and beef shreds roll (Ngau-yuk Cheung: 牛肉腸). The amount of flavouring ingredient is not very great, so chopped chive or scallion will often be added-in before cooking, or strewn over when serving.
Cheung fan are eaten warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of soy sauce or a smidge of 'sweet sauce' (tim jeung: 甜酱 - usually just another term for hoisin jeung: 海鲜酱).
They are also very good with a dash of hot oil or chili paste.

Cheung fan are a comfort food beyond compare. And the breakfast of champions.


On New Year's Day I ambled over Nob Hill in mid-afternoon, enjoying the soft drizzle that cloaked the vistas of both bridges and silvered the sky, till at last I descended into Chinatown via Jackson Street.
I was peckish at this point, and I knew what I wanted.
However, a beloved restaurant, where I happily snacked for years, seemed to have disappeared.
This was disconcerting - Chinatown has been hit hard by the economic downturn, and as always this close to Chinese New Year (年初一 is on the fifteenth of January in 2010) many business are so strained for cash to pay off debts (customary at this time) that several close their doors for good.

That restaurant was a fixture, one of the Chinatown classics. It would be sorely missed.

What I did not realize until AFTER snarfing down cheung fan, radish cake (Lobo Gau: 蘿蔔糕) and some lovely flaky char-siu rolls (with what must have been the nastiest, most perverse, gut-dissolver coffee ever!) at a different place, was that the restaurant which I missed had simply moved across the street and down hill.
Oh crap.

Same people. Same food. Same thriving business.

No, I shall not mention the name of the place. No way, no how.

Reason being that ALL the reviews on YELP make it seem like a hell-hole.
The only good thing people say about it, and this is pretty consistent, is that eating there did NOT make them sick - some of them waited for several days before confirming this, as they had believed that at any moment daemons would awaken in their stomachs after eating there.
It is described as cheap, nasty, unsanitary, utterly disgusting...... and even worse.
The reviews are absolutely horrific.

But, you see, I like it. And so do many other people.
Did I mention that it has been around for years?
They must be doing something very right indeed to have thrived for so long.

Never mind what the various internet 'cognoscenti' think.
What the devil do white people know about Chinese food anyway?



January 6, 2010 Quote: " ...... and as always this close to Chinese New Year (年初一 is on the fifteenth of January in 2010)".

This turns out to be totally wrong. I misread my calendar (free, courtesy of 聯合銀行 - United Commercial Bank). Didn't notice which month began on January 15.
The beginning of the next year (正月初一) is actually on Sunday, February 14; one entire month later. Evenso, the pattern still holds true - many businesses tend to close their doors forever at this time due to the tradition of paying off all debts BEFORE the new year.
By the same token, new businesses scramble to open shop too.
It is a period of changes.

If you are an unmarried youngster, Chinese New Year is when you can really score big - all your relatives, and your friends' parents, will be handing out red envelopes with money.
Called 'Hong Pao' (red packet: 紅包) in Mandarin, Lay-see ('profits affirmed': 利是) in Cantonese, such monetary gifts are customary at happy occasions and certain celebrations, and, not at all surprisingly, are also an excellent method for bribing officials or co-opting people.
Children make out like bandits during this time, as even neighbors and shopkeepers will give them lucky money.

Elderly bachelors and old-maids are somewhat ambivalent about the whole deal - the take is seldom big enough to give them any joy, and the (deliberate) reminder that really they should be married by now can be irritating. Very intensely irritating.

In some families it is customary for all junior members, even if grey-haired, to be given lay-see by the older generation; it's a way of reaffirming the pecking order.
Family hierarchy, in the Chinese environment, is quite as important as profit.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:

All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


Tzipporah said...

Seroiusly don't you think you SHOULD mention the name of the restaurant, in order to give it some good press?

Or do you think that associating it with your blog will be to tis detriment?

Anonymous said...

I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
And you et an account on Twitter?

The back of the hill said...

want to quote your post in my blog. It can?

Please do quote. No problem at all.

And you et an account on Twitter?

No, sorry, I do not have a Twitter account.

Fun guy said...

Looks yummers.

The back of the hill said...

IS! yummers.

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