This fall I spent 5 days with a student’s family in Wenzhou county, along the southern coast of Zhejiang province. Here’s the story of how I learned how to make homemade fensi noodles in Wenzhou.
They live in Yongjia village just across the river from Wenzhou city. Every morning I drank coffee on the 4th floor balcony looking out at the small community farm next to their home.
My student’s parents are retired, and spend their free time growing a variety of vegetables in their little plot in the community garden next to their building. Here my student’s mom is cutting some sigua in her garden. Sigua is a soft loofah gourd or squash, similar to zucchini in texture, but with a different, earthy flavor.
She likes washing her vegetables in the canal next to the garden. During warm weather she also prefers doing her laundry in the canal rather than using her washing machine. She trusts the canal to wash her clothes better than a machine.
A basket of sigua (loofah gourd) from her garden.
From their kitchen I looked out at another small farm plot behind the building. Every afternoon these guys worked in their garden, usually shirtless, sometimes while smoking pipes.
There’s not much sightseeing to do in Yongjia, and that was okay with me. I’m happy visiting students when I can just hang out with their families and get a feel for the rhythms of daily life. Every morning we would cook breakfast, then go to this vegetable market in the picture to pick up ingredients they don’t grow in their own family garden, cook lunch, take a long nap, cook dinner, and then go out in the evening to walk. Her mom loves joining the big dance groups in the city squares in downtown Wenzhou. So I pretty much only saw Wenzhou city at night. One night we took the ferry across the river instead of driving over a bridge.
My student’s mom is a great cook. One of the unusual things she cooked for me was homemade fensi noodles, those light tan, chewy noodles made from sweet potato starch instead of wheat flour. I’ve had fensi noodles (pronounced fuhn-sih) numerous times in China, but never homemade. I was surprised by the method because it was so drastically different from making noodles with wheat flour.
You need to make a thin batter instead of a dough. Then you use the batter to fry a stack of crepes, and cut the crepes into strips before boiling the strips as noodles.
Here is the light tan sweet potato starch powder.
The fensi starch powder is mixed with egg and a little water. She doesn’t measure the amounts, but rather goes by feel.
The batter is extremely watery and thin.
The batter gets ladled into lightly-oiled wok, and cooked into thin crepes.
A crepe after being flipped over.
After a stack of crepes is made, each crepe is rolled up and then sliced with a cleaver into wide noodles.
At this point, she started to make a soup for the noodles. She peeled and roughly cut the sigua (loofah gourd) she picked from the garden that morning.
She stir-fries the sigua (loofah) in a wok with whole smashed cloves of garlic.
After the sigua (loofah) is softened a bit from stir-frying, she adds some water and a little salt and green onions to start turning it into a soup.
More water is added, along with the fensi noodles, which boil directly in the soup.
The finishing touch was poaching a few eggs in the soup. You can see one floating toward the back of my bowl. These noodles are so delicious and succulent when made from scratch. I should try making these at home.