Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ding Bian Hu

Fourth try in cooking ding bian hu was this morning. I am quite happy with this bowl of yumminess. I forgot to garnish with crispy fried shallots and a splash of sesame oil.

My first try. Yi looked at the photo and said cilantro doesn't go with ding bian hu, and that there should be more soup.

The only way I can describe ding bian hu is that it is like a cross between ho fun (flat rice noodles) and congee. In this dish, the 'noodles' are not thin long strands but thin soft pieces of rice flour dough, and you only need a spoon to eat it, like you do congee. This dish involves an unusual way of cooking because rice flour is mixed with water into a medium-thick batter and poured around the sides of a hot wok in which a soup made of seafood and meat is being cooked. When the batter is cooked, it can be scraped off the wok onto the soup where it is further cooked and then dished into a bowl. Ding bian hu is eaten as a breakfast or late-night snack by the Fuzhous, one of the many southern Chinese. It really is comfort food, satisfying not just your hunger but your tastebuds and your smell receptors (you can tell I've been teaching somebody biology recently) with the mixture of seafood and meat.

Jo of A Feast was in Sibu, Sarawak (where there is a large Fuzhou population) recently and reported that the authentic way of cooking ding bian hu has disappeared (mostly) as people now cook the batter separately which makes it easier to cook in bulk.

This is one of the many Fuzhou noodles that I (and my two older kids) love and crave for. The best place for ding bian hu (what does it mean?) in KK was at the corner shop near Luyang Apartments. The Fuzhou family from Sibu, Sarawak who ran the stall went away in the late 90s, and ding bian hu was no more. We then found a Fuzhou restaurant at the Fuzhou Association Building, also near Luyang Apts, and we used to eat our Sunday lunches there, in 33 C weather, slurping delicious Fuzhou noodles like joo mi fun, chau joo mien, kolo mee, mien sen and ding bian hu while our sweat rolled down our faces and backs. The mother and daughter who ran the stall (a quiet, sullen pair) left KK many years ago and we haven't been able to find another Fuzhou eatery since.

I've always wanted to try cook ding bian hu but never got around to doing it because I couldn't get the recipe anywhere, and nobody I know can cook this. I was also told that it is not an easy dish to cook at home because you need a lot of skill to pour the rice mixture around the wok. So you can imagine how happy I was when I successfully cooked my first bowl of ding bian hu yesterday. The first bowl turned out nearly perfect to me even though the rice pieces were a little too thick. Then when the Yi came home and I demonstrated to her my new skill, everything went wrong. I had poured the rice flour batter too quickly so it didn't stick but instead ran down into the soup, making it cloudy and thick. Also, I cooked too much in one go, and the soup level in the wok was too high, leaving little space for the rice mixture to be poured. On my third try, I cooked only one portion and again the result was good so the trick is to cook ding bian hu in small portions and pour the rice mixture slowly and in greater amount so that you don't get trickles or strands of the rice mixture but whole pieces of thin crepe. The hard part is getting the rice flour batter right, because that would affect the thickness of the noodles.

This recipe is adapted from one I saw in a Chinese magazine a few months ago. Basically, you just cook up a good chicken or pork stock and add fish balls, pork slices, dried squid, 'cloud ears' (an edible black fungus) and 'golden needles', a kind of lily buds, and pour the rice batter around the wok and that's it. I may be wrong, but I think this may be the first time a recipe on ding bian hu is posted on the net because I couldn't find any when I googled.

Ding Bian Hu (for 2 persons)
100 g rice flour
130 ml water
--mix the flour and water until smooth. The batter should coat your metal spoon briefly before sliding off.

100g pork slices or mince, marinaded with white pepper, salt & cornflour
a small handful of golden needles or jing jen/kim jim, soaked & hard parts (the petiole) removed & knotted (so you won't choke)
a small handful of 'cloud ears' or wen yue, soaked & cleaned
6 to 8 home-made fishballs
a small dried squid*
1/2 T small red onions, sliced
1/2 T garlic, chopped
1 t fine ginger strips (optional)
3 1/2 cups chicken or pork stock (or use plain water & chicken granules)**

seasoning: a dash of white pepper
1/2 t salt
1/2 t chicken granules (restaurants use msg, which is really the same)***
a splash of sesame oil
2 splashes (2 t) of fish sauce
2 T shao xin wine
2 T red Fuzhou wine (optional)

garnish: fried crispy onions (chop the shallots finely & fry in oil) and spring onions
serve with: vinegar and chili sauce

* soak the dried squid in 2 cups of water + 1 T bicarb of soda for at least 12 hours or more. Clean and cut into 1/2 cm strips. Prepared dried squid from the market is not recommended as it is flavorless.

**use Swanson chicken broth if home-made stock not available.

***unnecessary if you use a good stock.

Note: I'd advise that you cook the above amount in two go unless you are very confident about handling the batter. Also, the space around the wok is limited so there wouldn't be enough rice crepe for two.

1. Heat up a wok, add 1 T oil and use a frying ladle to smear the whole wok with the oil. Add 1/2 T oil into the centre of the wok and fry the onions, ginger and garlic. Add the lily buds, cloud ears, dried squid and the wines (you must add them now or the soup won't be as fragrant) and fry for a few seconds. Now add the stock, the fish balls and the seasonings and cover again.


2. When soup boils the second time, take off the cover, add the pork slices/mince, stir to mix them into the soup and pour the rice flour batter around the wok. Don't pour too much too little too fast or too low or the rice flour batter will run into the soup. In the above pic, you can see I've poured the batter too low. If you pour the batter too high, it will take a longer time to cook because there's less heat. You can pour a second circle above the first round of batter if there's space. The idea is to cook the rice flour on the sides of the wok. Cover for 1 to 2 minutes. Add a bit more water if soup has dried up.


You can see the rice flour mixture has run into the soup, that's not good. But just give me a break, this is the first try and I was taking the photo with one hand and pouring the batter with the other. Didn't bother to take photos on subsequent tries because it was dark then.

3. Using your frying ladle, scrape the cooked batter (it should peel off easily. If it doesn't, cover and leave for half a minute or so) onto the soup, test again. Scrape the cooked rice sheet/crepe off into the bubbling soup, stir lightly to mix and dish up.

You need to use high heat and cook the rice crepes quickly because the soup will turn cloudy especially if some of the batter has crept into the soup.

4. Garnish with crispy fried shallots, spring onions and a splash of sesame oil. Eat when hot, with vinegar (I don't) and chili sauce (I do).


Precious Pea said...

I first came across this in droolteam's blog when they went to Sibu. I thought it was a different way of making mee hoon kuih. Interesting and maybe i will give it a try too.

alfred said...

You can find this dish at the hawker centre at Asia City.The stall is run by a foochow couple.Maybe you can try it out.According to my hubby(who is a Foochow)it is quite good.Anna

Anonymous said...

There's a foochow stall now at the foochow assocition too if i'm not mistaken.

TeaLady said...

Terri - this sounds, and looks, very interesting. Almost like a chicken and dumpling, but with seafood and rice dough. Okay, so it's nothing like chicken and dumplings. But that's about what it looks like. Wish you could give me some cooking lessons.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I have heard of such a dish. Looks delicious. Definitely something I would want to eat. Yum.

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

this is definitely SOMETHING that i have not seen before..

looks very interesting..

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

pp: pls do try it. this is perfect for the rainy weather we r having now.yumyumyum.

anna: thanx for telling me! my friend sucy told me about the place recently so i'm going there very soon. opened day n night?

anon: isn't the place now a local western steak place called sam pok or smthing?

tealady: u really r not xenophobic! when i was living with this french canadian family while in uni, april n her sister refused to try my instant noodles bc it was 'squiggly'. the next time i went to chinatown, i purposefully brought back a century egg (a duck egg embedded in ash which turns the whites a jelly-black n the yolks a creamy black green n tastes n smells pungent!!) n they ran for the mountains!

btw, i must make chicken n dumplings soon. u r right, it is sorta like ding bian hu.

r: when r u free? cook 4 u?

joe: they may have it in sitiawan, tt other fuzhou enclave.

NEE said...

you are so excellent! foochow food also expert!. hats off!

I know where i can look improve my recipes. thanks.

Shan said...

Hi hi I've voted :) Thanks for reminding me!

a feast, everyday said...

U promosed to call me when u cook tis...bad girl! Now u hv to do another round.

Anonymous said...

The next time you cook this dish, give me a call and I'll come running. Thanks, you are such a gem. :)

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

nee: it turned out to be quite easy. ive been eating it for 3 days now.

shan: thanx dear friend

a feast: anytime u r free

r: i'm always ready, up to u

johorean said...

Hi Terri,

Many thanks for the recipe. I had DBH more than 15 years ago in Sarikei. It was really a comfort food, just right and delicious. However I do not had a chance to travel to Sibu / Sarikei all these time. Really missed this. Will cook this on my own. Thanks again ! Regards, Johorean

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