Beef hofan

Alex has a thing for beef hofan. She’s obsessed with it. It was the only dish that she asked for when she got sick over the holidays (we didn’t give her any because her digestive system went on vacation); it’s one of about five dishes that she craves when she is feeling well. A few weekends ago, a time when she was definitely feeling well, she wanted to call the nearest Chinese restaurant to deliver beef hofan. But this is the suburb and restaurants don’t deliver after eight o’clock in the evening. By the time we were able to locate the restaurant’s phone number and make the call, there was no more rider available to make the delivery. And Alex pined. And pined.

What is it about beef hofan that she loves so much? The noodles. The hand-cut noodles. That time she couldn’t get beef hofan delivered to the house, she asked me to cook beef hofan instead. And I told her that those hand-cut noodles were beyond my skills. But why? Surely, just like any noodle, it’s just a matter of stirring flour (rice flour, in the case of hofan) and water to make a dough, rolling it flat and thin, and then cutting it.

Well, hofan is something else. It’s like a thicker version of rice paper — the wrapper for Vietnamese spring rolls. The flour and water mixture is not rolled. In fact, it is impossible to roll because the mixture is like a paste. That paste is spread and left to dry a little until it is firm enough to cut. The thing that the paste is spread on is like a sieve so that the excess liquid just drips off. It all sounds easy writing about it but I saw a video of the process and I need to gather a lot more guts to try it at home. Otherwise, we might end up with more paste — you know, as in paste to stick paper on paper with — than we can use in a year.

The following weekend, Speedy came home with a pack of dried hofan noodles. I’ve cooked with dried hofan noodles before, I knew it wouldn’t yield the same result as hand-made hofan but it was possible to cook a reasonably good beef hofan dish with it. Okay, maybe more than reasonably good because Alex said my beef hofan was really good. That’s my girl. »

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