New City, Old Cravings
The heat of New York is palpable. My skin isn’t used to this; I can feel beads of sweat about to form but my body holds back, retaining heat that won’t escape. My heels click against hot vaporous asphalt. I bypass unfamiliar faces and well-dressed neighbors seeking refuge inside cafes, restaurants, anywhere but here. All I’m thinking about is iced tea and watermelon; I want to cool down.
Like my friend Tom says, “You can’t have summer without BBQ and watermelon.” And for me, summer also means pho, Thai iced tea, nam wan (a Thai dessert), and liang fen (or flour cubes). In a new city, amidst the heat, I crave liang fen. Liang fen is a dish that tastes so different across Asia. Traditionally a Chinese dish and translated literally as “cold powder,” it’s made from mung bean starch in China. The color is off-white and translucent, and typically served in cubes or strips. The cubes or strips are topped with seasonings, such as soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and chili oil. In Korea, it’s called nokdumuk or cheongpomuk and served with vinegar and soy sauce.
The version of liang fen I’m most familiar with is adapted from China, Laos and Thailand. This version uses rice flour instead of mung bean starch, and the seasoning is a spicy, sour and aromatic broth. I crave Keng’s authentic version; though David’s version is faster and easier.
Liang fen is highly addictive, very unusual, and something I miss dearly when I’m miles away from home, absorbed in the heat of a new city.