Made from mung dal starch, transparent noodle dishes are quite popular in the Himalayan town
West Bengal’s charming, little hill station Kalimpong has been making headlines lately. Why? Kareena Kapoor was recently spotted in town shooting for Sujoy Ghosh’s upcoming film The Devotion of Suspect X. And during her stay, the Bollywood star also relished a bowl of Khowsey and ‘world’s best’ Tiramisu among other foods. This aside, Kalimpong is a cauldron of myriad ethnicities and food cultures that beautifully come out in the diverse tastes and textures you experience in the local dishes. Phumbi, Thukpa, Buff, Sausages, La Fing, Sha Faley and momos are among the popular eats of this tourist destination located in the foothills of the Himalayas. Today however, we will talk about Phing - Kalimpong’s classic glass noodles.
Phing is basically cellophane noodles, made from mung dal starch. This variety of the transparent noodles is typical of Kalimpong, but there are other traditional versions made from potato, sweet potato, tapioca and canna starch as well. This Himalayan town is home to several indigenous ethnic groups and the glass noodles hold a lot of significance in the region’s culinary landscape.
Usually eaten as a side dish (cooked with meat or vegetables) or as a salad (served with Chhurpi - a traditional cheese), Phing is intrinsic to Kalimpong’s mixed population, and is traditionally made during ceremonial occasions. In recent years, many glass noodle manufacturing units have mushroomed on the outskirts of the town. These are mostly run by the Tibetan population here. Apart from local consumption, these noodles are also being increasingly exported to different parts of India and abroad. In fact, a book written by the Dalai Lama’s brother Gyalo Thondup, titled The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong: The Untold Story of My Struggle for Tibet, throws some interesting perspectives on the town’s Phing-making culture.
Phingsha - a spicy Himalayan dish made with glass noodles and chicken - is very popular in Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Sikkim. To make this flavoursome and aromatic delicacy, you’ll need crystal noodles, chicken, finely chopped onion and tomato, grated ginger, garlic cloves, fresh red chillies, dry chillies, turmeric, mustard oil and salt. You can also try the vegetarian Phing salad. The ingredients needed for that are glass noodles; julienned carrots; spinach; chopped spring onion, garlic, green chillies and dry chillies; salt; chilli paste; fish sauce; soya sauce; lemon juice; sesame oil; sesame seeds. You would have probably already noticed glass noodles being used in our beloved Falooda and sometimes even on top of Kulfi. These are usually made from arrowroot starch using a conventional technique.
Different types of starch are used to make cellophane noodles. Mung bean starch or sweet potato starch is preferred in China. The noodles made from green gram are called Chinese vermicelli, bean threads or bean thread noodles, and those made using sweet potato starch are called fentiao or hongshufen. In Japan, the crystal noodles are called Harusame, which translates as ‘spring rain’, while in Korean cuisine, these are referred to as Dangmyeon. Glass noodles are called Wun Sen in Thai cuisine and these are known as ‘long rice’ in Hawaii. Among popular cellophane noodle recipes are Thai glass noodle stir-fry; cellophane noodles with pork and Thai basil recipe; cellophane noodles with shrimp and garlic; and Yu Choy cellophane noodle stir-fry with tofu and peanuts.