Lai fun are Chinese noodles made of tapioca and rice flour that look a great deal like short pieces of cut Italian-style spaghetti. Also called rice noodle spaghetti, these noodles are similar to the silver needle noodle, except that the noodle ends of lai fun are cut flat rather than squeezed to a tapering end. This food is mainly eaten in Hong Kong or in areas of the United States with dense Chinese populations. Lai fun are generally served with vegetables, often in broth-based soups and some salad dishes. The noodles can also be served in a stir-fry dish.
To make the dough used for this dish, boiling water is added to a bowl of salt and tapioca and rice flours. The mixture is stirred until the dough takes on the thick consistency needed to make a noodle. Prepared dough is then fed through a noodle press, sometimes called a noodle template, to make the noodles the desired shape. A noodle template makes the noodles into a specific size based on the holes in the template. Cooks have a different noodle template for every size of noodle they wish to make.
Some lai fun recipes call for adding grated coconut to the flour before moistening and mixing it. A similar dough is used to make many sizes and shapes of noodle, each with a different name. Some, like lai fun and the more slender putu mayam noodle, are also pressed through a noodle template, and others, like loh see fun, are shaped by hand. This noodle can be served with many types of meat, including beef and pork as well as poultry like chicken and duck.
Though it looks like spaghetti, the types of flour used to make this noodle render a softer, squishier noodle. It is usually used in soups, most commonly chicken soup with vegetables, though it can be served with many types of broth. One popular way of serving lai fun is in broth with fresh vegetables or slices of meat on top. It can also be used in cold noodle salads.
Tapioca is a flour made from processed cassava root. Along with rice flour, tapioca flour is safe for people who are gluten intolerant. Gluten is an ingredient found in wheat-related grains, and lai fun dough contains no wheat, which makes it a viable gluten-free noodle option for people who can't eat wheat.