Heartbreak Jelly Noodles (Shangxin Liangfen, 伤心凉粉)

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Shangxin Liangfen or Heartbreak Jelly Noodles

Tears of Joy or Heartbreak?  A Controversial Jelly Noodle

Have you ever been to a Sichuan restaurant and seen a bowl of something that looks like big fat noodles but on closer inspection is actually jiggly strands of jelly? Ranging from translucent to opaque white or yellow, they usually glow with a chili-oil sauce and fresh and crunchy garnishes. When you manage to capture these slippery guys with your chopsticks, they slither down your throat so easily. They are an enigma, at once hot and spicy and light and cooling. And they are perfect for summer.

These are liangfen, which is the term for cold noodles that are made not from wheat but rather from rice or bean starches. Sichuan has numerous liangfen dishes made from sweet potatoes, mung beans, chickpeas and other peas and beans. These jelly noodles are sometimes prepared rather dense and firm and cut in thick pieces, but, in my opinion, the best are wobbly, airy  noodle-like pieces that play so well with a classic Sichuan cold-dish dressing as a side dish or snack.

We eat these every time we go to Sichuan and, in fact, almost every time we eat in a Sichuan restaurant anywhere. Our recipe (first published in July 2018 and significantly updated in 2024) was originally based on the version at New York’s Málà Project. While that restaurant specializes in Sichuan dry pot, its small cold dishes are also spot on. We didn’t cry literal tears of joy, but we did understand the sentiment in the name when we ate their version of cold mung bean noodles, called Liang Fen of Happy Tears on the menu.

Mala Project's Shang Xin Liang Fen
Málà Project’s Shangxin Liangfen, which they call Liang Fen of Happy Tears

What Are Shangxin Liangfen, Or Heartbreak Jelly Noodles?

Come to find out that Málà Project has put its own spin on the translation of shangxin as “happy tears.” According to this 2013 article in China Daily, the name is usually translated as “‘heartbreak jelly’ because it is so spicy that people are said to burst into tears when eating it.”

The article goes on to say that a restaurant in Chengdu claims to have invented shangxin liangfen and that it successfully acquired a trademark for shangxin noodles in 2005. The restaurant has since then spent a great deal of time suing local competitors for using that name, even though some restaurants claim the dish was actually invented during the Qing Dynasty.

Who knew that these slippery noodles had such a controversial history? Regardless, they sure go down easy.

Málà Project was kind enough to share the recipe for their shangxin liangfen sauce with us, and I’ve adapted it for home cooking. Perhaps in honor of their translation, promising tears of joy instead of heartbreak, their version is not super hot. Of course you can control the heat to your own desire with the amount and heat level of your chili oil—use your favorite store-bought or make your own. Our Chengdu Crispy Chili Oil is ideal, and packs more of a spicy punch—more heartbreak, perhaps.

How to Make Jelly Noodles

Jelly noodles, or liangfen, are surprisingly quick and easy to make, once you settle on the ratio of starch to water that makes the density and shape you prefer. You can make a batch in under 5 minutes, plus an hour or so for them to firm up. Shangxin liangfen are made from mung bean starch, which is readily available at Asian markets (a Korean one may be easiest to find).

Over the years, I have continually increased the ratio of water to bean starch to make a flexible, floppy, appealing noodle, settling on a ratio of about 11 parts water to 1 part starch. It should be a bit toothsome, but not too thick or dense, as you want that delectable chili-oil sauce to penetrate the jelly. If you prefer them firmer, just use a bit less water.

Liangfen firming up in a cake pan
Quickly cook mung bean starch with water and then pour into a nonstick cake pan to firm up
Mung bean starch noodles
When set, turn the starch sheet out of the pan and cut into noodle shapes
Mung bean starch noodles and ingredients for a Sichuan sauce
Shangxin liangfen get a classic Sichuan cold-dish dressing of chili oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and Sichuan pepper; this is the place to use premium versions like these from The Mala Market

Mung bean noodles themselves don’t have much taste and are really just a pleasing texture vehicle for the sauce. Another thing to know is that they don’t absorb sauce easily, so it’s a good idea to cut them into rather thin strips to make sure they have sufficient sauce coverage. This also means you can make them ahead and let the noodles sit in the sauce for an hour or more without them going soggy.

Shangxin liangfen in individual serving bowls
Spicy, slippery shangxin liangfen is served in individual serving bowls as a side dish or small snack

Now go forth and make them and cry some happy tears!

If you like Sichuan cold noodles, try our recipes using wheat noodles, including my cold noodles with shredded chicken and Kathy’s Mom’s liangmian, or rice noodles, with Michelle’s Yunnan Liang Mixian.

This recipe was originally published in 2018 and significantly updated in 2024.

Heartbreak Jelly Noodles (Shangxin Liangfen, 伤心凉粉)

By: Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking
Yield: 4 small bowls

Ingredients 

Noodles

  • cup mung bean starch
  • cups water

Sauce, per small serving/bowl

  • teaspoon garlic, pressed or minced
  • tablespoons chili oil (with or without crisp)
  • 2 teaspoons Baoning black vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
  • ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon msg
  • A pinch freshly ground Sichuan pepper
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallions

Instructions 

Noodles

  • Mix the mung bean starch with 1 cup of the water in a measuring cup with a pour spout until the starch has dissolved. Bring the remaining 2½ cups of water to a boil in a medium sauce pan. When it begins to boil, lower heat to medium-low and slowly stream in the mung bean starch slurry while whisking vigorously. The mixture will begin to thicken quickly. After all the slurry is added, cook for about 1 minute longer, whisking continuously so that lumps don't form.
  • Pour the mixture into a nonstick cake pan—a 9 x 13 inch pan makes for just the right thickness of noodles. (A smaller pan or a bowl will also work but will require more knife work to get thin noodles.) Set it aside to cool and firm up. You can also refrigerate it in the pan to speed up the process.
  • When noodles are set, in around 1 hour, run a knife around the edges of the noodles, place a cutting board on top of the pan, and flip over to invert the noodles onto the board. If they do not release easily, they are not yet firm enough.
    Use a knife to cut the block of jelly into thin noodle shapes, either long or short. If you cut the jelly block horizontally into 2 pieces, it is easy to slice each half into long, thin strands approximately ¼ inch wide.

Sauce and composition

  • Mix the minced garlic with 2 tablespoons water in the bottom of each individual serving bowl. (This recipe makes 4 small servings.) Add the chili oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt, msg and ground Sichuan pepper to each bowl.
  • Pile the noodles on the sauce and garnish with scallions. Serve at room temperature, and mix well before eating.

Tried this recipe?

About Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan’s factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for Sichuan heritage brands and Chinese pantry essentials.

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16 Comments

  1. Perfect recipe, so enjoyable! Never have enough of your sauces, Mouth-Watering chicken, Dan Dan Noodles (ohhh, so delicious, never found quite the same elsewhere, anywhere, to be kept and savoured for ever…). You master malà, for the benefit of all of us!

    1. Michele,
      Thank you so much for this kind message! People rarely comment on blogs anymore, so it’s a treat to hear from someone here with happy experiences. Appreciate it!

  2. Thank you very much for all infos on such food. I have never tasted them although I have seen them very often in eating places and supermarkets in China. Your recipes are all very tempting and saliva drooling. I must make sure to eat them the next time I see them. Black vinegar is my favourite.My deep appreciation for showing this delicious noodle.

  3. Cook from Los Angeles – been craving these for a while and have been wanting to make my own. Thanks for sharing the great written piece and recipe 🙏.

  4. I should have thanked you last year for this great recipe. My wife is Chinese and she introduced me to liangfen. I have now made this recipe for our extended family at least six times, every holiday and birthday since we got married. Everybody loves it!

  5. Interested to know of other starches beside mung bean that are used in sichuan for liangfen? wheat, soybean, etc? curious to know how these other starches compare

    1. Hi Max,
      See paragraph two of the story. I haven’t tried any other starches yet, but do want to try it with rice flour.

  6. Hi Taylor and thanks for this recipe! I some questions if I may:
    * In the “Sauce and composition” section in the Instructions, step 1 starts with “Push the garlic clove…”. The garlic clove wasn’t mentioned in the ingredient list. Should it have been?
    * The Sauce ingredients call for 1/8 tsp of garlic. Is this in addition to the above, meaning the bowl has the garlic puree and the sauce also has garlic?
    * How deep should the slurry be in the sheet pan? Like 1 cm, or? Knowing this allows sizes other than 9×13″.
    * How thin should we cut the noodles? You mentioned thin strips are better…is that ~1/16″ (if I’m gauging the pictures right)?
    * Can the non-oil liquid parts of the sauce be combined together and then poured into the individual bowls in fourths? This would cut down four measuring passes of 6 ingredients, plus simplify scaling.
    * If I didn’t want to use a non-stick pan (and I’m guessing many Chinese do not), any tips on using a regular halfsheet? Perhaps wax paper, plastic wrap, or ?

    1. Hi Jeff. Thanks for the edit.

      The garlic is the first item in the sauce ingredients, 1/8 teaspoon per bowl. The number of cloves will depend on their size. I have removed the instructions for how to mince the garlic cloves to clear up that confusion.

      As shown in the photos, the starch sheet is about 3/8 inch deep. But this is not required! You can make this in any container you like and cut it any shape and size you like. I created this easy method using what I (and most American cooks) have in my kitchen, a nonstick pan, which doesn’t require any oil or spray. I used that size because I happen to prefer the thin noodle shape that gets more sauce coverage. This long starch sheet, cut in half horizontally, means you then only have to make one kind of cut to get noodles about 1/4 inch wide, as instructed in step 3.

      Some recipes say you can just use a bowl, though that would require more knife work to get to long strips. I have not tried a sheet pan or parchment paper. Anything larger than 9 x 13 would make a thinner sheet and thinner noodle. But you can always scale the recipe according to the 11 to 1 ratio discussed in the story.

      I went with tradition on the sauce, but you can make the sauce any way you like, and even serve the noodles in one large bowl.