Looking for the authentic Singapore noodles recipe?
You probably won’t find one.
It is the term given by people in foreign countries the way the locals prepare the rice vermicelli in Singapore. It is futile looking for Singapore noodles in Singapore.
So Singaporeans will be pretty bewildered to see that there is one stir-fried bearing their country’s moniker when they visit places like US, Hong Kong, Australia Canada, and the UK.
Rice vermicelli is called bee hoon, mee hoon or mai fun by the locals, which is the pronunciation of the two Chinese words of the same meaning, 米粉, in different dialects. It is a street food that you can find in every nooks and cranny of the city.
Singapore is famous for food. According to the MICHELIN Guide Singapore, there are a total of 38 starred restaurants in a small island city-state which is only 739.1 km square.
But rice vermicelli is a street food, right at the opposite end of the spectrum. Isn’t it worth for us to try?
If you are squeamish about street food, you may be surprised that Liao Fan Chicken Rice Noodle shop by hawker Chan, has received one star according to the MICHELIN Guide 2017.
So let’s dive in and take a look at the famous Singapore noodles that is world famous.
How is the vermicelli prepared in Singapore and other countries
Singapore noodles 星洲炒米 is the name given to any stir-fried noodles prepared by following the method used by the hawkers in Singapore. Nevertheless, different hawkers use seasonings and ingredients that appeal to them, and therefore there is no one standard method to cook it.
The Singaporean staying abroad integrate the local ingredients into their cooking style. Eventually, the stir-fried noodles evolved into a new form and termed Singapore noodles since it is prepared by the Singaporean.
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Street food style vs. curry powder version Singapore noodles
Before I move on to the recipe section, here is the comparison between the Singapore noodles in overseas compared to the local street food style ‘economy’ fried noodle at the hawker stores in Singapore.
The Singapore version
The vermicelli is presoaked in water, drained and set aside. The hawker will saute some chopped garlic and onion with vegetable oil or lard, then stir-fried with a few shrimps, squid, and meat. Some hawkers also add an egg. The common seasonings are soy sauce, oyster sauce, tomato ketchup and sesame oil. Choy sum, cabbage, carrot and bean sprouts are the common vegetables for the stir-fried noodles.
Some stores are selling the fried noodles that cooked with a minimal amount of ingredients, usually selling cheap and serve as the daily breakfast. This barebone version is available in each corner of Singapore which the local call it as economic fried bee hoon 經濟米粉.
The local likes to eat the noodles with sambal and pickled green chilies as condiments to heat things up. Some people also like to add fried shallot to the noodles.
Watch the videoRead on: Watch the video recipe at the end of this post
Singapore noodles in other countries
The fried noodles named as Singapore noodles in non-Asia countries are different from what you can find in Singapore.
Most of these Singapore fried vermicelli recipes include curry powder as one of the ingredients, which is never used by the local hawkers. In Malaysia (where I live), tomato ketchup is a common ingredient. One of the cookbook by Chef Alan Koh even include Worcestershire sauce.
Capsicum (bell peppers) is the favorite vegetable for the stir-fried, perhaps choy sum is not available at some places. Sometime you may see boy choy 白菜 in it, which is the more commonly available Asian green vegetables in the west.
The overseas version gives the barebone street food a luxury spin, with more ingredients ranging from shrimps, chicken to roast pork.
The secret of making the rice vermicelli springy and not clumping together
In this article, I will attempt to improvise the classic Singapore street food style fried noodle with a twist, not so much of the ingredient, but the METHOD OF COOKING.
I have seen many hawkers stores offering rice vermicelli that clumps together, and with a soggy and sticky texture. I guess either they are missing out something or just to take the easy way out.
This mistake happens to me too before I started to dig deeper to find a better way to prepare the noodles.
After a series of tests, I finally decipher the mystery code that bothers me all these while. Hopefully, this is one small contribution to find out how to prepare the best Singapore fried vermicelli recipe.
Here is what I have tested while verifying this recipe:
The purpose: to solve two problem as below:
1. The rice vermicellis stick to each other, and to the wok while stir-frying.
2. The rice vermicellis become soggy and clump up.
What I want to achieve:
1. To obtain a springy texture.
2. To shorten the stir-frying time. (The longer I fry it, the stickier it becomes).
The cooking method being tested:
Blanch the vermicelli in hot water and cool it immediately in cold water.
This method works and creates a springy texture vermicelli that is not clumpy. Since it has been blanched and partially cooked, I only stir-fry it briefly over high heat and never have any sticky problem.
Why is this cooking method work?
I am not entirely sure why it works, but the closest explanation is that most of the starch has been washed away by blanching it, and hence they become less sticky (and more springy). For the same reason, it is unlikely to stick together. Furthermore, the immersion in cold water after blanching will stop further cooking immediately, preventing the vermicelli from overcooking and turns soggy.
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8 Tips and useful notes to cook the best Singapore noodles
Choice of ingredients
- The meat. The most common ingredient is Chinese barbeque pork (Char Siu / 叉烧). Cut the Char siu into fine julienne. Alternatively, substitute for thin slices of chicken breast meat. The meat is best to marinate with some light soy sauce, cornstarch and a pinch of salt.
- The vegetables. The most common greens for the Singapore street food version is bean sprouts, Choy Sum, cabbage, and carrots. You should divide it into two portions. Add one to the vermicelli during frying, and throw in the remaining to the wok just before turning off the fie so that they will still be crispy.
- Dry shrimps. Since non-Asian may not familiar to dry shrimps, so it is is an acquired taste to some people. It has a high umami flavor and is considered an essential item in the recipe. You need to wash the dry shrimps with water and soak it for twenty minutes before cooking it. Alternatively, soak it in hot water for five minutes and drained.
- Dried Chinese mushrooms. Soak the dried Chinese mushrooms until they become soft and hydrated. The soaking will take from one hour to overnight depends on how large and hard rare the mushrooms. Since mushrooms are more expensive than other ingredients, the hawkers usually do not use it. However, most of the restaurants use it due to its aroma.
- Blanch the vermicelli in boiling water, drained and quickly cool in cold water before stir-frying. The cold water treatment is the standard procedure to cook wonton noodles. I find that it works best for the rice vermicelli too, and it produces a springy texture and less sticky.
- Soak the vermicelli for two hours or until thoroughly hydrated and soft before stir-frying. This method is simple to execute, but the texture of the vermicelli will not become springy. The vermicelli will tend to clump together during stir-frying. It is quite common among the hawkers because this method is simple to take much less time, especially when they need to prepare in large quantity.
- Pan-fried the softened vermicelli (by using either one of the methods above) until slightly brown and crispy before proceeding to stir-fry with other ingredients. Chef Pang Fah suggest this technique in his cookbook, but I do not like the texture that is lumpy and not springy. the pan-fried steps does create an additional aroma that resembles stir-frying over high heat (镬气)
- The amount of rice vermicelli in the recipe refers to the dry weight before blanching. After the blanching, the weight for 200g of dry vermicelli becomes 488g.
The video shows you how to prepare Singapore noodles. (7.37 minutes)
The Singapore Noodles Recipe
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 medium size onion
- 80 g chicken breast meat cut into julienne
- 50 g medium size shrimps deveined, wash with salt and drained
- 1 tablespoons dry shrimps soak for 30 minutes and drained
- 40 g cabbage cut into julienne
- 20 g carrot cut into julienne
- 50 g bean sprout
- 10 g chopped scallions
- Bring a pot of water to boil. Blanch the rice vermicelli until soft, which will take about one minute.
- Remove the vermicelli, place it in a pot of cold water. Let it cools down to room temperature. Drain away the water with a wire mesh strainer or colander. Set aside.
- Deveined the shrimps, marinate with a half teaspoon of salt for five minutes, wash in running water until the water runs clear.
- Soak the dry shrimps in hot water for 30 minutes. Drained.
Cut cabbage and carrot into julienne
Cut the chicken breast meat into thin slices. Mix with a half teaspoon of cornflour, 1 teaspoon of light soy sauce and one teaspoon of vegetable oil. Marinate for ten minutes.
Heat up 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the wok. Saute the chopped onions and garlic.
Add the breast meat, dry shrimps, shrimps and stir-fry until they are cooked.
Add the cabbage and carrot and stir-fry for another minute. Push all the ingredients to the side of the wok.
Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and scramble two beaten eggs until nearly cooked. Push back the ingredients to the bottom of the wok and mix with the eggs.
Add the vermicelli, 2/3 of the bean sprouts and the seasonings (ingredients D). Mix well with the vermicelli. Turn to high heat and stir-fry until aromatic.
- Turn off the heat. Add the remaining bean sprouts and mix well.
- Top with chopped scallion and serve.
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