Looking for the authentic Singapore noodles recipe?
You probably won’t find one.
It is the term people in foreign countries give the way the locals prepare the rice vermicelli in Singapore. So it is futile to look for Singapore noodles in Singapore, but available in Chinese restaurants, especially Cantonese restaurants in other countries.
So Singaporeans will be pretty bewildered to see that there is one stir-fried bearing their country’s moniker when they visit places like the United States, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, and the UK. It is one of the common items on the menu of the Hong Kong cha chaan tengs.
Rice vermicelli is called bee hoon, mee hoon, thin rice noodles, 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 nook and cranny of the city. This type of noodles should be available in most Asian grocery stores.
Singapore is famous for its food. According to the MICHELIN Guide Singapore, there are 38 starred restaurants in a small island city-state which is only 739.1 km square.
But rice vermicelli is street food, right at the opposite end of the spectrum. So isn’t it worth it 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 look at the famous Singapore noodles that are world-famous.
1. 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.
Singaporean staying abroad integrate the local ingredients into their cooking style. Eventually, the stir-fried noodles evolved into a new form and were termed Singapore noodles since the Singaporeans prepare it.
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2. 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 overseas and the local street food style ‘economy’ fried noodles at the hawker stores in Singapore.
a. 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 egg is either scrambled eggs or make an omelet first, then cut it into thin strips.
The common seasonings are soy sauce, oyster sauce, tomato ketchup, white pepper and sesame oil. Fish sauce and Shaoxing wine are occasionally added for the extra kick. Choy sum, cabbage, carrot, and bean sprouts are the common vegetables for stir-fried noodles.
Some stores are selling fried noodles cooked with a minimal amount of ingredients, usually selling cheap and serving as the daily breakfast. This barebone version is available in each corner of Singapore which the locals call economic fried bee hoon 經濟米粉.
The local likes to eat noodles with sambal and pickled green chilies as condiments to heat things. Some people also like to add fried shallot to the noodles.
b. Singapore noodles in other countries
The fried noodles named Singapore noodles in non-Asia countries are different from what you can find in Singapore.
Most of these Singapore noodles recipes include Madras curry powder as one of the ingredients, which the local hawkers never use. In Malaysia (where I live), tomato ketchup is a common ingredient. One of the cookbook by Chef Alan Koh even include Worcestershire sauce.
Capsicum (red bell peppers) is the favorite vegetable for the stir-fried of choy sum is not available. Sometimes you may also have bok choy 白菜 in some recipe.
The overseas version gives the barebone street food a luxury spin, with more ingredients ranging from plump shrimp, and chicken breast meat to Chinese barbeque pork.
3. The secret to making the rice vermicelli noodles springy and not clumping together
This article 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 hawker stores offering rice vermicelli that clumps together with a soggy and sticky texture. Either they are missing out on something or just taking the easy way out.
This mistake happened 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 deciphered the mystery code that had bothered me all this while. Hopefully, this is one small contribution to finding out how to prepare the best Singapore fried vermicelli recipe.
Here is what I have tested while verifying this Singapore noodles recipe:
The purpose: is to solve two problems as below:
1. The rice vermicellis stick to each other and to the wok (or a large skillet) 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 is: Blanch the vermicelli in hot water and cool it immediately in cold water.
This method works and creates springy texture vermicelli that is not clumpy. Since it has been blanched and partially cooked, I only stir-fry it briefly over medium-high heat and never have any sticky problems.
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, after blanching, the immersion in cold water will stop further cooking immediately, preventing the vermicelli from overcooking and turning soggy.
4. Eight tips and useful notes to cook the best Singapore noodles
a. Choice of ingredients
- The meat. Chinese barbeque pork is the most common ingredient (Char Siu / 叉烧). Cut the Char siu into fine julienne. Alternatively, substitute for thin slices of chicken breast meat. The meat is best marinated with light soy sauce, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt.
- The vegetables. The most common greens for the Singapore street food version are bean sprouts, Choy Sum, napa cabbage, and carrots. Some cooks also use red onions and snow peas for its crunchiness, and some spring onions (green onions) as garnish. As for the bean sprouts, 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-Asians may not be familiar with dry shrimps, so it is an acquired taste for some people. It has a strong umami flavor and is considered an essential item in the recipe. You need to wash the dry shrimp with water and soak it for twenty minutes before cooking them. Alternatively, soak it in hot water for five minutes and drain it.
- Dried Chinese mushrooms. Soak the dried Chinese mushrooms until they become soft and hydrated. The soaking will take from one hour to overnight, depending on how large and hard the mushrooms are. Since mushrooms are more expensive than other ingredients, hawkers usually do not use them. However, most restaurants use it due to its aroma.
b. Cooking techniques
- Blanch the vermicelli in boiling water, drain it, and quickly cool in cold water before stir-frying. The cold water treatment is the standard procedure for cooking wonton noodles. I find that it works best for the rice vermicelli too, and it produces a springy texture and is 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 pretty common among the hawkers because this method is simple to take much less time, especially when they need to prepare in large quantities.
- Pan-fried the softened vermicelli (using either one of the methods above) in a hot wok until slightly brown and crispy before starting to stir-fry with other ingredients. Chef Pang Fah suggests this technique in his cookbook, but I do not like the lumpy texture and not springy. the pan-fried steps do 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 of 200g of dry vermicelli becomes 488g.
The Singapore Noodles Recipe
- 3 tbsp oil
- 2 eggs
- 200 g rice vermicelli
- 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
Ingredients D (seasoning)
- 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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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1130Total Fat: 58gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 47gCholesterol: 565mgSodium: 5048mgCarbohydrates: 92gFiber: 7gSugar: 22gProtein: 62g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 1/28/2019
Frequently asked questions
1. Can I use black pepper instead of white pepper?
You can substitute white pepper with black pepper, but most Asian prefer to cook with white pepper.
2. Can I premix the seasoning?
If you are not confident in adding the seasoning (soy sauce, ketchup, etc. directly into the wok, it is a wise to premix all the seasonings to become a sauce mixture in a small bowl. Then pour the sauce into the hot wok and stir-fry with the noodles.
3. Do I need the chicken stock to cook the noodles?
You do not need chicken stock or chicken broth to cook Singapore noodles. The seasonings and flavor from the ingredients are already sufficient.
4. How to cook vegan Singapore noodles?
The best practice is to omit the meat and substitute with firm tofu as the protein sauce.