I have to admit that i may have been wrong when i said Fried Bee Hoon was, to me, the national dish of Singapore, because now I am of the opinion that Bak Chor Mee (minced pork noodles) may be even more commonplace. Often times, Fried Bee Hoon is only sold as a breakfast item, whereas Bak Chor Mee is sold throughout the day.
It took me a while to appreciate Bak Chor Mee, because i never had vinegar in my food since childhood. I never liked Bak Chor Mee during my first twenty years in Singapore. Once i got used to vinegar though, i came to love it! The taste is rather strong, and i would say you either love it or hate it. This uniquely Singaporean dish is not found in Malaysia. No, not even in JB. Continue reading True Singapore Food – Bak Chor Mee
Hainanese curry rice is pretty common in Singapore, but not so much in Malaysia (by the way, it definitely did not originate from Hainan in China). I don’t recall ever seeing Hainanese curry rice in KL, but apparently you can find them as far north of Singapore as Malacca. In any case, it is not easily found in Malaysia, so I think it is right to say that Hainanese curry rice is Singaporean cuisine. Continue reading True Singapore Food: Hainanese curry rice
Chwee Kueh (steamed rice cake) is as Singaporean as it gets. I have not seen it anywhere else in the region. No, not really in Malaysia, other than in neighbouring Johor, which may well have imported it from Singapore. Not in Thailand, nor Indonesia.
It is interesting for being light enough as an after-meal snack, yet heavy enough to be a meal if you like. The main crave-inducing feature is the topping – fried minced preserved radish with shallot. You couldn’t eat the topping on it’s own though, it will be too salty and overpowering. Chwee Kueh, served warm, is truly the perfect pairing. The topping is very oily, and this oil is an indispensable part of the whole package, as it imparts a fragrance very much like truffle oil does.
Chwee Kueh remains one of the cheapest food item that can be found in a hawker centre, at S$0.25 per piece with a minimum purchase of 4 pieces. It is probably the most inflation-resistant food – the price hasn’t changed for more than a decade.
The Chwee Kueh by Bedok Chwee Kueh is one of the best. It is hard to resist having some Chwee Kueh post-meal at Smith Street Food Centre (which to me is the best Food Centre in Singapore). Have you had Chwee Kueh recently?
If Fried Bee Hoon is ubiquitous in Singapore, one could say Yellow Noodles is at least equally so, making an appearance in a wide range of dishes, including but not limited to Fried Mee (sibling to Fried Bee Hoon at economic Bee Hoon stalls), Mee Goreng, soup noodles (think prawn and pork ribs soup noodle and Yong Tau Fu) and not forgetting Hokkien noodles, which is a uniquely Singaporean dish itself.
Yellow Noodles is so popular in Singapore that you find at least 4 or 5 different brands of locally produced Yellow Noodles sold in the supermarket. It is unique among all the other types of noodles in that it is actually a little soggy and has a slightly bitter alkaline taste, and it is well liked precisely for these qualities.
Fried Bee Hoon (rice vermicelli) gets my vote as being the national dish of Singapore. The “official” national dish of Singapore is Hainanese Chicken Rice, but I think the popularity of chicken rice has slowly been eroded away over the years. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about Fried Bee Hoon that makes me want to eat it every time I see a stall selling it. There’s an instant sense of connection with it. It’s the food that needs the least convincing to choose for breakfast. Anyway, the ubiquity of the so called “Economic” Bee Hoon food stall says something about the popularity of Fried Bee Hoon in Singapore, and the same cannot be said about the neighbouring Malaysia.
Fried Bee Hoon is cheap, typically costing under S$2.50 if you order it with 2 simple sides of vege and egg. If you do it at home, it is even cheaper. Much cheaper. A 400gm pack of Bee Hoon costs under $1.50, and it is enough to serve 6 adults. I often buy Bee Hoon from Malaysia, where it costs less than RM3 per pack, which is under S$1.
It is very easy to prepare Fried Bee Hoon at home. I basically learnt to do it by trial and error, and it is more or less the same as how Kenneth Goh (Guaishushu) does it, so i won’t reiterate the recipe here. I love his recipes, by the way. The irony about Fried Bee Hoon is that it is actually more cooked than it is fried. It took me a long time to figure this out, because i always assumed that Fried Bee Hoon is as its name suggests, fried. If you only fried it, you will end up with very stiff Bee Hoon, likely inedible. It requires cooking for some time to soften the Bee Hoon. Anyway, to arrive at tasty Fried Bee Hoon, besides the regular seasoning – light and dark soya sauce and optionally oyster sauce, you could try adding a bit of cooking wine and even chicken stock.
The side dishes i love to have together with Fried Bee Hoon are fried eggs, stir fried cabbage, fried tofu and luncheon meat. These are pretty easy to prepare also. To reduce the oil used for frying the tofu, you can use the egg frying pan to do the frying. Use only as much oil as needed to cover up to half the height of the tofu. Thereafter, you just need to flip it over to fry the other side. Soaking the tofu in brine the night before helps to improve the flavour. Or if you’re lazy (you are), buy the pre-fried tofu, and just heat it up will do. Once you get enough practice, i would say it takes about 45 minutes to prepare the Fried Bee Hoon and all the side items. The logical order is to start with the stir fried cabbage, while frying the tofu at the same time. Next, cook the Fried Bee Hoon, then fry the luncheon meat. Finally, fry the eggs just before serving.
Not everyone will have the luxury of time to do this often, but as often as you can do it, you can enjoy a luxurious, true Singaporean breakfast, good for the entire family, for no more than S$7.50 (Luncheon meat $2.50, Bee Hoon $1.50, Cabbage $1.50, Tofu $1.00, Eggs $1.00).