Fried Hokkien prawn noodles
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Fried Hokkien prawn noodles, known locally as Hokkien mee, is a dish comprising thick yellow noodles fried in a rich prawn stock and served with chilli and lime on the side. Although there are various accounts of its origins, it has become a popular local dish.
The origins of the dish are uncertain. According to one account, the dish was originally known as Rochor mee because it was first sold at Rochor Road. Hokkien sailors who had worked at noodle factories in post-war Singapore would gather at Rochor Road in the evenings to fry the excess noodles from the factories over charcoal stoves.
Others suggest that a stall beside the 7th Storey Hotel near Rochor Road first concocted this dish, hence its association with the road. Rochor mee was sautéed in a stew made of prawn shells, pork bones and other ingredients, and served with thinly sliced sotong (squid). For takeaway orders, the noodles were wrapped in opir (brown lotus leaves).
Another anecdote suggests that the dish was sold as early as 1880 by a Hokkien immigrant at Rochor Road. His Hokkien assistant set up a rival stall but later shared his recipe with four Teochew friends who made a pact not to sell their dish within eight kilometres of each other. One of these was Yeo Siew Keng. One stall was at Tanglin, with others near Roxy Cinema at Katong, Balestier Road, and the New World entertainment centre. The local version of fried Hokkien mee is thus sometimes referred to as Teochew Hokkien mee because these four Teochews popularised the dish in Singapore. The dish was popular with well-to-do Europeans, Eurasians and Peranakans who often drove up in cars to order their noodles and pay a pricey 10 cents in the 1930s (as compared to only two cents for a plate of fried kway teow at the time). In later years, Rochor Hokkien mee was sold at the car park beside the Orchard Road Cold Storage supermarket.
To make the dish, eggs are first fried, followed by garlic and soy sauce. The basic yellow wheat noodles, known as Hokkien noodles, are then added along with bee hoon (vermicelli). Added to the mix are taugeh (bean sprouts), prawns, eggs, sliced sotong and slices of cooked pork belly. Pork stock is poured over the mix several times. Each time, a lid is placed over the wok so that the flavours seep into the noodles and the sauce thickens. The dish is served with a dash of sambal (chilli paste) and calamansi lime on the side. The early version of this dish had a brown gravy scattered with lard. The gravy was made with dried prawn, anchovies, pork bones and some sugar boiled for more than four hours. The finished noodles are traditionally wrapped in opeh or opir leaves from the Nipah palm.
Hokkien char mee (chau tai look meen in Cantonese) is made of thick egg noodles, similar in appearance to Japanese udon noodles, braised in black sauce and fish gravy. The main ingredients are sliced pork, pig liver and pork rind along with shrimp, sliced fish and squid. Choy sum, a type of leafy vegetable, adds a little green. Sometimes an egg is broken onto the hot plate of noodles or sambal belacan (chilli with fermented prawn paste) added. Variants of this dish are Hokkien char mee hoon, which uses vermicelli instead of the egg noodle. Contemporary stalls have also replaced the sliced fish with fish cake and the pork with chicken. This version is more familiar in Malaysia.
Fried Hokkien mee also refers to completely different dishes in parts of Malaysia. For example, the Hokkien mee found in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is a dish of flat noodles in a black sauce also known as tai lok meen. This dish is also different from that available in Singapore as it uses only wheat noodles. The flavours of bean sprouts, chives and garlic are also missing or limited. Instead, the dominant flavours tend to be of fried caramelised onions, and thick black soy sauce sweetened with caramel. In Penang, an order of Hokkien mee is a dish of prawn noodle soup.
Another variant of the dish, sang har mien, is made using giant river prawns and wonton noodles. The prawns are halved and then fried and poured over the noodles. Sold in the Klang Valley of Malaysia, this dish tends to cost more than other versions because of the exorbitant price of the prawns.
In some Western countries, a dish sometimes known as Singapore noodles is, in fact, a version of fried Hokkien prawn noodles that often does not have the rich stock of the original but is instead a fried egg noodle dish with some seafood and egg thrown in.
Fried Hokkien prawn noodles
Rochor mee, Rochor Hokkien mee
Singapore noodles, Singapore egg noodles
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The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.