First published March 2013. Updated August 2017.
This Singapore Mee Siam Kuah recipe is for all my expatriate Singaporean and Malaysian readers who keep reminding me to post more recipes from home. It is a hawker centre dish of lightly fried noodles in a gravy that’s a touch sour and a touch sweet, with a whole host of toppings. When, like me, you don’t have a coffee shop or hawker centre near you, selling all forms of comfort food from the old home, you just have to make it yourself! And so I make these noodles a handful of times a year, as my whole family loves Singaporean and Malaysian food.
Mee Siam Kuah brings back many fond memories of going to the market on Saturday and Sunday mornings with my grandmother. Wet markets were a way of life in Singapore when I was younger, much as they are, in many parts of Asia. You could get everything there: from fresh vegetables to fresh fruits, from fresh flowers, to fresh meat and seafood, fresh noodles, fresh tofu; goodness me, everything you needed you would find at the old wet markets. Even fish for our fish tank! And live wriggly worms to feed them! Gosh, I’d quite forgotten that!
Our local wet market, which was a two storey complex and a 5-minute walk away, had the fresh ingredients mentioned above, on the first floor. On the ground floor, was where all the hawker stalls were situated, selling all sorts of cooked dishes that make Singapore food what it is – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya and Eurasian.
For breakfast, this is where I used to go to for my fix of Mee Siam, Nasi Lemak (image above), Dosa, Putu Mayam (idiyappam), Tahu Panas (Chinese fresh hot bean curd in sugar syrup), oh, the list was endless! The ground floor was also where we would go to get freshly ground chilli pastes and curry pastes from the ancient looking Indian lady.
Pronounced Mee Si-Yum, in the Malay language, which means Thai noodles. Siam, as many of you will know, is Thailand’s old Western name (it was changed to Thailand in 1939). The origin of Mee Siam Kuah is a bone of contention for many; is it Thai, is it Malay, or is it Nyonya? Go to the Singapore and Malaysian recipes page to read more about the Nyonyas. I’ve always viewed it as a Malay dish, as all the stalls selling them when I was growing up in Singapore were run by the Malays.
You know what though, this grey line is very characteristic of a lot of food in Singapore and Malaysia – so many dishes are claimed by some or all the ethnic communities, which, in my opinion, is but one of the many endearing traits of a multi faceted cuisine!
There are essentially 2 types of Mee Siam. One is a dry, spiced fried noodle dish which is also commonly known as fried bee hoon; this is the version found all over Malaysia too.
The other, served with a sour and ever so slightly sweet gravy, is the version found in Singapore. My sisters, who have been living in Malaysia since the 80s, tell me that Malaysians often call the gravy version Mee Siam Singapore. And that is the recipe I’m doing here – Singapore Mee Siam Kuah. The word kuah means gravy in Malay.
I’m not done yet! There are, you guessed it, 2 types of mee siam with gravy! One is with coconut milk that we call Mee Siam Mamak. The word mamak is a colloquial term for the Tamil Muslim stall owners, derived from the Tamil term for uncle, “mama”. In Asian cultures, as kids, we are encouraged to refer to adults as auntie or uncle, whether we know them or not, as a sign of respect. So Mee Siam Mamak, with coconut milk, is sold by the Indian Muslim stall owners in the hawker centres in Singapore. Another example of a mamak dish is this Mee Goreng Mamak, Indian Fried Noodles (image below).
The second type of Mee Siam Kuah has no coconut milk, and is thickened with a small amount of ground peanuts. This version is synonymous with the Malays and the Nyonyas in Singapore.
Now, did I mention that this is a breakfast dish? Well, it is! It can, however, be found anytime of the day at hawker centres but is still regarded as a breakfast dish, much like Nasi Lemak. I remember many a morning, going to the wet market with my granny and when all the shopping was done, we’d pop down to the hawker centre for a bowl of mee siam and in my case, tahu panas.
How to Cook Singapore Mee Siam Kuah at Home
The recipe is in two parts. First, we make the gravy, then, we fry the noodles (image above) before serving up. The noodles can also be made ahead and reheated.
The gravy is best made ahead. A minimum of 2 hours but if you plan early enough, the day before is even better. This will allow the flavours to develop and mature, just like curries. Cool the gravy to room temperature and store in the fridge.
Ingredients for Singapore Mee Siam Kuah
There are a few specialist ingredients here that you will need, to successfully make this Mee Siam Kuah recipe. But if you are Singaporean or Malaysian, you should be used to it! If you don’t have an Oriental store near you, go online. You can get almost anything online, Amazon is really great these days for ingredients.
Fermented Soy Beans or Taucheo
Click here to read more. This is salted, fermented soy beans and can be found in Oriental shops. If however, you can’t get hold of it, I’ve suggested substituting it with hoisin sauce or red miso paste, something readily available these days. Be sure to get the one with as few added ingredients as possible.
Click here to read more. Air dried shrimp, these smell and taste of the sea and are brimming with umami. Leave them out if you can’t get them or substitute with a handful of shiitake mushrooms for an umami hit. Not the same, but, beggars can’t be choosers.
Click here to read more. This is potent and smelly and screams umami. Leave out if you can’t get it. Your gravy won’t be as deep in flavour, but it will still be delicious.
Garnish and Toppings
All noodle dishes are served with toppings and garnishes. For our Mee Siam Kuah, here are your standard toppings:
- sambal – this will be homemade chilli paste or chilli sauce like this chilli paste recipe or even this sambal belacan. You can, however, get shop bought pastes like sambal oelek or even Chinese Chilli Oil.
- slices of lime (lime juice makes all noodle dishes better!)
- boiled eggs (1 per person)
- cut up chives
- fried tofu pieces
- fishballs – the Chinese variety (from, you guessed it, a Chinese grocer) but there’s no reason why you can’t use the more common Thai ones
- crispy fried shallots – homemade recipe here but shop bought will suffice
Mee Siam Kuah is a great DIY Party Dish
In Singapore, it is not uncommon to serve this Mee Siam Kuah or Laksa as a party dish. Basically, you place everything on the table: the fried noodles, the gravy and the toppings. Then you let everyone fill their own bowls.
And before we get to the recipe, here are some step by step photos:
I hope you enjoy the recipe, let me know if you do give it a try!
And if you fancy more Singapore and Malaysian recipes, head on over to the page here, for more traditional favourites like:
Singapore Mee Siam Kuah recipe, a hawker dish of lightly fried noodles in a gravy that's a touch sour and a touch sweet, with a whole host of toppings. Prep and Total Time = I've given you a combination of actual hands on time for making the gravy and the noodles. The noodles only take 5 minutes to cook.
Total time does not take into account the resting time for the gravy, before serving.
Mee Siam, a Malay noodle dish
Singapore Mee Siam Kuah recipe, a hawker dish of lightly fried noodles in a gravy that's a touch sour and a touch sweet, with a whole host of toppings.
Prep and Total Time = I've given you a combination of actual hands on time for making the gravy and the noodles. The noodles only take 5 minutes to cook. Total time does not take into account the resting time for the gravy, before serving.