Singapore Noodles or Mei Fun – the very name is just plain wrong. Speaking strictly as a born and bred Singaporean! There is no such thing as Singapore Noodles in Singapore! We have way too many noodles for there to be just one, no matter how immortalised it is in the world of Chinese takeouts!
The first time I came across Singapore Noodles was within my first month in the UK. Shock, horror. Almost as bad as when I saw a knocking shop called Singapore Massage! Almost.
Definitely a WTH moment! For want of a less rude word.
Take a look at the gallery below, showcasing just some of the much loved noodles you’ll find in Singapore (and some in Malaysia) and you’ll see what I mean. No curry flavoured, stirfried rice vermicelli to be had anywhere!
So if Singapore Noodles didn’t originate in Singapore, where in the world did the dish come from? Apparently, it is a Cantonese creation, very popular in Cantonese restaurants and stalls in Hong Kong. But why the curry powder, when it’s not really an ingredient associated with Chinese cooking? Your guess is as good as mine.
Perhaps the enterprising cook who created Singapore Mei Fun had visited Singapore and tried our Malay or Indian or Nyonya food. Or he popped over to Burma, or maybe even India! Whatever the origin, suffice it to say, it is a hugely popular stir fried noodle dish in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia.
So what is this infamous (as far as any Singaporean is concerned) Singapore Noodles? It is a super quick dish of stirfried rice vermicelli noodles with vegetables and some sort of protein. BUT the defining character of the Singapore Noodles is the addition of curry powder, which is the prevalent flavour of this takeout dish.
As with any noodle dish, the “filling”, that is the vegetables and protein, is really a matter of taste. The “standard” vegetables in a takeaway Singapore Noodles recipe tend to be:
- red capsicum (bell pepper)
- beansprouts (here in the UK)
- Chinese cabbage
- mushrooms (sometimes)
And the protein can be one of or a combination of the following:
- prawns (shrimps)
- pork (roasted or otherwise)
- all of the above, then it’s called “The Special” here in the UK
Cooking Singapore Noodles at Home
Once you get the ingredients ready, this is a very, very quick dish to cook. The rice noodles only want 2-3 minutes of cooking on high heat. Any longer, and they’ll be stodgy, no longer that springy, almost al dente feel to them. And you don’t want stodgy.
So, how do we cook the perfect Singapore Noodles? Let’s take a look at some of the ingredients:
Rice Noodles or Rice Vermicelli
The fact that we are using rice noodles, makes this the perfect “free from” recipe. Use a wheat free soy sauce and oyster sauce, and you’ve got yourself a gluten free noodle dish.
If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh rice vermicelli or bee hoon, or mee hoon or mei fun, get those and just proceed with the actual cooking.
If not, dried vermicelli is the noodles we use. All you need to do, is soak the noodles in hot water. Not cold, not room temperature, and most certainly, not boiling water. Let me explain why.
- Soaking your dried noodles in cold water results in noodles that will still be hard and brittle after cooking. Same goes with lukewarm water.
- Noodles soaked in boiling water are actually do-able, but the problem with using boiling water, is that even an extra minute can kill those noodles and make them all gooey and lumpy upon cooking. Even 5 minutes is too long, in my opinion.
- So the best option? Boil the kettle. Leave it to settle for 5 minutes, then pour over your noodles, totally covering them. Soak for 5-10 minutes, then rinse with cold water to stop them from softening further. Why 5-10 minutes? Because you may have left that hot water longer than you think! Test the noodles after 5, if they are pliable but still not soft all the way, they are done. If they are not pliable, give them 2 more minutes. Erring on the side of caution is better than mushy noodles. So if you are not sure, stop and rinse them. Just remember, the hotter the water, the less time the noodles need to be soaked.
Singapore Noodles “Sauce”
When I fry noodles, like Chow Mein and Pad Thai, I like to mix all the sauces and seasonings into a bowl, so that when I am flash cooking the noodles, it’s just a case of dumping 1 ingredient, instead of half a dozen. And that’s what we have here: the soy sauce, oyster sauce, etc, all get placed in one bowl, ready to be used.
Curry Powder for Singapore Noodles
Chinese curry powders tend to be a mixture of madras curry mix, along with other ingredients like flour, sugar, garlic, ginger, and oftentimes, msg. So it doesn’t have the full curry aroma that you would have with a “proper” Indian or Malay curry powder.
So go get yourself a packet of Chinese or even Japanese curry powder, if you like, or just use a regular mild Madras or any generic curry powder. You could increase the sugar in our sauce to 1 tsp, to make the noodles a touch sweeter, if you fancy, making them more like takeaway Singapore noodles. If you want sweet noodles!
Shaoxing Rice Wine
This is from the region of Shaoxing and made with fermented rice, and is a light brown to dark brown colour. You can use any rice wine (not vinegar) as substitute, or, failing that, dry sherry is a perfect substitute.
We use 2 different types of soy sauces here: light and dark. Click here to read about the different types of soy sauces. You should be able to get both fairly easily these days. Here in the UK, they are found everywhere.
The Protein (Meat) in our Singapore Noodles
I’m using a small portion of prawns (shrimps) here. You could double the amount of prawns, if you like, or use chicken or pork. Whatever meat you use, wants to be cut up small and be quick cooking. You could also use cooked chicken or meat, like leftover roast chicken or roast pork (char siu).
But not cooked prawns. Never cook with previously cooked prawns, as so much of the flavour would already be lost from the initial cooking. As far as I’m concerned, that rule holds for most seafoods.
High Heat or Medium High Heat for Frying Noodles?
Ideally, it should be high heat. However, in my experience, it’s not something many people can carry off, stir frying on very high heat at home is a bit of a skill and requires focus. No distractions from kids or getting another forgotten ingredient. So I have long gone for medium-high, as a compromise, in my classes and even when I cook them, as I have 4 homeschooling kids. I believe in making my recipes user friendly in the real world.
Vegetarian Singapore Noodles
This is super, super easy, as with any noodle dish. Just leave out the meat/seafood and replace with more vegetables or tofu. I would definitely suggest tofu, if you are a tofu fan. Other vegetables you can add to make our mei fun vegetarian would be:
- sugar snap peas
- green beans
- bamboo shoots
- more mushrooms
Final word on cooking Singapore Mei Fun
You need to have everything at hand, because the actual cooking is done in the blink of an eye, and the noodles do not want over cooking.
Are you a fan of Singapore Noodles and Chinese Takeouts? I am! Now you can make your own, along with these other Chinese favourites: