Curried Singapore Noodles: Probably Not From Singapore, Still Delicious

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Curry-flavored rice noodles. [Photographs: Shao Z.]

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I bet if I were to hop on a plane and fly directly to Singapore, it would be hard—if not impossible—to find so-called "Singapore noodles" at any restaurant. Where would I find them? For starters, a heck of a lot of Chinese restaurants. Seasoned with curry powder, the thin rice noodles are stir-fried along with shrimp, char siu (Chinese roast pork), and a mix of vegetables. Its origins are a bit fuzzy, but most likely Singapore noodles are as Cantonese as a bowl of wonton noodle soup: take away the curry powder and you have another Cantonese stir-fried rice-noodle dish called Ha Moon-style stir-fried rice noodles (Ha Moon Chow Mei Fun). This probably explains why you'll most likely find this dish at a dai pai dong (open-air food stall) in Hong Kong rather than a hawker center in Singapore.

Cooking with the right rice noodle is the key to making Singapore noodles successfully. If you have an Asian supermarket nearby, there are probably rows and rows of different brands and sizes of rice-stick noodles (sometimes also called rice vermicelli noodles). Having a variety of choices to pick from is good, but it can also be confusing. You need a rice noodle that is thin, but can be subjected the heat of the wok and the movements of stir-frying without breaking into little bits.

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The best for this is a rice-stick noodle with the words "kong moon" on the label. Kong Moon, also romanized as jiangmen, is a city in the Guangdong region of China. There are a few brands that make kong moon-style rice noodles. The Double Swallow brand is my personal favorite, but others will work as long as they have that "kong moon" label.

If you're not able to find this type of rice-stick noodle, look for ones that list only water and rice in the ingredients. Some noodles are made with tapioca flour, which I find a bit too starchy for stir-frying.

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When you have your noodles, prepping them is pretty simple: Pour enough hot boiling water over them to cover and soak for five minutes. Then rinse them under cold water and drain them in a colander.

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Shrimp is almost always found in Singapore noodles, and so is char siu. Most Chinatown barbecue joints or noodle restaurants will have char siu hanging by a hooks up front next to other favorites like roast duck and soy sauce chicken. Ask for half a piece of char siu (fatty or lean) and tell them not to cut it for you (you'll want to cut it yourself into thin strips). If you're unable to get that, ham is just as popular in Singapore noodles as char siu—get a nice thick piece of ham steak and slice it thinly, instead.

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As for the vegetables, onions, bell peppers, and carrots are very common, though you can also add celery, bean sprouts, and snow peas. The main thing is to aim for a mix of colors while also making sure the vegetables will retain some crunch during stir-frying.

As with all home stir-frying recipes, I cook the ingredients in batches, since overloading the wok will lower its temperature, and high heat is an absolute necessity for stir-frying. (On a similar note, if you want to double this recipe, do not stir-fry double the amount of each ingredient in one wok—home ranges just can't generate the amount of heat that's needed to stir-fry large quantities of food.)

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The first thing I cook in the wok is the egg. When that's done, I set it aside and wipe the wok clean. You'll be re-heating the wok again so you don't want any leftover bits of egg in it, lest they burn.

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Next go the shrimp, which have been quickly marinated in oil and fish sauce.

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Then I add the onions and char siu, followed by red bell peppers and snow peas, and lastly the carrots.

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When all the vegetables and meats are in the wok, I like to season everything with curry powder and salt so that it's all well coated before eventually being mixed with the noodles. Then I remove it all from the wok and set it aside.

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I wipe the wok clean again, heat a few tablespoons of oil in it, and add the noodles.

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After about 30 seconds of stir-frying, I add the sauce along with more curry powder, and a little bit of salt. Make sure you are firmly scraping the bottom of the wok with your spatula as you stir-fry the noodles—this prevents the noodles from sticking.

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Next, I return the rest of the ingredients to the wok and mix it all together. Off the heat, I add some scallions, a drizzle of sesame oil, and serve.

No matter where Singapore noodles come from, they sure do taste great.

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