Why It Works
- Steeping a large quantity of green Thai chiles in boiling water before pickling them results in big chile flavor without an insane level of spiciness.
- Stir-frying shallots and mushrooms first cooks off their moisture, which would otherwise inhibit the noodles from crisping and browning.
I'll just get it out of the way. The type of "Singapore noodles" known outside of Singapore does not actually exist in Singapore. When I moved to Singapore, I didn't know that. As I walked along the hawker stalls, I kept looking for the only dish of Singapore that I'd heard about, hoping to taste a terrific authentic version. Slowly I began to figure out that what I knew as Singapore noodles was in fact a dish known here as bee hoon (thin rice vermicelli) in a simple stir-fry dish of mild soy sauce seasoning, vegetables, and a modest sampling of seafood such as shrimp (known as prawns here) and squid (sotong).
A filling plate of regular bee hoon, pictured above, will only set you back a modest amount of money. Also, just about everywhere is a bare bones version, pictured below, known as "economical bee hoon." Economical bee hoon is the way to go if you're trying to fill your belly at a bargain. You can grab a plate of it for practically nothing.
The main difference between Westernized versions of Singapore noodles and the real thing is that there isn't any curry powder in a Singaporean bee hoon dish. The noodles are also served up pretty mild in flavor—not spicy at all. With all of the other fiery dishes around, I find this an especially refreshing noodle dish. Plus, there are always hot chiles available on the side if you want to heat things up.
Even after doing some research, I haven't been able to suss out how curry powder got added to the mix in Westernized Singapore noodles. My guess is that it was a way to merge the flavors of Chinese and Indian culinary influences into a quick fried hawker-style dish.
Fried vermicelli is a very homey dish, with families cooking it up at home according to the flavors that appeal to their own personal tastes and what they happen to have on hand. With this in mind, I've fried up my own version for you to try at home. A gas stove and a wok work best to try to achieve as much wok hei (a unique flavor that comes from a wok and high flame) as possible. Though even with that, my dish cannot fully replicate the flavors that came from the well-seasoned and jet-fired woks at my local hawker stand.
Fried bee hoon is easy and fast. No par-cooking of the noodles is necessary. Just soak, drain, and fry. To fry the noodles right, and to keep the noodles from sticking to the pan, don't be too stingy with the cooking oil. You can buy pickled chiles in the store, but making them yourself is a breeze.
4 ounces green Thai bird chiles, seeds removed, sliced
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1/2 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
4 medium shallots, peeled and finely sliced (about 1 cup)
4 medium cloves garlic, sliced thinly
3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced (about 1 cup)
4 ounces baby bok choy leaves (about 1 1/2 cups)
8 ounces medium shrimp, peeled
5 ounces dried rice vermicelli, soaked in cool water for 30 minutes
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup bean sprouts
Place sliced chiles in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over to cover. Let sit 10 minutes, then drain. Add vinegar, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir to combine. Allow to cool. For best results, refrigerate at least overnight. Chiles can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
For the Stir-Fry: Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a wok over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallots, garlic, and mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms have softened and are beginning to brown, about 8 minutes.
Increase heat to medium-high and stir in bok choy. Cook until beginning to wilt, about 1 minute. Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Add shrimp, softened vermicelli, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, white pepper, and sprouts.
Cook, stirring, until seasonings are combined with noodles, shrimp are cooked through, and noodles are beginning to brown on bottom of pan (add extra oil if beginning to stick), about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and/or soy sauce. Serve immediately with pickled chiles on the side.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 3 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 22g||28%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||9%|
|Total Carbohydrate 26g||9%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||13%|
|Total Sugars 8g|
|Vitamin C 57mg||284%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|