In most parts of the Western world, there is a Singapore noodle dish that continuously baffles Singaporeans when we come across it on the menu and that is the eponymously-named, Singapore noodles. The most confounding part is that it is actually quite popular among many foreigners. Somehow, this stir-fried rice vermicelli noodles mixed with vegetables, meat, curry powder and eggs have captured the hearts and teased the tastebuds of foreigners.
Yet, if you’ve ever had the experience of asking any Singaporean where’s the nearest local joint serving up a delectable plate of Singapore street noodles, you’ll most likely be greeted with a puzzled “huh?” followed by confused stares or even worse, be on the receiving end of a mini-lecture on how blasphemous it is to encapsulate the entirety of Singapore’s diverse cuisine into the term ‘Singapore noodles’.
- Singapore Street Noodles
Singapore Street Noodles
Singapore Hawker Centres
Singaporeans DO NOT mess around when it comes to our pride in our local food. And that’s not without reason.
Enter any hawker centre and you’ll be spoilt for choice even if you limited yourself to noodles.
These open-air food courts host an amalgamation of food stalls each touting their own speciality food or cuisine.
In 2020, Singapore’s hawker centres were listed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, much to the chagrin of Malaysians (hey, I’m not trying to start a war here).
It’s basically heaven for food enthusiasts and almost every neighbourhood in Singapore has at least one major hawker centre.
A hawker centre will typically consist of over 30 individual stalls.
Coupled with the fact that Singapore is a multicultural nation-state, you’ll soon find yourself caught up in the paradox of choice.
I hope by now you can see how sacrilegious it is to condense such a diverse noodle culture and crown Singapore street noodles as the reigning national representative.
What Is ‘Singapore Noodles’?
Well, first off, let’s examine what exactly IS Singapore noodles.
So how did Singapore noodles become one of the more popular dishes in Chinese restaurants overseas?
One popular theory is that it originated not in Singapore, not even Southeast Asia but Hong Kong back in the 1950s and 60s.
As a thriving trading hub under colonial British rule, Hong Kong was heavily involved in the spice trade.
With an overabundance of spices and curries, chefs began experimenting and incorporating them into their local dishes.
This led to them throwing into a fiery wok rice vermicelli noodles, various vegetables, meat, and eggs, and slapping on an exotic name to it as a marketing gimmick to create a sense of exoticism.
It quickly gained popularity in dai pai dongs and cha chaan tengs (usually no-frills roadside temporary stalls) catering to blue-collared workers, especially coolies (low-wage manual labourers).
The dish provided the necessary carbs for them to continue their heavy lifting.
Over the decades, as the Chinese diaspora swept across the globe, they brought along their culture with them too, and in it the infamous Singapore street noodles.
Perhaps the closest local dish that we have to Singapore noodles is Xin Zhou Mi Fen, which translated directly to Singapore rice vermicelli.
This can be found in some Tze Char stalls (stir-fry eateries) but are unpopular among Singaporeans in favour of other more tantalising dishes.
Why would you choose to order this dish anyway? It’s essentially just stir-fried rice vermicelli with a smidgen of vegetables and eggs with not a hint of curry powder as can be found in Singapore noodles anywhere though, but at least it’s similar.
Where To Eat REAL Singapore Street Noodles
Enough of history, let’s move on to the real stars of the Singapore street noodle scene.
It may be pointless, not to mention impossible, to pinpoint the exact origins of food dishes given the fluidity in which cultures migrate and assimilate.
However, tracing the journey of localisation of certain dishes, particularly in such a cosmopolitan country as Singapore, might make for an enjoyable read.
You may even find dishes with all three of Singapore’s major ethnic influences (Chinese, Malay, Indian) in them.
Singapore’s central position among its regional neighbours has led to an interconnected history and similarities in culinary methods, ingredients and dishes.
Even within Singapore, you’ll be able to find variations between ethnicities, dialects and even individual stores.
Also, since taste is subjective – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all that, this makes it tough for me to recommend anyone the ‘best’ restaurant or stall selling any particular dish.
So here, I’ll be naming stalls that are highly recommended by more than one local food blog to level the playing ground.
A little caveat here though: any hawker centre or coffee shop will probably have at least one stall selling the following dishes so if you’re not a gourmand or picky with your food, these places will probably more than suffice.
A decadent, rich, spicy, coconut-y broth with fishcake, cockles, prawns and a smattering of beansprouts.
The consistency of the soup is a delicate balance game and must not be too thick or too thin.
It is usually paired with thick rice noodles or rice vermicelli.
Laksa’s name is derived from Hindi, lakshah, which refers to a type of noodle.
It is notably influenced by Nyonya culture (Peranakan Chinese also known as straits-born Chinese) who married local spices with Chinese dishes.
You can typically find many a famous laksa joint in the neighbourhood of Katong, which was once the main settlement area for Peranakans.
Eat laksa at:
- Depot Road Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa (Michelin Bib Gourmand) – Blk 120 Bukit Merah Lane, 150120, Singapore.
- Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa (Michelin Bib Gourmand) – Blk 531A, Upper Cross Street, 051531, Singapore.
2- Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee
Made with a combination of thick yellow noodles and thick rice noodles, it is stir-fried with bean sprouts, eggs, prawns, squid and slices of boiled pork.
Some places even take pride in frying it with fried pork lard.
A few scoops of prawn and pork broth is added sporadically and the mixture is covered to let the essence seep into the dish.
It is then served with a dollop of sambal belachan (chilli with fermented prawn paste) and lime.
There are various accounts of the origin of this dish but by popular accounts, it was started by either Teochews or Hokkiens immigrants as far back as the 20th century.
It was also pretty popular amongst the Europeans, Eurasians and Peranakans in the 1930s and 40s, who were willing to pay a premium to savour this dish.
Eat Hokkien mee at:
- Tiong Bahru Yi Sheng Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee (Michelin Bib Gourmand) – Blk 6 Jalan Bukit Merah, 150006, Singapore.
- Come Daily Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee (Featured in Michelin Guide) – Blk 127, Lorong 1 Toa Payoh, 310127, Singapore.
3- Char Kway Teow
Another stir-fried noodle dish with a heavy emphasis on the wok hei (smoky aroma), iconic of Chinese eateries.
Combining flat rice noodles with yellow egg noodles, this dish is fried with garlic, Chinese waxed sausage, beansprouts, cockles, egg and flavoured with sweet soy sauce, light soy sauce, fish sauce and sweet flour sauce to give it its quintessential dark brown appearance.
Typically, a stall selling Fried Hokkien Prawn Noodles will serve Char Kway Teow as well.
‘Char’ means stir-fried in Hokkien while ‘kway teow’ refers to the flat rice noodles. Despite its Hokkien name, this dish is believed to be of Teochew origin.
Eat Char Kway Teow at:
- No.18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow (Featured in Michelin Guide) – 70 Zion Road, #01-17, Zion Riverside Food Centre, Singapore 247792.
- Lao Fu Zi Fried Kway Teow (Michelin Bib Gourmand) – 51 Old Airport Road, 390051, Singapore.
4- Mee Rebus
A yellow egg noodle dish smothered in thick, spicy gravy. Various herbs and spices make up the foundation of the gravy, including, grago (tiny shrimps), lemongrass, ginger, meats, and ikan bilis (small dried anchovies).
It is usually served topped with sliced green chilis, halved hard-boiled egg, beansprouts, fried beancurd, whole lime and garnished with fried shallots.
Mee Rebus translates literally to ‘blanched noodles’. Some suggest that it has a certain Chinese influence since they use Chinese yellow egg noodles in the dish. It was first peddled by Indian Muslim settlers in the region.
Eat Mee Rebus at:
- Inspirasi – 208B New Upper Changi Road, #01-11. Singapore.
- Rahim Muslim Food – #01-01, 453A, Ang Mo Kio Ave 10, Chong Boon Market, Singapore 560453.
5- Mee Siam
A rice vermicelli dish soaked in sweet-and-sour gravy made with tamarind, shrimp, belacan (shrimp paste), sugar and soybean paste.
The dish is often topped with fried beancurd, sliced hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts and Chinese chives and served with a lime and a gob of chilli paste.
There is a fierce debate of the origins of this dish with some suggesting that it came from Thailand (hence ‘Siam’ and the sweet-and-sour taste profile), while others suggest that it is either of Malay or Peranakan origin.
Either way, Mee Siam as we know it today is probably the confluence of Thai, Malay, Chinese and Peranakan cuisine.
This dish is so popular that different ethnicities have their own interpretations of it.
Eat Mee Siam at:
- Jia Xiang Mee Siam – #01-35 Redhill Food Centre, Blk 85 Redhill Lane, Singapore 150085
- The Royals Café – 19 Upper East Coast Road, Singapore 455209
6- Mee Goreng
This dish of fried Chinese yellow egg noodles in tomato sauce, which gives it its distinctive red colouring, is usually fried with fistfuls of onion, potatoes, cabbage and beansprouts.
It is topped with fried beancurd, green chillies, egg and cucumber slices.
This is yet another dish demonstrating the region’s cultural influence on the food.
The yellow egg noodles used are typically associated with Chinese cuisine; the spices used are often found in Indian Muslim cuisine, and the tomato sauce is normally seen in Western cuisine.
Some suggest that the Muslim Chulias from Southern India popularised this dish and many still associate it as an Indian Muslim dish.
Eat Mee Goreng at:
- Hass Bawa – Marine Parade Food Centre, #01-150, Singapore.
- NM Abdul Rahim Mee Goreng Stall – Ayer Rajah Food Centre Blk 503, #01-60 Singapore 120503, Singapore.
7- Putu Mayam
Commonly served as a breakfast item or dessert, Putu Mayam is a snack made from rice flour noodles that were steamed and eaten with sweet toppings such as coconut shavings or gula Melaka (palm sugar).
It can also be paired with savoury accompaniments such as stews, curries and chutneys.
Originating from Tamil Nadu, South India, this dish was sold in 20th century Singapore by street vendors who will carry it in a basket carried on their heads.
It is widely served on Indian festive occasions such as Deepavali or individual weddings.
Eat Putu Mayam at:
- Heavens – 20 Ghim Moh Rd, #01-26, Singapore 270020.
- The Elephant Room (the only one in this entire list that isn’t a hawker stall but a cocktail bar instead) at 20A Teck Lim Rd, Singapore 088391.
BONUS: For when you can’t decide what to eat
Besides those standalone stalls selling speciality Singapore street noodle dishes as stated above, you can find either one of the following in almost every coffee shop or hawker centre you go to.
These noodle dishes can be considered as everyday comfort food for Singaporeans. That’s how much Singaporeans love noodles!
8- Yong Tau Foo
If you ever pass by a Yong Tau Foo stall, you’ll probably be slightly puzzled as to why we display uncooked raw ingredients outside.
You’ll also see a fish paste or meat stuffing in some of the vegetables such as tofu or whole chillies.
Customers can pick and choose their own preferred ingredients prior to blanching it in a pre-made broth.
There’s a soup and dry version available.
You get to choose what kind of carbs you want – either rice or different types of noodles.
The choice includes yellow noodles, thin vermicelli, thick vermicelli and kway teow.
Eat Yong Tau Foo at:
- Cantonese Delights – 531A Upper Cross St, Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, #02-03, Singapore 051531.
- Goldhill Hakka Restaurant 1997 – 299A Changi Rd, Singapore 419777.
9- Fishball Noodles
Some common dishes you’ll be able to find at this stall are fishball noodles (dry or soup), bak chor mee (minced meat noodles tossed in a vinegary sauce along with minced pork, sliced pork, pork liver, sliced braised shiitake mushrooms, and meatballs), mini wok noodles served in a personal small steamboat contraption with a blazing fire, and laksa (listed above).
Eat fishball noodles at:
- Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle (Featured in Michelin Guide) – Blk 466, #01-12, Crawford Lane, 190466, Singapore.
- Mingfa Fishball – 246B Upper Thomson Road Thomson Garden Estate, Singapore 574370.
10- Ban Mian
Usually a handmade noodle joint, all ban mian stalls offer hungry customers a customisable experience with regards to the choice of noodles.
The main few include: ban mian (thick and flat egg noodles), you mian (thin and round noodles), as well as mee hoon kueh (flat and thin rectangular or irregular-shaped noodles). Some even offer a choice of atom yum soup base.
Eat Ban Mian at:
- L32 Handmade Noodles – 558 Geylang Road Jln Geylang Lorong 32, Singapore 389509.
- Top 1 Home Made Noodles – 144 Upper Bukit Timah Road, #04-44, Beauty World Food Centre, Singapore 588177.
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