As a citizen born and raised in the tiny island-state of Singapore that has a population of approximately 5.7 million and a land area of 719.1 km2 (277.6 sq m), I can confidently tell you that this dish did not originate in Singapore and it does not exist in restaurants back home.
*GASP!* Yes, I heard your jaw drop.
Kindly take your seats ladies & gentlemen! — and allow me to fill you in!
When I was just a fresh college student studying in Australia, I would often introduce myself to new people, they’d eventually find out that I’m a Singaporean and the conversation would often go something like this:
Aussie: Hey, how’s it goin’? Where ya from?
Me: Hello, I’m from Singapore. Nice to meet you.
Aussie: Oh, Singapore? Really?? Sick!
Me: Have you been to Singapore before?
Aussie: No mate, I’ve tried Singapore Noodles in Chinatown! Twas’ *sweet as.
Me: sweet as… what? (oh c’mon don’t leave me hanging!)
And what’s Singapore Noodles!?
*Sweet as: New age Aussie slang. meaning ‘sweet’ or ‘awesome’. Aussies will often put ‘as’ at the end of adjectives to give it emphasis.
Ha! Just kidding, maybe I over-exaggerated that convo just a lil’. But, you get my drift. The name ‘Singapore Noodles’ never really existed in my vocabulary. I was so curious about the dish at that point that I decided to ask some people about it and do a lil’ digging about its history & origins.
From my (humble) understanding and research, the origins of this dish is still pretty fuzzy. With tons of theories out there, there’s one in particular that has been circulating around for years (and the same one that I heard about in Australia) was the theory about how:
“A Cantonese chef from Hong Kong wanted to showcase how ‘multicultural’ the Cantonese cuisine was, by combining a method of cooking: the stir fry, with a British-influenced curry (flavor).”
Fair enough, he was trying to be creative & kinda cultural(?) I’ll give him credit for that! [I mean these days, we’d probably categorise this dish under the “fusion (food)” category right?]
But how Singapore was even roped into being a part of the name (of the dish), truly puzzles me!
Well, Singapore Noodles is a popular fast-food equivalent noodle dish commonly listed on menus in ‘Asian restaurants’ or Chinese take-out spots in Hong Kong, Australia, UK, USA and Europe etc.
The dish basically consists of golden-tinted fried rice vermicelli, juicy shrimp, tender-succulent chicken, sweet char-siew pork (chinese barbecue pork), a plethora of crunchy colourful vegetables, a fluffy omelette and some green/red peppers. Oh and not forgetting the star-ingredient that gives this dish its distinct (spicy) flavor — curry powder.
The dish is a hearty one-plate meal in itself! “Breakfast, lunch & dinner.”
According to countless cooking websites, if you were to make it at home it could be completed in literally 30 minutes. 20 minutes prep and 10 minutes of actual cooking! Cheap. Easy. Filling. Fusion Fast-food.
Okay, to be fair Singapore does have a starkly similar stir-fried rice vermicelli noodle dish called, ‘星洲米粉’ (xin zhou mi fen) in Chinese or loosely translated as ‘Singapore Rice Vermicelli Noodles’ or in local Singaporean-speak known as ‘Fried Bee Hoon’. It essentially is kinda the same but not really.
Our authentic version of ‘Stir Fried Rice Vermicelli Noodles’ served in Singapore, omits the curry powder and it is technically a non-spicy dish. [Well then again, what is truly “authentic” now?] However, most vendors in Singapore would place a generous serving of chili dip on the side (if requested by the customer).
I think if you were to walk up to any Singaporean and casually ask them if they knew what ‘The Singapore Noodles’ was — they might:
a) refer you to our local version ‘Fried Bee Hoon’ without the curry powder
b) give you a weird look and shake their head
At the end of the day, I think I have to thank that Cantonese chef from Hong Kong cause he sorta indirectly made Singapore famous for a dish that doesn’t actually exist in our country!
Oh, and even after living in Australia for three years, I still never got around to trying it! Go figure! ;)
[Have you ever tried this mysterious “Singapore Noodles”? What are your thoughts about this dish?]