Noodles are ubiquitous in Singapore- we have economic noodles for breakfast (dry fried thin rice vermicelli), stir-fried white bihun (also known as mee hoon or bee hoon) with a little gravy, mee goreng, bi hun soup (this coconut chicken broth makes a great bihun soup base) and many others. One of my favourites to cook at home is spicy bihun (mee hoon) goreng, or fried thin rice vermicelli noodles- not only can you make slight changes to the sauce to create very different dishes but it can also be anything from a humble dish (economic noodles can cost as little as $1) or a very sumptuous one depending on the ingredients added. (Oh, and by the way, despite the plethora of noodle dishes in Singapore, there is no such dish as Singaporean fried noodles- most Singaporeans experience Singaporean fried noodles for the first time in the UK! If I’m not wrong, it’s an invention by the Cantonese takeaways in UK?)
What is bihun?
It’s a thin noodle made from rice, much thinner than pho or kuay teow. Because it’s so thin, bihun absorbs flavours very well, whether in soup or stir-fried. It’s now very commonly used in cooking, but according to Wikipedia, used to be a luxury good only seen at special festivals and banquets– maybe because white rice used to be expensive due to the milling process?
It’s usually purchased in its dried form (instructions for how to cook it is in the section below), which will expand by over 2x after soaking or blanching.
How to cook bihun/ mee hoon?
Bihun is different from other types of dried noodles. In Singapore, we’re told by our Amahs (grandmothers) not to boil bihun, but to soak it in warm water for 20-30 minutes till soft to touch (but not soggy) then drain it. I presume this is to ensure that the finished bihun, whether in soup or stir-fried later, is al dente and not overcooked.
I have tried blanching it though (blanched for 1-2 minutes in boiling water then rinsed with cold water) and find that the end texture did not suffer in comparison to the soaked bihun dish. (Do note this is presuming that you blanch it briefly and rinse it- if you boil it for too long, it will not taste as good.) However, it was much easier to stir-fry when soaked (versus blanching) as the blanching made the bee hoon disintegrate into small pieces.
If purchased in its fresh form, no soaking of the bihun is necessary.
What can I add to my spicy bihun (mee hoon) goreng?
There is no limit to what you can add!
Examples of what to add for a vegan bihun goreng (you would need to omit the oyster sauce later!):
- julienned carrots
- beansprouts (tau geh)
- sliced Chinese cabbage
Examples of protein that can be stir-fried with bihun goreng:
- fish cake
- abalone if going upmarket
- slices of Chicken or pork (you can add beef if you want but chicken and pork are more common in the Chinese kitchen)- leftover roast chicken is great for this. I prefer to use dark meat as it has more fat (i.e. flavour) and doesn’t dry out during stir-frying
- strips of fried egg/ Asian omelette (I say Asian omelette as Western style cooking results in a golden smooth omelette whilst Asians like to have darker, “burn” marks on ours)
Spicy bihun (mee hoon) goreng
- mortar and pestle OR blender
- Large heatproof bowl to soak the bihun
- Metal sieve
- 1/2 C Dried Chillies, seeds removed
- 1 Tablespoon Tamarind Mix well with 1/2 Cup water then sieve- use the resulting tamarind "juice" for this recipe. If you don't have tamarind on hand, substitute with 1/2 T rice vinegar
- 1-3 Fresh red chillies Omit if you don't have any on hand- I often do this as my fresh chilli supply is very intermittent depending on how my balcony plants feel!
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 shallots
- 200 g dry bihun (bee hoon/ mee hoon) Soak in hot water for 20-30 minutes then drain
- 1/4 C kicap manis Substitute with dark soy sauce and a pinch of sugar if you don't have any kicap manis on hand
- 4 Tablespoons tomato ketchup (Weirdly enough, if you add more tomato ketchup it makes the noodles spicier!)
- 2 Tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
- Pork lard Substitute with vegetable oil if you don't have pork lard on hand (you may need to add a bit more salt in that case as vegetable oil has less flavour)
- 1 Asian omelette, cut into strips I used 6 eggs for the omelette, but it's really up to you
- 1 Fish cake, pan fried and cut into strips
- Optional ingredients: julienned carrots, Chinese cabbage, prawns, sliced chicken/ pork etc For a full list, refer to the section above
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil. optional
- Spring onions, chopped
- Put the bihun in a heatproof bowl and cover with hot, boiling water for 20-30 minutes. (You can stop soaking once the noodles are flexible but not soggy. (Whilst it is soaking you can proceed to pound the rempah, as stated below.) After the 20-30 minutes, drain the bihun.
- Pound the rempah ingredients in a mortar and pestle, adding the tamarind water gradually, till a paste appears. Alternatively, blend the dry ingredients in the blender, slowly adding the tamarind water.
- Mix the ingredients for the sauce together then leave beside your cooker.
- Heat the pork lard (or vegetable oil) in a pan and fry the rempah till fragran and it splits (i.e. the colour of the rempah changes and the oil separates out.)
- Add the bihun, stir, then add the sauce ingredients. Stir fry till well-mixed, add the omelette and fish cake, stir a few times then switch off the fire. (If you are using uncooked ingredients, such as carrots, you will need to add them before the bihun as the bihun cooks fast)
- Drizzle the sesame oil over the noodles and serve.
What’s your favourite fried noodles recipe?