Did you know that vermicelli is an Italian word that means ‘little worms’? Thank goodness for us, we always call this noodle Bee Hoon instead.
In Singapore, and probably Malaysia too, we call this thin white noodle bee hoon or sometimes mee hoon, depending on who you’re talking to. It’s bought dried in clear plastic packaging at any supermarket, the most popular brand seemingly being Chilli Brand with two red chillies pictured on its front. Before you cook with it, you have to soak it in either hot or cold water. Cold water takes longer, my mother has said, even an hour, but she says it will never be over soaked or soggy. Noodles need to be springy! Soggy noodles are not on. Hot water is faster, 10 mins at the most, and anything more you’d end up with noodles that break too easily when you fry it later. You get ricey looking noodles (although I know some families who do fry their bee hoon deliberately chopping it up as they go so that it resembles rice).
Fried bee hoon has so many permutations, it’s hard to pinpoint any recipe as being The One.Everybody seems to have their own version, or several versions (like me! can’t decide!), but generally speaking it’s meant to be a fast meal, it’s a hold-all for a variety of vegetables, can have any protein you prefer, scrambly egg, prawns, fishcake, chicken, beef, and has a seasoning base of Oyster sauce and soy in whatever proportions you like. As far as I know, Malay families who make fried bee hoon at home, it is usually with Chinese ingredients, it is Chinese inspired if you will. And it seems that way abroad as well.
In restaurants outside of Singapore, what I recognise on the plate as a variant of fried bee hoon is often referred to as Singapore Noodles on the menu. In Singapore, you will not find anything called Singapore Noodles. You will get laughed at if you ask for Singapore Noodles in Singapore. Abroad, it was the general consensus amongst my Singaporean expat friends and I that none of us knew what Singapore Noodles was. In fact, I have ordered and eaten ‘Singapore Noodles’ that I would probably never find in Singapore (It had turmeric. Please.).
Each time I fry bee hoon at home, it ends up different from the last. I have a few versions that I return to regularly because they are favourites, but it really depends on what I’m craving that day, that decides what ends up in the wok as I cook. But basically the ingredients that usually find its way into the wok are:
- the pre soaked bee hoon, about 3/4 packet to serve 5
- lots of chopped garlic
- a whole packet of washed and cut to finger length choy sum / chye xim
- julienned carrots
- thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms if I have any
- a protein (see above)
- oyster sauce
- soy sauce
- black or white pepper
- salt if necessary (usually not)
- sesame seed oil
And that’s it.
The order of proceedings are:
- Oil + sesame seed oil, heat it up!
- proteins, til half cooked, then add
- vegetable, till half cooked, then add,
- toss and stir and fry…
- serve hot.
Other ingredients might include,
- XO sauce
- More black pepper
- splash of worcestershire sauce
- birds eye chillies chopped small
- Chilli pastes
I have made variants with just brocooli, beef, and black pepper, dark soy, light soy Or,
Chye Xim, beef, black pepper and birds eye chillies, oyster sauce, light soy and dark soy Or,
Chy xim, prawns, white pepper, oyster sauce.
Do you get the idea?
The husband was craving chicken curry again, and so I decided for a change to serve it with fried bee hoon, hence this post today. Because we were eating curry with bee hoon, I kept it simple like in the first recipe above, but with no protein. I made, instead, an omelette with enoki mushrooms, some left over raw fish fillets from yesterday’s fish fingers I’d made, and chives. It all took me just under an hour to do the curry, bee hoon and omelette, while my daughter chatted with me and kept me company in the kitchen, eating the cookies I’d just shoved in to the oven, made her jigsaw puzzle, and fell off the step ladder head first (I caught her leg as she dove, crisis averted).