It is strange the first time, spotting an instant ‘Singapore noodle’ in a grocery store overseas. It throws you into immediate confusion. You’re there to grab an unassuming cup of curry noodles and you spot this blasphemous, clearly commercial gimmick. We had a Singapore noodle? What is Singapore noodle?
Annual racial harmony celebrations in formative school years educated us enough to know that there is more than one culture that makes up our national identity. Yes, there is an unofficial Singaporean rice dish, albeit a disputed one due to its Hainanese roots, but it comes to mind when questioned. But noodles?
The Singapore noodle is more prevalent than expected, showing up in New Zealand, the States, parts of Europe, conquering enough continents to do our colonial forefathers proud. If you trace the manufacturers of these ‘local’ instant noodles, they are never based in Singapore.
Confusion escalates to curiosity before quickly descending into disappointment when your tongue struggles to recognise the Singaporean element in the taste test. ‘Singapore noodle’ appears to simply be a convenient proxy for ‘stir-fry’. The name-dropping seems to be solely for exoticism.
Could this, dare we say it, be our first encounter on the other side of cultural appropriation?
Contrast this conundrum with Indomie. It is highly likely every Southeast Asian knows about Indomie, and according to an article on Vice, so do Nigerians. It’s a strong standalone, but versatile enough to be prepared in a variety of ways and even be incorporated into gourmet courses. Strip that all away and find that it’s ultimately based on mie goreng, which is an actual dish.
The lack of a definite reference for the Singapore Noodle only means that there is no common ground to base the reinterpretation upon. To investigate further, we speak with a food writer and researcher as well as a local noodle manufacturer before rounding up our findings with five noodle dishes we would like to see representing the Singapore noodle scene in lieu of the current imposter.
We’ve come this far to see that having solely one noodle dish symbolising our cultural pot is borderline contentious. We’ve narrowed down the myriad of nominees to five, and preface that while they might not strictly be of Singaporean descent, it is the local adaptation that makes it truly unique to our country.
BAK CHOR MEE
The soupy noodle dish traces its roots from the province of Teochew, China. The dry, greasy variant we love is in fact the modern iteration of the hawker centre staple.
Best eaten when: The weekend brunch hunger has not fully kicked in and standing in line among sweaty folk in the absence of air-conditioning does not seem like a bad idea yet.
Xing Ji and Seng Hiang
These famous neighbouring stalls have riled up a longstanding debate on which is superior. While ingredients are close to identical, the flavour profile of the pork bone broths are distinctly different. The former is less gamey, and the latter rich in garlic. Each is good in their own right but go for both so you can chime in on the debate like a pro.
Block 85 Bedok North Street 4, Fengshan Centre, Singapore 460085.
Ah Hoe Mee Pok
Enamoured by the allure of the hawker staple, bento-seller Naoji Kuribara decided to be an apprentice at the Ah Hoe franchise. The result—miso-infused soups, Japanese char siew options and a vinegared rendition of the dipping chilli. The family business is slated to venture to Japan, so try it before the dish, and its subsequent price point, goes international.
Block 710 Clementi West Street 2, Singapore 120710.
Guan’s Mee Pok
We cannot talk about Ah Hoe’s successes without talking about the grandmaster, Ah Guan. The unconventional array comprises a ramen egg, fish maw, squid rings and prawns atop lard-soy coated mee pok. We take creative liberty here to transgress the English language and describe its noodles as both shiok and al dente.
Food Republic, VivoCity Level 3, 1 HarbourFront Walk, Singapore 098585.
Akin to Malaysia’s Penang Assam Laksa, the curry laksa might be rightfully ours; birthed from the interchange between the Peranakans and Singaporean locals. It’s hard to pinpoint its inception, but no doubt 328 Katong Laksa has defined the dish we know today.
Best eaten when: Craving a dish in equal parts of spicy and milky, topped off with medium-rare molluscs, much to the delight of the tongue and the dismay of the stomach.
Sungei Road Laksa
The establishment upholds its 60-year legacy of using charcoal fires to boil soup stock since its pushcart days, giving you the most emulsified coconut curry. Pretentious but not incorrect descriptive words include: mildly picante, perfect viscosity and sans nauseum (or colloquially, not jelak).
27 Jalan Berseh, Singapore 200027.
Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa
Business used to be slow for owners Daniel Soo and his wife, overshadowed by other popular stalls at Hong Lim Food Centre. Seventeen years on, the stall earned the Michelin Bib Gourmand and remains worthy of its name. It’s the laksa version of 8 Mile, less generic yet managing to hold its rich tang without the cloy.
Block 531A Upper Cross Street, Hong Lim Market & Food Centre #02-66, Singapore 051531.
928 Yishun Laksa
A ghetto neighbourhood like Yishun deserves a ghetto laksa like this nameless laksa stall. Once you’ve braved off the crazed cat murders, you will find that you are getting a great deal for the price. Plus, you get to choose from either the thick rice vermicelli or the yellow egg noodles.
Block 928 Yishun Central 1 #01-155, Singapore 760928.
The dish is said to have originated from Indonesia’s mee jawa despite the lack of similarity in presentation. Others have posited that it came from the northern states of Malaysia and was peddled to Singapore on a mobile stove by Indian-Muslim vendors.
Best eaten when: Realising you’ve not had amazing, hefty gravy in a long time, and knowing it would be more satisfying compared to diluted restaurant stews.
The biggest testament of Inspirasi’s ‘legendary’ status is exemplified by the snaking queues even after 40 years of being in business. If you like it thick, the gravy is melded with sweet potatoes instead of corn flour, giving the sauce body and a natural sweetness.
207 New Upper Changi Road, Singapore 460207.
Yunos N Family
Yunos does its gravy nutty, smoky and luscious, but the best part is the freedom to add different meats into your bowl. If you’re not in the mood for peanut sauce, the mee rebus tarik is a dream come true because it comes with a mix of satay.
Block 724 Ang Mo Kio Food Centre #01-01, Singapore 560724.
Afandi Hawa & Family
When you hear that little voice telling you to ‘treat yo’self’, then it’s time to try Afandi’s. It’s a step up from the usual flower crabs and dried shrimp mix. The gravy is stewed with mutton scraps and comes with a generous portion for a mere SGD2.50.
14 Haig Road, Haig Road Food Centre #01-21, Singapore 430014.
Also known as iddiyappam, the snack traces its roots to Tamil Nadu, South India. Though considered a staple during Indian festive seasons like Deepavali, the dish has never had a standalone stall.
Best eaten when: Diet-consciousness hits during the impromptu supper run and the guilt of consuming oily pratapast midnight is too much to bear.
Fun fact: South Indian putu mayam hawkers in Singapore traditionally carried the dish in a basket which they balanced on their head while riding a bike.
Freshly handmade by Daniel Surendran, a 30-year-old chef who was spurred by Dr Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost to take over his mother’s appam(a thin pancake made with fermented rice batter) business as a way to keep the craft of making traditional Indian delicacies alive. Instead of just appam, Dr Tay suggested that he take on the dying trade of hand-making putu mayam, which he successfully did after trial and error.
20 Ghim Moh Road, Singapore 270020.
Almost reaching its centurian milestone, one of the oldest Indian restaurants in Singapore also revived putu bola in 2010, a breakfast item that is made from leftover putu mayam in the ’60s which fell out of flavour over the years.
58 Serangoon Road, Little India Conservation Area, Singapore 217964.
Hokkien mee comes in two major camps: smoky or drenched in gravy. The highly popular dish has many adaptations of its birth tale. One recount states that it was initially called Rochor mee.
Best eaten when: Next in line at the queue and have not made up your mind between this and char kway teow because the order of the person before you is too good to resist.
Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee
You would think after receiving the Michelin Bib Gourmand three years in a row that it would make one far from humble, but third-generation owner Manfred Lim insists on cooked-to-order with a wok. The broth-soaked noodles retain a firm bite, a testament to the chef’s culinary techniques.
30 Seng Poh Road, Tiong Bahru Market #02-01, Singapore 168898.
Swee Guan Hokkien Mee
Touted as the gold standard of Hokkien mee in Singapore, Geylang Lorong 29 has been and still is the benchmark of this beloved Singaporean dish. The most memorable element being its fragrant wok-hei (charred aroma) which few stalls can so perfectly achieve.
549 Geylang Road, Singapore 389504.
Tian Tian Lai Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee
Tian Tian Lai certainly lives up to its bold name by locking the savoury prawn stock into the slightly singed noodles. Forget about using the chopsticks and scoop up the tastiest noodle reduction with a spoon instead. It helps to have a wide mouth too.
Block 127 #02-27, Toa Payoh Lorong 1, Singapore 310127.