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Nov 9, 2010 02:12 PM

Jin Hua 金華- Great Fish Bee Hoon at Maxwell Food Center in Singapore

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Maxwell Food Center is a hawker center. In Singapore, street food has been organized in a very efficient manner whereby you go to a center that has tons of stalls with communal seating and people that will clean up after you. These hawker centers maybe one of my all time favorite styles of eating because there are so many choices and there is some really amazing food.

We had just gotten off the plane from Hong Kong and were starving, so I decided to make our first meal at Maxwell Food Center specifically to go to Tian Tian Hai Nan Ji Fan, which I think is unbelievable. However, since we were there I decided I should try at least one other place. After looking around the center, Jin Hua 金華 looked like it was a good candidate as there was a reasonably long line which is always a good sign and I like fish bee hoon. Bee hoon is I believe the chiu chow name for mi fen (米粉) otherwise known as rice vermicelli although maybe it’s the hokkien name (I can’t remember because I don’t speak either of those languages).

Anyhow, I wanted to try the fish head bee hoon, but the vendor told me they were out of it and to try the fish slice bee hoon as it’s exactly the same except with fish slices instead of fish head. It came out and it was a bowl of rice vermicelli with gai lan (Chinese broccoli), crispy golden fried onions and lightly fried slices of fish in a milky broth. It looked a bit different than most fish bee hoon I’ve had as the broth was more milky than usual. Wow was this good, the broth was actually a little bit milky, which I wasn’t expecting, but it was really good, the flavor of the fish broth was really clean, not even remotely fishy in a bad way. The noodles were excellent and really complemented the broth. The pieces of fish were perfectly cooked, I’m not sure what type of fish it was, but the meat was perfectly flaky and delicious. The vegetables and fried onions were a good complement as well and didn’t overpower the soup at all. This was really good, probably one of the best noodle soups I may have ever had. I really liked this.

I’d highly recommend coming here if you’re in Singapore

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  1. What a coincidence for you to post this - I was just there for lunch yesterday & had updated the photo (below) on my personal Facebook account.

    BTW, "bee hoon" is both a Chiu Chow AND Hokkien word for mi fen (米粉) so you were right on both counts (For the record, I'm Hokkien on my father's side, and Chiu Chow on my mother's side). In typical multi-dialect Singapore, the stallowners are Cantonese, and they are actually recognized as serving Cantonese-style fish bee hoon soup!

    8 Replies
    1. re: klyeoh

      interesting, i was wondering what they were b/c i just spoke to them in mandarin

      well cantonese is probably my favorite type of chinese food so maybe it makes sense that i liked it so much! although i really like chiu chow and hokkien food as well

      1. re: klyeoh

        Nice! This reminds me of some Hong Kong and Guangzhou style fish broth noodles, but they refer to it as 魚湯米線. In fact the soup looks similar to Cantonese style fish soup, where they take a whole fish and prep it 2 to 3 ways (one of them being soup) and the soup is as milky as this fish bee hoon dish (it is said the secret to the creaminess is 腐竹 which I suppose is yuba, which at least is the case when trying to make congee creamier).

        1. re: K K

          yah i think i know which preparation you're talking about and i like that preparation alot, in fact i just had it last week at a restaurant in NY. However, this bee hoon tastes a bit different although the soup looks very similar. The broth is a bit heavier than the version you're talking about (although its not heavy by any means) and it literally tastes a little milky, its really good.

          although klyeoh said these people are cantonese, so it's likely a cantonese dish perhaps just adjusted for singaporean tastes? there are alot of cantonese people in singapore

          1. re: Lau

            Like other Chinese dialect groups, the Cantonese in Singapore came about 200 years ago, and their cooking styles, whilst retaining some of its peasant roots (the initial pioneers were undoubtedly the coolies, menial workers & later small-time traders), it's evolved over the centuries to be typically Singaporean-Cantonese. Same happened to the Hokkien, Chiu Chow, Hakka, Hainanese, Foochow & other dialect groups who came to Singapore. One common local influence, of course, is the introduction of chillies into our Chinese cuisine, either as a condiment/flavoring agent or a dip.

            1. re: klyeoh

              yah i noticed that right off the bat when i lived there that the cantonese food is definitely a bit different there than what i grew up eating...i really like the sort of chinese fusion that singaporean cuisine has become its very good plus im pretty biased towards liking southern chinese food so its sort of like combining most of my favorite types of chinese food into one place and then mixing them around with some malay and even indian influence (two other foods i like alot as well), definitely one of my favorite places in the world to eat

              1. re: klyeoh

                Klyeoh: 200 years??? Are you sure, considering Raffles founded Singapore in 1819, I doubt the Cantonese immigrants came earlier than that!!!

                1. re: FourSeasons

                  You're right in the sense that the Chinese probably came in large numbers to Singapore after the "founding" of Singapore by Raffles in 1819 (i.e. when one of the claimants to the throne of Johore ceded Singapore to the British East India Company).

                  But the island was already inhabited before that, including Chinese ( ). The oldest Chinese temple here, Thian Hock Keng was built in 1820. Little records show of the population's racial composition at the time. The early Chinese have settled in the Malay Peninsula since the 14th century.

                  Although most Peranakan-Chinese were Hokkiens, a sizeable number were Chiuchow & Cantonese. That's why Professor Wang Gungwu (of NUS) wrote that by the time the Chinese went in large numbers to Singapore in the 1820s, they were already familiar with the region. Archaeological fragments were found to show trading between Singapore (then Temasek) and China since the 14th-century, before it was supplanted by Malacca. So we Chinese do have long history with Singapore going back before Raffles' time.

                  1. re: FourSeasons

                    Four Seasons, I'm with klyeoh here. Often, we gave the Westerners too much credit and we sometimes need to remind ourselves that Singapore was already settled when the British showed interest in it.

                    My best friend (and bridge partner) once told me about her great-grandfather who came from the village of Yangjingcun, Taishan (in Cantonese Toi Saan) to Johore in southern Malaya in 1854. At the time of his arrival, the Cantonese population in Johore had been there for nearly a century. As we know, Johore is only 1km from Singapore and some of the Chinese do cross over here for trade.

                    Toi Saan is one of the Four Counties in Guangdong known jointly as Say Yap (in Cantonese). Toi Saan was originally founded as San Ning but changed to Toi Saan in 1914. Many immigrants from Toi Saan came to Johore and Singapore to escape banditry and civil war. My friend's great-grandfather was known as Wong Fook Kee nee Wong Ah Fook. He was a close friend to Johore's Sultan and the main thoroughfare in Johore Bharu is today called Jalan Wong Ah Fook. Today, almost all his descendants are Singaporeans. Wong's clan is by no means the oldest Cantonese family in Singapore. There are those whom I understand had been here much longer.

          2. I don't know how you can eat Fish bee hoon at Maxwell (being so hot and humid). I need an air-conditioned place to eat this dish and my favorite is the legendary Ka Soh at Amoy Street:

            2 Replies
            1. re: FourSeasons

              funny enough there was a time that i would've agreed with you, but when i lived their i studied at NTU and lived in student housing, which was unbelievably cheap ($40 SGD / month at the time), but it had no after that i got completely used to humidity and drinking hot tea when it was ridiculously hot out, so the humidity thing stopped bothering me haha

              will have to try ka soh...i really like fish bee hoon

              1. re: FourSeasons

                Ka So is DA BEST!! I still remembered when I was a kid, my Dad used to buy take-aways of their fish-head bee hoon soup from their little push-cart in China Street in the late evenings. That's back in the 60s!!