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Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodle (星洲炒米粉) ... the most bastardized dish in all of SGV?

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I was supposed to be in the Midwest this week but a confluence of events (incl. weather) nixed those plans.

So I was sort of left to my own devices and as it would happen I had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on your perspective of things) of sampling alot of Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles (or 星洲炒米粉).

What is Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles, you ask? Well, first, despite its nomenclature, it is not fried rice. The "rice" -- you see -- is an adjective and not a noun in that tongue-twister of a name.

Thus, Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles is really a Singaporean take on that delectable and perhaps more well known version of stir-fried rice noodles popularized by Taiwanese joints, i.e. "tsao mi fun" if you speak Mandarin, or "tsa bi whun" if you are OG and speak in Taiwanese, or if you are hardcore and read/write Chinese ... 炒米粉.

But, wait, there's more. Here in the States the versions of Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles is not really Singaporean. Huh, you ask? Well, in Singapore (or most of SE Asia) from what I understand this dish is made with ketchup and chili sauce.

But having traversed the Pacific to make it here, the Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles you find here in SGV is made with (get this!) curry -- and not even real Indian curry powder, but that packaged curry paste stuff you find in the dry goods aisle in your favorite Ranch 99 Market, Hong Kong Market, etc..

Ok, enough with the pointless history lesson.

Here's a very limited rundown on some of the Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles you can find in SGV.

Cheers!

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HARBOUR KITCHEN -- Best in show and taste
1411 S Garfield Ave, Alhambra
(626) 289-2328
Noodles are cooked just right, not chewy but still tender. Vegetables are al dente, meaning they are crunchy and not greasy at all. In fact, the whole dish is not greasy. The meats -- pork, shrimp, chicken and scallops (?), are all well-seasoned. A nice touch. Good spicy flavor overall.

BACCALI CAFE & ROTISSERIE - The raison d'être of Baccali
245 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra
(626) 293-3300
Baccali's been around for so long they probably pre-date when Hillary Rodham's mother was a student at Alhambra H.S. (yes, did you know she was an alum?), and the food here -- while passable -- has never been very good. But one thing it does well is the Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles. Good curry flavor, not very greasy and the biggest portions you'll find on this list.

LITZ -- It's why Sriracha makes so many bottles every year
201 E Garvey Ave, Monterey Park
(626) 288-8882
The Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles here is, to put it bluntly, very very bland. And it's dry. If you take big mouthfuls you run the risk of a choking hazard -- it's like swallowing mouthfuls of dry haystacks run through the dryer. How do you cope? Play Etch A Sketch® on the plate of noodles with Sriracha.

SAM WOO BBQ -- The Honda Accord of the group
140 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel
(626) 572-8418
It'll never awards for the Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles, but then it'll never lose customers because of it either. Solid rendition of this dish. Not greasy, good flavor, could use more fixins (like meat and eggs) but that's nitpicking. Good sized portions as well, fills up one those styrofoam to-go boxes easily.

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  1. Great quest, Ipse. I've wondered about the origin of this dish. Only ever had it at Hong Kong-type L.A. Chinese restaurants (like Hop Woo BBQ on Olympic, which is good) as "Singapore fried noodles", as you write, and it's invariably this bright yellow mess.

    So where is this thing actually from, and is it an only-in-L.A. dish??

    5 Replies
    1. re: cant talk...eating

      I've had this style of Singapore Fried Rice Noodles in London and, strangely, Malaysia, so it would seem to be prevalent outside of Singapore.

      1. re: Chandavkl

        In London, is it made with curry paste or ketchup/chili?

        1. re: ipsedixit

          In London it was identical to what we get here (curry), except that it was the best version I've ever eaten.

          1. re: Chandavkl

            The best I've ever had was in London as well, so good that I crawled out of bed in the middle of the night to finish my leftovers in my hotel room so they wouldn't go to waste. I've been dreaming of that dish. (I had it in the West End and now every time I see a show I think I should be eating these noodles.) I haven't found anything in LA that measures up. Too heavy of a hand with the curry powder/paste here, and usually the meat is relatively unseasoned or overcooked.

      2. re: cant talk...eating

        The first time I had this was in Oakland California about 35 years ago. One time I was in a Chinese restaurant in Arizona and asked if they could make it for me. The Chinese chef came out and seemed disappointed that I wasn't Asian. He couldn't believe a caucasian would ask for this dish! I still love it, whatever it's origins. My Singaporean friends here in Chicago argue amongst themselves whether there should be curry or no curry in the noodles. (I prefer curry.)

      3. Yep, Singaporean style fried rice noodle, I believe is an invention that came out of Hong Kong. Similar to how you can find Yanzhou fried rice in HK but you ask for it in China and they would be like "huh"?

        Even worse, in Singapore there's a stir fried ho fun noodle fish called Char Kway Teow 炒粿條, but in Cantonese they call it Chow Gwai Diu (not to confused with the pronounciation of the F word in Cantonese). You order Chow Gwai Diu in HK or a HK cafe, and you'll get....get this...a ho fun noodle stir fried version of the Singaporean style fried rice noodle :-o.

        I definitely prefer a Taiwanese style stir fried rice noodle (Tai si mi fen) over the HK cafe rendition of the confusing named dish.

        1. After returning from my first trip to Singapore, I ordered this dish at Sam Woo, and was totally thrown off by the curry. As you mentioned about the ketchup/chili sauce version being more authentic in Singapore, I did like the curried version, but was not at all what I was expecting. Do you know of any places that actually do Singapore-style noodles like back in the old country (I think 1963 was the birth of Singapore, so I guess maybe slightly kinda little-bit old country is more apt)?

          1 Reply
          1. re: bulavinaka

            Litz will actually make it for you w/o curry using their housemade chili oil/sauce if you ask, but I have no idea if this is what it is like in Singapore.

          2. My experience in Chinese restaurants is they use that powdered Madras brand curry powder not the paste stuff. They add the same curry powder to make tomato beef chow mein into tomato curry beef chow mein.
            Sam Woo does a credible job.
            Maybe "Singapore Style" means the curry style kind?
            Not sure I'd like the real stuff.

            1. From my SE Asia travels, the curried version is unheard of in Singapore and the ketchup/chili sauce version is actually typical of Malaysia especially in Penang and is a little saucy. In Singapore, 星洲炒米粉 is actually a rather plain dish with just bee hoon (aka mǐ​fěn / 米粉​) stir-fried with dark soy sauce, egg, usually with some bean sprouts, a little char siew or even luncheon meat (the budget version) and is quite dry.

              From my research, the curry variant originally came from the cha chaan tengs (茶餐厅) in Hong Kong.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Mr. Roboto

                A HK origin makes sense - I'd never seen this growing up on "old-fashioned" Chinese food in L.A./Pasadena, and it's definitely not served (that I've ever seen) in the mainland Chinese places I now frequent in the SGV.

              2. To the OP...why not ask for it with ketchup and chili sauce instead of curry...shouldn't be much of a problem.

                2 Replies
                1. re: monku

                  I wasn't looking for the Singapore style original version, just mentioned it for background.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Got it.

                2. Have you tried the Char Kway Teow at Little Malaysia? Very much in the Penang style, with lots of soy and sausage, and a bit of heat

                  -----
                  Little Malaysia Restaurant
                  3944 Peck Rd Ste 8, El Monte, CA 91732

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Bradbury

                    I don't believe that's made with the thin vermicelli-like rice noodles that are used in Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles, right?

                    If I recall correctly, the Char Kway Tewo are made with flat noodles, and sometimes just regular noodles.

                  2. ipsedixit, I am glad that you started this post. I have always wanted to clarify on this dish. I lived there for 22 years. Whenever pple hear about SG, they would think about this dish.

                    So let's get the ball rolling.

                    The version you mentioned, ketchup/chili, is more likely bihun goreng. You could think of it as a sister version of mee goreng, but the spices are still quite different. Indians in Singapore prepare bihun goreng and usually the vermicelli are red in color when served. Not that spicy but yes has ketchup taste to it. Usually stir fried with minced mutton and sliced cabbage and an egg. No shrimp, no seafood. No beef definitely for obvious reasons. Indonesians have their own version of bihun goreng as well. Not red though but more brown. No mutton but more chicken, shrimps, and bean sprouts.

                    But bihun goreng is not 星洲炒米粉.

                    Moving on to what Mr. Roboto posted about the soy-sauced version. That is what we called economic bee hoon. Mostly prepared by the Chinese in SG as breakfast or for vegans. For non-vegans, you can add sides like over easy fried egg, fried chicken wing etc. The bee hoon is usually quite plain only stir fried with bean sprouts. But a dash of chili sauce will make it just right. Why is this "economic"? Cos it runs for US$ 1 to $2.

                    Still, economic bee hoon is not 星洲炒米粉.

                    If you were to order 星洲炒米粉 in SG, you will get this: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3648/3...

                    That is the best picture that represents the dish on the web right now. And trust me, no curry powder, no ketchup, no chili. You can recognize it however by the diced char siew, shrimps, splattered/fried egg. Also if you observe closely, the vermicelli are "chopped" up shorter and the dish is dry (I will get to the wet type later).

                    This dish usually can be ordered from eateries known as 煮炒 (chi char). Think of chi char as an eatery that can cook up any dish you want. But mostly Cantonese and sometimes Teochew. They can cater to a banquet if needed.

                    To complicate things a bit further if you were to order 炒米粉 from chi char, you will be asked whether you want dry or wet type. The dry type brings you back to 星洲炒米粉. The wet type however is another whole new story. Wet type is not a soup version of 星洲炒米粉 nor adding gravy to 星洲炒米粉.

                    The wet type is similar to Thai's Lad Nar. But of course prepared with vermicelli, seafood (instead of beef for Lad Nar) and slightly more watery gravy. No chinese broccoli either.

                    So the question is can you find authentic 星洲炒米粉 as what chi char offers here in the US? Unfortunately no. The closest though might be the Indonesian bihun goreng.

                    But nonetheless, I hope this helps to clarify any doubts, questions in the future. :)

                    Thank you for reading.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Vince S

                      Thanks Vince. Very interesting and informatie read. Appreciate your thoughts.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        No problem. Just thought it might be a tad too wordy. I have my own gripes about what really is Hainanese chicken rice but I will leave that to another opportunity.

                        1. re: Vince S

                          When you post about Hainanese chicken rice (separate thread I assume), send me a link

                      2. re: Vince S

                        Q for Vince,
                        "bee hoon" only translates to vermicelli, so what exactly would one call 星洲炒米粉 in SG? and does everyone say "economic" in front of "bee hoon"? Quite a mouthful!

                      3. I can't be sure that this specific dish is on their menu but there is a wonderful place in the original Farmer's Market at 3rd and Fairfax called the Singapore Banana Leaf run by a family transplanted from Singapore and the food is delicious. My family has eaten there for at least ten years and I've seen it grow from an obscure spot to an exceptionally popular one during that time. Sometimes the line can be long but it is worth the wait even if they don't have the dish you are specifically looking for. It can be a little tricky to find but this might help...it is across from a sticker store called Sticker Planet and one spot away from Pinkberry's. I'm a sucker for their authentic soups especially. Maybe you'll find the dish you are looking for. Hope this is helpful.

                        1. Not germane to the review, but Baccali's is pretty new, and was actually one of the last restaurants to "go Asian". I think it's been there ten years or so, which, I suppose, makes it "old" (but, hell, I'm old); it's still newer than Sam Woo. It used to be a Sir George's buffet.

                          -----
                          Sam Woo Cafe
                          727 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: wildgift

                            You hit the nail on the head--Cafe Baccali opened in 2000, replacing Tango Cafe which had opened the first Chinese restaurant at that location a couple of years before that.

                          2. They used to have it on the menu at Panda Inn on Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena (I know, I know) - it was pretty good - as I recall, you can still ask for it, though it's not on the menu any more.

                            1. I have eaten this dish many times in San Francisco at restaurants frequented by office workers on Kearney Street between Downtown and Chinatown. I first had it about 30 years ago. In LA I haven't ordered it except at ABC Cafe on Garfield in Montery Park, open 24 hours. Had it twice and it was the curry powder based fried 'rice noodles' that I am familiar with, with shrimp and pork and bean sprouts. It is comfort food to me.