Singapore hawker centers have this popular Teochew (ChaoZhou) noodle dish in 2 varieties: Fishball or Bak Chor (Minced Pork) from S$ 3 to S$6 (Michelin class) a plate. It is so common to locals that we hardly treasure it, but once away from the island for months or years, we would crave for it nostalgically. I once took a 7-hour train from Southern France city Toulouse to Paris in 1979, just to taste this nostalgic home dish cooked by a petite Singapore Embassy’s Secretary-cum-hawker-Chef.
Why “Teochew” fish ball? the legend goes back to the First Chinese Emperor QinShi HuangDi (秦始皇帝) who liked to eat fish but hated the bones (nice fish has plenty of tiny bones), so a Teochew chef in desperation used the back of knife to beat the de-boned fish meat out of frustration and fear, accidentally invented the minced fish meat in a ball shape, which pleased the Emperor greatly. The fishball recipe quickly spread to whole China.
1. 鱼丸面 Fishball Noodle
2. 肉脞面 (Bak Chor Mee)
Experience from a tourist – Singapore Best “Tai Hua” 大华 Bak Chor Mee
Watch “So Shiok! Da Lian Traditional Noodle” on YouTube –
If you are a Singaporean living abroad, or just return home after a long trip, you would never rush to a restaurant but a hawker center to order one or two of these dishes: Teochew Fishball Noodle 潮州鱼丸面 (or a variant Bak Chor Mee 肉脞面 ), Char Kway Teow, Hainanese Chicken Rice.
After 20 years I finally found last night the nostalgic 1960s / 70s old taste (古早味) of Teochew Fishball noodle, right at an inconspicuous corner of the Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1, Block 339 (opposite Bishan Park) Kopitiam foodcourt.
More surprisingly, a China new migrant was taking my order with his perfect Beijing Chinese accent and spoke with the other Chinese migrant cook behind the steamy stall.
It is a good sign: younger new migrants with better education are taking over the traditional hawkers who retire en masse in recent years, with no children willing to learn the hardship trade.
Have you seen a Chinese flipping the roti prata at an Indian hawker stall ?
He smiled when I was shocked, said,
“Roti prata is easy, same as our 葱油饼 (Chinese Onion Pizza).”
This Bak Chor Mee found at Kovan Hawker Center today. Strange! it was the same stall I patronized for months but I don’t find it too special, until the cook is changed today. Same ingredients from the same stall, but the cooking skill makes the difference : the noodle cooked not soggy, must be QQ. Because of inflation, even at $3.50 the ingredients are reduced both in quantity and size – which is a shame, otherwise this local dish with more noodles, meat balls, fish cakes and prawn, would be sumptuous. Who knows it may be ‘promoted’ to the top restaurant menu one day, like the Hainanese Chicken Rice and Char Kway Teow.
How to cook ?
鱼露 1/2 茶匙
黑醋 1 茶匙
江鱼仔上汤 2 汤匙
叁芭辣椒酱/番茄汁 1 汤匙
(猪渣 1 茶匙)
猪油/葱油 1 茶匙
This cheap and common hawker teochew dish was made famous by the Mr. Brown’s 2006 political satire “Bak Chor Mee mai hiam” (no spicy).
Quite easy to make this dish nowadays from your hostel in Melbourne or Paris or anywhere overseas, just follow the video instruction. In the pre-Internet age, I had to take a 7-hour train from Southern France to Paris to have this dish cooked by a Singaporean friend – just demonstrates how we craved for it when away from home for so many years.