Locally Sourced and Sumptuous: The Best of Singapore’s Staple Dishes
Singaporean food is renowned for being packed full of flavor whilst remaining simple to cook. There are certain traditional dishes that should feature that on every street seller’s and zi char restaurant menu in Chinatown.
Perfected by street sellers and restaurateurs over 30 years, these dumpling noodles are highly sought after by locals and visitors alike and can be served as two distinct versions – Hong Kong fashion and Singapore style.
Singaporean Wanton Mee usually comes dry but it can come in a clear broth with bite-sized dumplings filled with ingredients such as prawns and pork. The dish is served with leafy vegetables and thin noodles. The look of the dish is simple yet intricate in terms of color and texture. Barbecued pork is what makes it truly Singaporean and the dumplings are often fried. The accompanying sauce does vary from stall to stall but is usually made up of chili, tomato, black soy and sesame infused.
The barbecued pork is often served with rice and gives the dish its crispy texture. It gives a beautiful smoky taste and is often smothered in mouthwatering sauce. Those who are more health conscious may opt for a toned-down version with leaner meat and this is becoming increasingly popular. When it comes to the heat of the dish, this too is dependent upon one vital ingredient – chili. The sauce can be mild to spicy according to the quantity of chili and individual taste.
Wanton Mee advocates differ on what makes the perfect noodle: some prefer the noodles to be firm to the bite, others want a slippery texture to accompany the rest of the dish. The wanton is of course the main ingredient and is of vital importance. Some prefer the dumplings tiny which invariably mean that they are tighter and crispier when cooked; for some, the dumplings are packed with such delicious ingredients that they want them bigger to fit in as much as possible. When it comes to the perfect Wanton Mee, it is all down to personal taste.
Haling from the province of Fujian, and literally translated to ‘noodles fried Fujian style’, Hokkien Mee is a mixture of yellow noodles and thick rice vermicelli, friend and fragranced with egg and then braised in a hearty prawn broth. The dish is served semi-dry and garnished with prawns, squid, sliced pork belly, chives – it is then eaten with Sambal chili and some lime juice. Traditionally, the food is wrapped in Opeh leaf and served this way by the majority of street sellers.
Although not a particularly difficult dish to cook, presentation is key and a good prawn stock is imperative. The prawn flavors infuse with the noodle and make this bland-looking dish pack a punch. The dish is quite starchy and the sambal and lime juice counteract this in part as well as balancing out the richness of the dish. It is these two contrasting elements which also determine the heat: the lime juice slightly dilutes the strength of this beautiful chilli and the more juice that is added, the less spicy the hokkien mee becomes.
To heighten the flavor of the dish further, pork lard is often used to cook the food in. Crispy fried pork fat is also a possibility. Neither are particularly healthy and this is a dish of versatility so can always be spun on its head. The sauce is said by many to make or break the dish and the sweet-savory element can be manipulated through the cooking of the sauce; for a sweeter bite use a black and sticky thick caramel sauce is used instead of a dark soy sauce which will tone down the sugary content. Sambal remains the most vital ingredient of hokkien mee , however, as it does with many Asian dishes.
Beef Hor Fun
Beef Hor Fun is a dark sauced beef gravy on top of white noodles and is a staple Cantonese dish and is a very typical street food. Mustard greens and spinach are added to taste and ‘hor fun’ refers to the type of flat rice noodle used. The beef is marinated with the onion and the spring onion element of the dish gives it that wonderful Asian aroma.
In essence, the tender strips of beef fillet are cooked in a combination of oyster and soy sauces, ginger and spring onions and served on a bed of lightly fried flat noodles; it is how the dish is cooked which can change it up according to taste. Cornflower is a must; it is this ingredient which coats the noodles making the dish more substantial and the gravy so delicious. There is a Chinese kitchen tip whereby you add bicarbonate soda to the marinade if you want the meat to be tenderized to the max.
The beansprouts are what add crunch to the dish; the bite is maintained by carefully cooking the garnish being mindful that it doesn’t fry for too long and get soggy. Balancing the bite of the sprouts with the liquid sauce is what makes beef hor fun so unique.