Bak Chor Mee, which means “minced meat noodles” in the Chinese Hokkien dialect, is often hailed the unsung hero of Singapore’s hawker food scene. A typical tourist in Singapore would definitely try to have a taste of Chilli Crab, Chicken Rice and even Char Kway Teow (Fried Flat Rice Noodles) – But Bak Chor Mee? Who would go out of the way to try minced meat noodles and list it on their “Top 10 Must Dos” in Singapore? Perhaps, noodles tossed in a myriad of seasonings and topped with random condiments might not make this dish sound the most exciting: After all, such variations could be found all over South East Asia and even East Asia. So what makes this humble food that used to be sold from street-side carts so special?
The answer is: It is really one of the most uniquely Singaporean dishes we can find. There are always similar versions of whatever can be found in Singapore in other neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand et cetera (just think the regional Satay or different types of Laksa in every state of Malaysia). But minced pork noodles the way we eat it in Singapore, can hardly be found in the same form anywhere else in the world (well correct me if I am wrong, but that’s what my research tells me!) And if you ask any Singaporean what their favourite Singaporean hawker food dishes are, Bak Chor Mee is probably one that pops up often enough.
Today, TummyTroll aims to recreate a taste of home by making Bak Chor Mee in our very own kitchen in the United Kingdom. We are definitely not your Tai Hwa or Seng Kee, but we think our rendition is authentic enough to please the average Singapore’s tastebuds (which are not that easy to please at all if you ask me haha). We hope you’ll enjoy our step by step guide to making Bak Chor Mee at home, illustrated with photos of the process and some tips along the way – Makan! :)
Ingredients for Bak Chor Mee: For approximately 6-7 pax
Noodles & Seasonings
600g Dried Mee Pok/Mee Kia Noodles – Or any egg noodles if you can’t find anything similar
1/2 tablespoon Light Soya Sauce
1 teaspoon Dark Soya Sauce
2 tablespoons Lard
1 tablespoon Shallot Oil / Garlic Oil / Vegetable Oil
Black Vinegar, to taste
Sambal Chilli Paste / Ketchup, to taste
1 tablespoon Gravy from Braised Mushrooms*
1 tablespoon Broth from Pork Bone Soup^
Vegetable Oil – To coat the noodles after they are precooked
300g Minced Pork – The more fatty the better
300g Pork Loin/Shoulder – Fat and tendons trimmed, sliced thinly
Pig Liver, sliced thinly (Optional)
[The minced pork and pork loin/shoulder can each be marinated lightly with 2 tablespoons Light Soya Sauce, 1 teaspoon Fish Sauce, 1 tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil, 1 teaspoon of Sugar and a dash of White Pepper. The pig liver can simply be washed cleaned of its excess blood.]
5-6 Chinese Dried Shiitake Mushrooms (soaked in water overnight)
3 tablespoons Light Soya Sauce
1 tablespoons Dark Soya Sauce
3 tablespoons Oyster Sauce
1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
2 tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1 teaspoon Sugar
230ml/1 Cup of Water
Toppings & Garnishes
Pork Balls – If you can find them anywhere, I couldn’t :(
Fish Balls (Optional)
Fish Cake (Optional)
Large leaves of Lettuce
Dried Sole Fish
Crispy Lard Bits (Optional)
Spring Onions, chopped finely
500g Pork Bones
100g Soya Beans
100g Ikan Bilis / Dried Anchovies
2 litres of Water
Big Sieve for cooking the toppings
Slow Cooker for soup – Big stock pot if you don’t have this!
Precooked: Soup & Braised Mushrooms
As you can probably tell by now, that was a whopping list of ingredients, which might seem really daunting especially to many of us who don’t have many of the sauces and seasoning available! Many of them are optional but Singaporeans just love to have everything together in a “power packed” bowl, don’t we? I guess it might have to do with our value-for-money mentality hmmn…
In any case, making authentic Bak Chor Mee, as I’d discovered, is really tedious because of the number of hours you have to dedicate to certain ingredients alone, not to mention the sheer number of ingredients needed. Nevertheless, I always feel that a good soup and delicious braised mushrooms are one of the must-haves for Bak Chor Mee! I apologize as I forgot to take pictures of the completed soup, but basically I just threw all of the ingredients listed: Pork Bones, Soya Beans, and Dried Anchovies into the slow cooker with lots of water and cooked it on “High” for 8 hours. You may do the same in a big pot over the stove and the cooking time will be halved, but the flame must be carefully watched to ensure it is simmering away but not boiling too vigorously.
As for the mushrooms, it is a similar process. Combine all of the sauces and pre-soaked mushrooms in a small pot and slowly cook over the flame, on a very low heat, for 4-6 hours. Here are my mushrooms after being braised in the pot on extremely low heat for 6 hours – They should be soft to the bite and intensely flavoured by now.
Slice very thinly into slivers. You may throw these back into the remaining gravy to cook for longer if you desire the mushrooms to be more evenly flavoured, as less of the gravy would have reached the core of the mushrooms. And don’t throw away the remaining gravy! As I listed earlier, that is one of the sauces that goes into the seasonings for the noodles.
Step 1: Noodles
As for the actual steps, you can first start by preparing a concoction of all the listed seasoning and sauces that the noodles would be tossed in. I like mine with a generous lashing of vinegar. Chin Kiang Vinegar, as pictured, is a particularly good brand of vinegar for Bak Chor Mee, and is very commonly used in Singapore as well!
Lard is a very important component of Bak Chor Mee – Don’t be tricked into thinking having no lard would render you the same taste you are used to, as (virtually) every single bowl of Bak Chor Mee in Singapore has lard in it, no kidding. It is unhealthy but it really wouldn’t be the same without it. Be generous with this please :P If you really have to replace lard with something else, do use an aromatic oil like garlic or shallot oil.
Do you eat your noodles with Sambal chilli paste or Ketchup? I know some of you purists don’t even put any of these into your noodles, but it’s definitely Sambal for me – The chilli packs a punch, especially if your chilli is made with a generous dose of hae bee (dried prawns). Do get a good brand of Sambal if you’re buying yours from the store.
I managed to find a “Made in Singapore” dried Mee Pok noodle at the Oriental supermarket. For the uninitiated, Mee Pok is a flat and moderately wide, fettuccine-looking yellow noodle that is very common and popular in Singapore and Malaysia. Although ideally it should be a fine al dente, it is usually cooked a lot softer than say spaghetti.
Boil a big pot of water, with a small dash of salt in to speed up the boiling process. Once the water has boiled, cook the noodles in the boiling water for 3-5 minutes until it has reached a desired texture. We try to do it the hawker style here, complete with the giant sieve and all! When cooked, run the noodles under tap water or blanch in ice cold water. This removes excess starch and alkaline so that the sauces can flavour the noodles better! Coat noodles with sufficient vegetable oil so that they would not stick – This is important, as this type of noodle tends to be rather adhesive. Toss with pre-prepared seasonings if desired. Remember to place a leave of lettuce at the bottom of the bowl together with your noodles.
Step 2: Meat & Toppings
Fishcake, which might sound really alien and even disgusting to non-Asians – Be rest assured, these are delicious! Made from white fish meat and flour, it really is called fishcake because they make them in the shapes and sizes of little cake-like buns. Slice them really thin here, because it’s a great chance to practise your knife skills… Otherwise it’s also because the hawkers do it this way too, to maximize their profits while still giving you the goods, heh! ;) Precook this by blanching, steaming or boiling.
Fishballs, essentially the same thing as fishcakes, but in the shapes of little balls. Do pre-cook this by blanching, steaming or boiling too! Purists may leave fishcake and fishballs out as it might resemble Mee Pok, another similar Singaporean hawker dish, a little too much (which I kind of agree), but I would love to have fishballs and fishcakes in my soup as an alternative!
Pre-cooked beansprouts that should still remain crunchy! Remove the heads of the sprouts if you’re fussy, but ain’t nobody got time for that?! Hahaha just kidding, but it really isn’t necessary if you buy your beansprouts with the black caps all removed already.
Minced meat, marinated then left in the fridge for 2 hours for maximum flavour. See how much time goes into just one ingredient alone?!
By now you might be asking why everything must be cut so thinly – Because I am trying to make you scrimp on the ingredients? Well, perhaps this is a tactical ploy by our hawkers, but it actually is a very practical one as well. Slicing everything thinner makes the cooking faster, so customers won’t have to wait too long when they’re in the queue. Slicing things like mushrooms and meats too thick would also mean a less delicate flavour and the meats might be tougher. So well, cut your pork thin too! Similarly, they should marinated for at least 2 hours in the fridge.
I’m a big lover of pig liver in Bak Chor Mee and I regard it as one of the hallmarks of a good Bak Chor Mee. Fresh, lightly cooked pig liver has a great springy texture! It might be an acquired taste, but it’s hard to turn back once you’d fallen in love with it (I never used to eat liver until I decided to try it one day. I never went back!) They are also a great source of iron. Once again, slice the livers thin.
The above steps are very simple, but require patience! Get a pot of the soup stock and boil at high heat. Once the soup reaches a rolling boil, blanch your minced meat, sliced pork and liver till fully cooked. Do not cook all at once, but portion by portion with your big sieve – Just like how the hawkers do it! This is for a good reason, as quality control is made easier when you cook smaller portions at one go. Note: Hawkers tend to cook the meat till they are 70-90% done, so feel free to do that if you have really fresh good quality meat on hand. If not, well done meat might be the safest option!
Notice how the bowl of soup that comes along with our noodles always tends to have cloudy bits of fat and protein that float at the top? I always thought that was a difficult trick up the sleeve but I guess my worries were unfounded after I cooked the meat in them – It was just a natural process because the excess and proteins would be left in the soup. Kind of greasy, but very savoury. Yum!
Step 3: Garnishes
If you thought I was going to miss out on my two favourite ingredients in my Bak Chor Mee… Don’t worry, I had them all prepared. These are Tee Poh, Dried Sole Fish, or some may know as Mermaid Fish, which are one of my favourite ingredients on a Bak Chor Mee. Not all hawkers include these as they tend to be quite expensive, but they are great crunchy additions to your noodles in my opinion. You may pan fry them until they reach a golden brown crisp, or roast them in the oven at 180 degrees for 10 minutes like I did. Remember to coat them with a layer of vegetable oil before pan-frying or roasting as they might become rock hard if you don’t!
Last but not least, one what may deem as the Midas touch of a Bak Chor Mee – Crispy fried lard bits! Click here for the detailed recipe on how to get this.
If I could describe Bak Chor Mee in just one sentence, it would be: An assembly of hardwork. People often dismiss this humble bowl of noodles as one that is easy to prepare, because all of we see of the Bak Chor Mee hawkers are simply of them tossing the noodles in some sauces and cooking meat in a process that might take less than 2 minutes (the very skilled masters!) But the amount of soaking, cutting, stewing, marinating… And even the selection of the many different ingredients – That definitely takes more than 2 minutes to prepare, and perhaps a lifetime to master!
As this was my first time preparing this dish as an amateur student cook, I admit I was unusually frustrated while preparing this because the ingredients were all over the place and I was at a loss of how to deal with everything at one go! I even lamented to my friends “I will never make Bak Chor Mee again!” after this entire experience which took me about 2-3 days including the soaking and marinating et cetera. It was really that tiring – I proclaim it to be even more laborious than grating radishes for Chai Tao Kway. The next time when I buy a bowl of my favourite Bak Chor Mee from the friendly uncle at the regular stall I frequent, I’m really going to thank him for the bottom of my heart for all the effort!
A distinctively Singaporean meal for a bunch of starving friends who unfortunately had to wait 2.5h for me while I fussed about in my kitchen blanching meat portion by portion b(^^)”d. And yes that’s some red wine to celebrate a joyous meal like this. I certainly hope it was a joy reading this post for you too, despite having to bear with my verbose commentaries. For all my fellow overseas Singaporeans, I hope your bowl of homemade Bak Chor Mee would cheer you up on those homesick days :)
Posted by #phangchewfat