Bak chor mee 肉脞面, the simple generic yellow noodles topped with blanched minced pork and tossed in a blended sauce of chili paste, soy sauce and black vinegar is ubiquitous in Singapore. There are probably more bak chor mee stalls in Singapore than any other type of hawker stalls.
Bak chor mee is often the last thing I eat before I board a plane at Changi Airport. It's also often the first thing I eat after clearing immigration at Changi Airport.
Yet, I don't see it as my favourite dish (scratch head.... ).
Decades ago, I was welcoming relatives who just arrived home from Australia. While on our way to a nice restaurant that I had in mind, my relatives said they wanted to eat bak chor mee first.
Just any bak chor mee will do.
Not understanding then how they missed bak chor mee, I was actually quite annoyed :-p
Now I know better.
Stripped to it's bare minimum, bak chor mee is literally bak chor 肉脞 (minced meat) and mee 面 (noodles). Meat and sauce to make the required daily intake of carbs palatable.
In Singapore, it's minced pork (usually a mix of fat and lean meat), flat ribbon noodles (Singaporeans usually eat it with mee pok 面薄) and a blended sauce of chili paste (usually with dried shrimps), lard, soy sauce and vinegar which is unique to Singapore.
Noodles with minced pork tossed in sauce is a common simple dish found throughout East Asia from China down to Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, there is Hakka mee, chee yok meen (pork noodles) and Teochew mee etc. In China, there is 炸醬麵 and many, many more as every region and district have their own versions.
There are numerous variations of minced pork and noodles. Singapore's bak chor mee is just one of them, with local characteristics.
What makes Singapore bak chor mee uniquely Singapore then?
One of them is the liberal use of hae bee hiam (chili paste with grounded dried shrimp) which imparts a savoury, spicy crustacean flavour to the noodles. In other places, chili is an option. In Singapore bak chor mee with chili sauce is default - it's just how much.
A splash of black vinegar gives Singapore bak chor mee a slight tangy flavour. Vinegar is an option but most Singaporeans treat it as one of the ingredients that defines Singapore bak chor mee.
In Singapore, the flat ribbon noodle or mee pok 面薄 is the most popular choice of noodle when eating bak chor mee. Hence, bak chor mee is often simply referred to as mee pok tah 面薄干.
Common add ons are slices of blanched lean pork, fish balls, pork dumplings (wantons), prawns, ti poh (dried sole fish). More fancy toppings include abalone slices, crayfish etc. Common garnishes like braised mushroom and fried shallot.
Despite all the love, bak chor mee is perhaps the most uncelebrated of Singapore food icons, much less than chicken rice, chili crab or even curry laksa.
Credit: Screen grab from Wikipedia
During the public voting for hawker dishes to represent Singapore at "The SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge" in 2013 featuring Gordon Ramsay, bak chor mee did not even come in among the top 12 hawker dishes :-D
I won't speculate here how this came about (I might do so later) but I am quite sure that it is not because bak chor mee is unloved.
Quite the contrary.
Like most Singaporeans, I have eaten countless bak chor mee in my half century.
My daughter enjoying bak chor mee like every Singaporean girl.
Perhaps, bak chor mee is one of those things people don't consciously analyse or judge too much because we are too close to it - it's like we don't normally analyse or judge people close to us e.g. our own family.
It is just there.
We just enjoy it's presence.
We love them all, whether it is the best or not.
So, I rarely compare bak chor mee and thus seldom blog about them. Here are a couple which I did.
Click on photo for full review of Kim Bak Chor Mee in Balestier ^
A humble stall tucked in a corner coffee shop along Balestier Road, Kim Bak Chor Mee managed to build up a solid following mostly through good old fashioned word of mouth. The former bak kut teh seller's faithful regulars stayed with him when he switched trade to selling bak chor mee. New and younger fans later got on the Kim bak chor mee bandwagon, thus firmly establishing this stall as among Singapore's top 10 most popular.
Click on photo for full review of Ah Hoe Mee Pok in Clementi West ^
Ah Hoe Mee Pok was not yet a year old when it shot to fame partly because the boss Kuribara-san hails from Japan - yes, the Land of the Rising Sun. The idea of his 18 year old daughter taking up the trade when few Singaporeans are willing to become hawkers, also captured the public's imagination. Needless to say, Kuribara-san's bak chor mee is good too, with it's distinctive flavours.
Click on photo for full review of Tai Hwa bak chor mee at Crawford Lane ^
Love it or loathe it, Tai Hwa is the most famous bak chor mee stall in Singapore with a solid sixty year history. The high profile legal dispute among family members over claims to the Tai Hwa brand name added spice to the otherwise mundane story of Singapore bak chor mee. But, Tai Hwa's noodles are tasty enough to attract the public's attention even without this drama.
☝Click on photo to view my bak chor mee listing.
Do come back to this post occasionally as I will blog more bak chor mee stalls as I go.
Please share with me your favourite bak chor mee stalls.
Date: 7 Nov 2015
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