Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Tony Boey johorkaki@gmail 🇸🇬 Dairy of Singapore active senior. Best years of food, travel, lifestyle

History of Char Kway Teow in Singapore

For the history of fried kway teow 炒粿條 in Singapore, we have to start from Chaoshan char kway teow 潮汕炒贵刁 far away in Guangzhou, China of today.

Image credit: Wikipedia
Chaoshan is a region in the southeastern part of Guangzhou province of China where Teochew speaking people live.

Chaoshan fried kway teow is flat rice noodles, chive, bean sprout, pieces of pork with skin and fish sauce stir fried in sizzling pork lard in a hot wok.

That's all, it's that simple. No egg, no lup cheong (Cantonese wax sausage), no fish cake, no blood cockles, no prawn, no chili sauce. No crab, no lobster nonsense.

It is best enjoyed while the pork lard enveloping the rice noodles or kway teow is still piping, smoking hot. The kway teow's subtle sweetness is complemented by the savoury toasty taste of caramelised sauce forcefully seared onto the strands of rice noodles.

So simple, simply so good that it connected people through generations.

Of course, even in Chaosan there are variations in char kway teow. This stall still uses wood to fire the wok. The chef uses goose lard instead of pork lard. The kway teow is fried with eggs, bean sprout, chive, chye poh (preserved turnip), optional chili sauce and small pieces of pork (optional).

The host tried 3 plates with different options and he felt that the basic version with only egg, bean sprout, chive and chye poh is the best as there is little to interfere with the flavour of goose lard.

Come back to Singapore. Go back in time 150 years.

Teochew folks came to Singapore (then part of British Straits Settlements) in the mid-1800s to 1930s. Those were wretched years as China's last dynasty, the Qing was in its death throes. The country was wrecked by widespread rebellion, abject poverty, anarchy, famine and the dying Qing was handily defeated time and again in wars with foreign powers in China.

Millions from southern China left on boats for British Malaya and California to slave as coolies (indentured labourers). Naturally, they brought their comfort food with them everywhere they went. That was how Chaoshan char kway teow came to Singapore.

Image credit: National Archives of Singapore
When I was a child in 1960s Singapore, char kway teow was ubiquitous - they were everywhere on the island. When I roamed the streets as a boy, I often smelled the rich aroma of lard and caramelised soy sauce on starch. I have not smelled that heady aroma for decades already.

Photo credit: National Archives Singapore
In the mouth, 1960s char kway teow had pronounced caramelised sauce taste which is described as wok hei 鍋气.

During the 1960s, my father would give me a chicken egg and ask me to go get fried kway teow at the push cart stall along Lorong 5 Toa Payoh (we lived in Block 65 which was demolished). Standing there waiting, I smelled those greasy white smoke bellowing from the hot wok. The aroma was just wonderful. That char kway teow was greasier than anything I've eaten since and it tasted fantastic (I can't remember the details lah... .). Char kway teow was then 50 cents a packet wrapped in plastic sheet and newspaper, if I my memory didn't fail me.

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Zion Road Char Kway Teow
Now, there are fewer char kway teow stalls in Singapore. Even fewer excellent ones and none like those in the 1960s (judging by aroma and taste).


Every stall serves char kway teow with a slightly different taste profile and each have their own fan base. Most of the more popular stalls have flat ribbon rice noodles, round yellow wheat noodles, chicken egg, lup cheong, fish cake, bean sprout, chive, chye sim (a leafy green), blood cockles, fish sauce, a blend of savoury and sweet sauces, chili sauce, garlic, lard or vegetable oil in their serving. Often, the dish is given a squeeze of calamansi (lime) just before it is eaten.

History_of_Char_Kway _Teow
Hill Street Char Kway Teow in Bedok, Singapore
In Singapore (and also in Malaysia), char kway teow is synonymous with blood cockles (siham 螄蚶). If there is no blood cockle, it is not really char kway teow to many Singaporeans (myself included). Indeed, many of the older generation call char kway teow, siham kway teow 螄蚶粿條.

History_of_Char_Kway _Teow
Where do blood cockles come from?
Blood cockles is a Singapore and Malaysian thing, usually not seen in Chaoshan char kway teow. Nowadays, blood cockles are expensive and in short supply due to high demand coupled with poor harvests due to pollution.

The following are some popular char kway teow stalls in Singapore (as well as Johor Bahru and Penang).

Hai Kee Cha Kuay Teow in Singapore

History_of_Char_Kway _Teow
Hill Street Char Kway Teow, Chinatown, Singapore

History_of_Char_Kway _Teow
Sri Tebrau Market duck egg char kway teow, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Bukit Mertajam duck egg fried kway teow, Penang, Malaysia

You can get char kway teow at most Singapore hawker centres but to taste Chaoshan char kway teow, you have to go to Teochew restaurants. Here's a couple of places that offer their interpretation of Chaoshan char kway teow you can try.

History_of_Char_Kway _Teow
Liang Kee Teochew Restaurant in Singapore
History_of_Char_Kway _Teow
Chao Shan Teochew Restaurant in Kulai, Malaysia

Where do you get your char kway teow fix?

Date: 7 Jun 2020

1 comment:

  1. Why and when was round noodles added to char kway teow in Singapore?


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