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

History & Origins of San Lou Bee Hoon 🥢 Johor Bahru Food Icon 三楼炒米粉

History_Origins_San_Lou_Bee_Hoon _三楼炒米粉

San Lou Bee Hoon or Mifen (三楼米粉 in Mandarin) is an iconic dish from Johor Bahru which is also served in a handful Singapore zi char restaurants. Why is this popular fried rice vermicelli dish known as San Lou bee hoon? What is San Lou?

History_Origins_San_Lou_Bee_Hoon _三楼炒米粉

San Lou 三楼 refer to this old three storey public housing flat along Jalan Stulang Darat in Johor Bahru (5 minutes drive from the Causeway). This flat is still there today (2021), part of a small precinct of three such blocks.

There were three restaurants side by side at this block of three storey flats - from right to left, Kedai Makanan Spring Garden (zi char), Restoran Come & Eat (Teochew porridge), and Makanan Laut San Low Seafood.

(In this picture taken in 2018, San Low Seafood had left and its shop unit occupied by THC Motor Enterprise, a motorcycle repair shop.)

In a second three storey block in the same precinct, there is a San Lou Cafe (Seafood) which is a different restaurant. It is also one of my favourites but it does not serve San Lou bee hoon. More about San Lou Cafe (Seafood) 👈 click

History_Origins_San_Lou_Bee_Hoon _三楼炒米粉

San Low Seafood was the most successful and moved to larger premises at Jalan Biru in the 1990s. The restaurant is now in a residential area in Taman Pelangi but retained the name San Low Seafood 三楼海鲜 which literally means Three Storey Seafood.

Most Singaporeans came to know about San Lou bee hoon when San Low Seafood is in this location (5 minutes drive from the Causeway) and sometimes wondered how the name San Lou or Three Storey came about.

History_Origins_San_Lou_Bee_Hoon _三楼炒米粉

Now we know where the name Three Storey came from, but what is so special about this fried bee hoon?

The dish is made with simple, humble ingredients. It is bee hoon (rice vermicelli), egg, fish cake slices, lean pork slices, small prawn, squid, chye sim greens, chopped garlic and a blended sauce which contains oyster sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, chili sauce, etc.

A single person serving is sold at RM6 today.

The secret of this dish is in the frying technique. It is all about mastery of wok fire 火喉 and wok hei 锅气. The result is a mound of bee hoon which is dry, browned and caramelised outside. Under the dry, slightly crisp layer, the bee hoon below is moist and well infused with the sauce's savoury flavours.

The infused flavours burst in the mouth when we chew the mouthful of fried bee hoon. The toasty aroma as well as mix of tender-soft and crisp textures add to our pleasure.

The crisp outside, moist inside bee hoon is hard to achieve. We often get San Lou bee hoon which has little wok hei, too dry and wiry inside with little infusion of flavours in the bee hoon. No distinct crisp and tender-soft layers. It is also sometimes too greasy.

San Lou bee hoon is sometimes referred to as chow tah bee hoon or burnt rice vermicelli. That would actually be a poor rendition of the dish as the outside should only be crisped and browned with pleasant wok hei, not charred.

History_Origins_San_Lou_Bee_Hoon _三楼炒米粉

Truth be told, the most memorable San Lou bee hoon for me was at San Low Seafood in Taman Pelangi in 2011. A good San Lou bee hoon is hard to get today, even in JB.

So San Lou bee hoon came from San Low Seafood when it was located at the Stulang Darat three storey flats. How did it come about?

History_Origins_San_Lou_Bee_Hoon _三楼炒米粉

In 1979, as competition among zi char and seafood restaurants in JB was burning red hot, the boss of San Low Seafood tasked one of his cooks Ah Kaw 亚九 to come up with a winning dish.

Ah Kaw said it took him one month and 80 kilos of bee hoon before he came up with the prototype San Lou bee hoon. It was hard R & D (research & development) work and not some fluke as urban legend have it. No, it wasn't an unknown cook who over fried and burnt his bee hoon by mistake and hey presto, San Lou bee hoon!

Anyway, Ah Kaw's creation was a big hit and the dish remains an icon of JB food to this day. Even now, fifty years on, San Low Seafood remains a leading zi char restaurant in Johor Bahru thanks to their signature San Lou bee hoon.

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Today, we can get San Lou bee hoon at Ah Kaw's own restaurant in Taman Pelangi, Johor Bahru 👈 click

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Ah Kaw's elder son-in-law's Ah Meng restaurant in Taman Iskandar, Johor Bahru 👈 click

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Ah Kaw's younger son-in-law's Ming Ji restaurant in Taman Johor Jaya Rosmerah 👈 click

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We can still get San Lou bee hoon at San Low Seafood restaurant in Taman Pelangi 👈 click

Written by Tony Boey on 1 Mar 2021


  1. Wah! I love this post 😁 thanks for sharing, cos i love san lou bee hoon hahaha - Janel

  2. Hi Tony
    Any comment on the San Lou beehoon in Singapore? Any relation to the restaurants over in JB?

  3. The best bee Hoon in JB !

  4. The photo of the 3 storey building brings back good memories. I think there was a turtle Soup restaurant there too.


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