Mee Siam is a traditional soup noodle found in Southeast Asia that is very popular because of its complex flavors. The beauty of this dish is in its rich flavors – sweet, spicy and sour all in one – to match with the simplicity of its ingredients. Using only rice vermicelli noodles soaked in light gravy topped off with a few simple garnishes, it is a bowl of unadorned good food.
Mee Siam can be served dry or with soup, both ways are commonly found in Singapore. I will be sharing the soup version below because it is my family’s preferred way of eating this dish. Although it is more complicated to make, I guarantee that it worth the effort to master that tangy gravy.
While I was furiously scribbling and taking pictures of my mum cooking, I got a bit frustrated because there is a lot of estimation involved. She was always shoving me a spoonful of gravy and telling me to try it. And I realized that a delicious bowl of mee siam is more than precise measurements. Rather, it is about adjusting it to your own taste and needs. If you like it sweeter, add more sugar. If you want it sourer, add more tamarind.
The main takeaway message is: TASTE and TEST your gravy.
You might find variations of the recipe particularly for the gravy but for my mum’s recipe, it is made up of just three main ingredients: (Click to find out more about each ingredient)
– Tamarind or locally known as assam
– Preserved soy bean paste or locally known as tau cheo
Mee Siam (makes about 8 big bowls)
400g of vermicelli
200g of bean sprouts
1 red onion
Raw red chili paste
2-3 tbsp of rempah paste
1/3 block of tamarind pulp
2 tbsp of preserved soya bean paste or tau cheo
(Servings as per desired)
Tofu puff or tau pok
To make gravy:
1. Soak tamarind in water to soften the block. Give it a good mix before sieving out the pulp and seed to leave the blackish water behind to create tamarind water. (see image below)
2. Repeat step one to make about 1.5 to 2 liters of sour-tasting tamarind water. Add more tamarind pulp if water becomes diluted.
3. Heat oil in pot before frying it with rempah paste and a big tablespoon of chili paste.
4. Add in tau cheo and continue to stir mixture constantly to prevent the bottom of the pot from burning.
5. Fry till mixture is dry and fragrant. A good marker would be for the overall volume of mixture to decrease by about a third.
6. Pour in tamarind water and give it a good stir.
7. Lastly, scoop in about 6 heaps of sugar.
Keep adjusting the gravy till it reaches your level of sourness or sweetness!
To make noodles:
1. Dice 1 red onion
2. Fry the diced onion till golden brown.
3. Add in 200g of chili paste, 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt and sugar to create a pot of chili water that will soften and cook the dried vermicelli noodles.
4. Bring the chili water to a boil.
5. Drop vermicelli noodles in boiling water and give it a thorough stir. The noodles should be naturally dyed red with little residual water left. If noodles are not sufficiently soften, add more water.
6. Lastly, stir-fry the bean sprouts with noodles to give the dish an additional crunch.