Nothing stokes the flames within Singaporeans quite like a good ol’ debate on which stall sells the best version of our favourite hawker dish.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when eating is often hailed as Singaporeans’ undisputed favourite pastime (aside from queueing, although I must say, much of how we judge which stall to eat is by the length of queues, but I digress).
We owe a lot of our favourite hawker dishes today to the influx of immigrants that came from around the region with Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in 1819. Most of them were traders who, apart from setting up their businesses, brought with them their religious practices, cultures, and most importantly, food.
Take for example Tu Tu Kueh, which was brought over by people from the province of Hui’an, China. Tu Tu Kueh got its name from the sound the charcoal steamer (which was used back in the day) makes when steaming was done.
In the past, Tu Tu Kueh was primarily a dish that used plain rice flour, but today one can often find different fillings ranging from coconut to peanut. Most assuredly at that time, all of the Tu Tu Kueh stalls were run by people from Hui’an and were all surnamed “Tan”. Tan’s Tu Tu Coconut Cake, which is said to be one of the first Tu Tu Kueh makers who came over in 1932, is now being run by the 4th generation.
And that, my friends, is just one of the many dishes which lay claim to some form of heritage in Singapore.
Inspired by Culture Trip’s history of Shanghai in 7 dishes and Roads and Kingdoms’ own edition for Singapore, we take a look at how Singapore came to be through our palates and our stomachs, conflating Singapore’s rich ethnic and diverse history with dishes that form the bedrock of our hawker culture.
Hokkien Mee is one dish that often incites polarising views across the country. Unlike Chicken Rice, there are two common variations of Hokkien Mee. There are die-hard supporters that will stand fervently behind the wet version and there are loyalists that will champion that Hokkien Mee should be dry. Well, regardless of which version you prefer, Hokkien Mee is indubitably a well-loved hawker dish.
And for a dish that is so widely loved, there is hardly a consensus on the origins of Hokkien Mee. The most popular narrative revolves around Hokkien sailors who’s said to have created this dish some time in the 1930s. They used to work in noodle factories and would fry up excess noodles over charcoal fire along Rochor Road. Another suggested the dish originates from a stall next to the old 7th Storey Hotel near Rochor Road. And that was how Hokkien Mee got its original name of Rochor Mee.
It’s hard to nail down the exact origins of Hokkien Mee (some accounts even date it back to the 1880s), but what’s certain is the dish’s signature combination of yellow noodles, bee hoon, seafood, and pork brought together with a prawn/pork stock will never cease to amaze.
And that stock, oh that heavenly stock. When done right, there’s nothing quite like it.