I like Singapore when it wakes up in the morning. In the soft light of dawn, I can sometimes catch a glimpse of the soul of old Singapore - harking back to an era before the city embraced its current modern incarnation, with its gleaming glass-and-steel towers, crowded streets and (shock, horror!) fast food chains.
At the crack of dawn, when the streets are still and shophouse windows are dark, the only life one sees is usually centred in and around the local wet markets and the obligatory hawker centres attached to them. And there, at the hawker centres, you see ordinary Singaporeans nursing their “kopi-C” or “teh-o”, and lining up for morning sustenance: porridge, noodles, steamed buns & dumplings, crisp-fried dough-sticks, roasted meats with rice even. At the Chinatown Food Centre on Smith Street, there was a popular glutinous rice (“lor mai”) stall which sees a long queue each morning and usually sells out by 7am. I’d never tried it myself - don’t fancy queuing for food at 6am!
And my favourite breakfast food? The “economy fried bee hoon-mee” - perhaps the simplest, yet most common Singapore breakfast item. A typical “economy fried bee hoon-mee” stall will offer at least two types of noodles: the drier fried “bee hoon” (thin, white rice noodles) and the “mee” (or more accurately, “Hokkien mee”: fat yellow Hokkien noodles) fried in dark, sweet soysauce which gave the noodles its rich, caramelly flavour. You find almost similar renditions in other mainly-Chinese cities like Penang or Ipoh in Malaysia, Bangkok’s Chinatown, even Hong Kong or Guangzhou, China. But the renditions outside Singapore usually substituted the sweet dark soysauce for the salty thick, dark soysauce - resulting in a totally different flavoured dish. One usually requests for a mix of “bee hoon” and “mee”, as the two types of noodles, with their different and contrasting tastes and textures, complement each other perfectly.
“Economy fried bee hoon-mee” is the only dish I miss when I’m away from Singapore - nothing else. In Singapore, it also comes with a variety of side-dishes which you can choose to add to the noodles. Traditionally, we go for fried egg (over-easy), “ngoh cham bak” (sliced, pan-fried Chinese luncheon meat), “ngoh hiang” (5-spiced meat roll), fried tofu, and “popiah chee” (deep-fried spring rolls), among others. Many Singaporeans will actually just go for the noodles, topped with a dollop of spicy chilli paste, and nothing else.
For me, the “economy fried bee hoon-mee” is Singapore’s original ‘soul food’. Its simplicity harks back to the time when Singapore was mainly peopled by hardy indentured coolies who preferred heavy, carbo-rich meals to start their day with, and provide them with the sustenance needed for a day filled with hard, menial labour.
Modern-day Singapore’s office workers, when they opt for this traditional breakfast meal each morning, are actually carrying on a culinary legacy which has its roots in “coolie cuisine” - the food which built this island-nation.
Below are some places where I go for my “economy fried bee hoon-mee” breakfast:
People’s Park Food Centre
A huge food centre right behind the People’s Park Centre and the Majestic Theatre building. The fried “bee hoon-mee” here is moist and tasty. The egg was over-fried - I’d have loved it with a molten centre. The fried luncheon meat was good but not hot enough. That’s one characteristic of “economy fried bee hoon-mee” - everything’s usually pre-cooked, so it’s nice if one goes very early in the morning so one can have the food items relatively freshly-cooked and still warm. I also chose a “ngoh hiang” roll, but didn’t quite like the rendition here which was mainly chopped vegetables-flour-onion for fortifiers instead of just minced pork.
Cheng San Food Centre
This food centre at the edge of the vibrant Ang Mo Kio HDB estate is one of the best in Singapore - all local. No tourist would trek this far up north into a HDB heartland, so you can be assured that all the food stalls here serve 100% authentic local Singaporean eats. I had the noodles here with fried egg (cold, sob!), luncheon meat (cold, ok - I was too late coming here at 9.30am. Mea culpa) and crisp-fried chicken wing (nice but cold).
Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Smith Street
The noodles here looked delicious: dark, caramelly colour. Unfortunately, the fried luncheon meat and fried egg were both very, very cold - I was here at 7.15am, but I suspected these were cooked perhaps the previous night. I quite liked the bits of braised cabbage in there, though.
May Hua Food Centre, Market Street
There’s something nice about a food centre located in the busy CBD area in Singapore: the food’s usually freshly-cooked and hot, as the food tends to sell out fast as office workers in Singapore’s very densely-populated banking district ensure fast turnover, and fresh supplies of hot food are continuously churned out. The noodles here have the traditional flavours, the accompanying side-dishes were relatively warm, though it’s again my fault since I got here way past 9am, when the peak breakfast period is long over.
Maxwell Road Food Centre
Maxwell Road Food Centre is outrageously busy during lunch-times each day, when its famous Tian Tian Hainanese chicken rice stall and other more popular stalls see long queues of eager customers. Mornings at the food centre is relatively sedate. Sadly, the “economy fried bee hoon-mee” here is the worse I had around - the luncheon meat was of a much inferior Chinese brand and almost inedible. The egg and fried tofu were both cold and rubbery. Ignore the breakfast queue and avoid this place.
108 Eating House, The Arcade, Raffles Place
108 Eating House is located smack in the centre of Singapore’s financial district. Each morning from Monday thru to Saturday, it serves the best fried bee hoon (forget their other fried noodles) in the world here - perfectly-flavoured and to-die for texture. I can eat the bee hoon here forever. The fried luncheon meat here is crisp and hot on ther outside, and deliciously moist inside. For the past 23 years, this place is my personal No. 1 breakfast spot in Singapore.
Holland V Fried Beehoon, Lorong Mambong, Holland Village
Holland V Fried Beehoon has seemingly been around forever - 30 years? But that’s long in Singapore, a country which is only 52-years-old this year.
Holland V Fried Beehoon is perhaps the most popular stall at Holland Village’s tiny food centre, with long queues every morning. You choose from fried beehoon (rice vermicelli) or a mix of fried mee/koayteow in dark sauce. Sides include batter-fried fish, shrimps, tofu, sweet Taiwanese sausages, Chinese luncheon meat (my fave), fried eggs (over-easy) and braised cabbage - all standard breakfast beehoon accompaniments.
I opted for the usual luncheon meat & fried egg to go with my noodle mixture of beehoon/mee/koayteow. Ground red chilli paste and pickled green chillis were added as condiments.
Not sure what’s the attraction here, or why some foodies in Singapore waxed lyrical about the place - I found the noodles pretty bland and tasteless, and the sides cold. Hardly something I’d expected from a 3-decade-old, successful stall. But then, one man’s meat is another’s poison.
270 Economical Bee Hoon, Albert Complex
Albert Complex Food Centre on Queen Street (near the famous Kuan Imm Temple) is another gold mine of good eats. Most Singaporeans come here for the fish ball noodles, cooked by a 90-something old lady: perhaps the oldest, active hawker in Singapore!
Breakfast “beehoon mee” is available from the 270 Economical Bee Hoon stall. The noodles (Hokkien mee and bee hoon) were well-executed and moist. The luncheon meat pieces were perfect - crisp on the outside, moist inside. The 5-spice meat roll was more potato starch than minced pork, but well-flavoured. The fried egg was warm and (relative to other beehoon mee stalls) freshly-cooked.
Guan Kee, Old Airport Road Food Centre
Old Airport Road Food Centre is not exactly well-known for its breakfast beehoon. Diners flock there for its fried Hokkien prawn noodles, wanton noodles and lor mee.
But the Singapore palate demands a good breakfast beehoon mee spot there, and that’s where Guan Kee (Stall #01-66) steps in. By no means the best spot for “economy beehoon” (that’s what we Singaporeans call this dish) in town, but you’ll never miss the long, slow-moving queue in front of the stall. Slow because the lady who serves out the beehoon mee seemed to have this obsessive-compulsive need to “arrange” the strands of noodles on each plate she serves out in a certain way. She also has a knack of stopping half-way when serving a customer in the queue just to give the large serving trays of noodles in front of her a rigorous stir.
I was 7th in the queue the morning I was there, but it still took me a good 20 minutes before it was my turn - which is “forever” in economy beehoon terms as everything’s already cooked and only needed to be slapped onto a plate or takeaway box.
Anyhow, I opted for the usual Hokkien mee/beehoon combination, with a fried egg and 2 slices of Chinese pork luncheon meat. Guan Kee’s rendition includes a splash of rather watery red chilli sauce. The result: okay, but not blow-your-mind.
Lucky Star Eating House at 211 Marsiling Crescent
After covering the central, south, east and western parts of Singapore, it’s a natural progression for me to seek out a good “bee hoon mee” spot in the northern part of the island.
This “bee hoon mee” stall at Lucky Star Eating House in Marsiling offers one of the best renditions of the dish I’d had! The mix of Hokkien mee and bee hoon was perfect, and I liked the fresh-tasting, lightly-fried luncheon meat slices - an egg-wash gave the luncheon meat a pleasant crunchy exterior. The tofu was Hakka-style - large and very soft in the middle, and the accompanying chilli sauce was slightly sweetish yet retained enough chilli-heat to spike up the flavours of the noodles.
Economical Bee Hoon Mee (Stall #01-34), Pek Kio Market & Food Centre
Esconced away in the lesser-known Pek Kio Food Centre near Novena, Sin Kee’s economy bee hoon mee has a blander, Teochew-inflected rendition - a nod to the food centre’s largely older, Teochew clientele.
The stall is not as busy as economy bee hoon mee stalls at Holland Village or Old Airport Road - which is great as, after all, who’d really want to queue for half an hour for one’s breakfast first thing in the morning.
I didn’t quite like the brand of luncheon meat used by this stall, though - not Maling brand’s. But their fried egg was done perfectly and served a la minute, with the golden yolk flowing out to coat the noodles. Bliss. S$2.20 (US$1.65) for a pretty substantial breakfast.
Economy Beehoon Mee, Bendemeer Market Food Centre
Bendemeer Market Food Centre’s economy beehoon mee maintained the traditional flavours pretty well - salty with a hint of sweetness typical of the Singaporean rendition of this breakfast dish, versus the salty-savoury versions one encounter in HK or neighbouring Malaysia. The accompanying eggs were freshly-fried and served warm, but the luncheon meat was of inferior quality and overly salty. It’s still my #1 choice for breakfast at Bendemeer - a bustling, busy morning market as anywhere else on the island.
Economy Beehoon Mee, Commonwealth Crescent Market & Food Centre
Economy noodle breakfast at Commonwealth Crescent. Interesting to note that this neighbourhood is perhaps the closest thing to a “poor, working-class neighbourhood” in Singapore - there’s even a booth near the food centre for people to donate foodstuffs to the needy!
Most foodies who end up at Commonwealth Crescent Food Centre will inevitably make a beeline for the wantan noodle stall. The “mee pok tah” (fine wheat noodles, served with soy-vinegar dressing) is another stall which attracted my attention.
I was there, of course, on my economy noodle quest - my fave breakfast item of all time when I’m back home in Singapore. I went with my usual yellow noodles-beehoon (rice noodle) mix, topped with fried egg & luncheon meat. Prices here are 30% cheaper than elsewhere in Singapore! Tastewise, not a standout but better than some of the other spots I’d tried on my on-going quest to find the best version on the island.
- My latest spot is, of course, Hua Hua at Chong Boon Market & Food Centre, already detailed in this thread ([Singapore] Popular breakfast options at Chong Boon Market & Food Centre).