This Restaurant Favorite is Easy to Make
You’ll find Singapore Noodles at Chinese restaurants around the world. This dish offers a spicy blend of noodles and curry, along with veggies and often shrimp, pork, and chicken. I can never resist ordering it when I see it on a menu.
If you’re like many of us in the US, though, you’d never dream of making Singapore Noodles (or any other Chinese dish) at home. The ingredients may seem unfamiliar, and some of the cooking techniques can be terra incognita. But there’s really no mystery to it — after all, millions of Chinese folks cook at home every day!
Chinese New Year is just a few weeks away. (It begins on Sunday, February 10. We’ll be entering the year of the snake). So isn’t it time to learn a dish or two, and celebrate in style?
Almost everyone likes Singapore Noodles — we’re talking pasta, after all. And it’s a fairly easy dish to make (less complicated than spaghetti and meat balls). Best of all, the ingredients will already be familiar to you.
Chinese lore says having a snake in the house is a good omen — it means your family will never starve. I’m not sure about that, but I do know this: Learn to make Singapore Noodles, and you’ll never need to eat from those little white cartons again.
Recipe: Singapore Noodles
It’s the curry that makes this dish “Singapore style,” according to Florence Lin’s Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads. The dish gets its name because “Cantonese and Amoy Chinese living in Singapore add [curry to this] favorite,” which “is well known . . . even in mainland China.” I have not visited Singapore, so I can’t say whether people there claim the dish as their own (Wikipedia says it’s barely known in Singapore). But I’ve certainly seen it on many Chinese restaurant menus in North America and Europe.
The noodles of choice for this dish are the thin, dried-rice ones (rice stick, or vermicelli). But you can substitute a thicker rice noodle, or even a thin dried wheat pasta (like angel hair). In the US, this dish is often made with chicken, pork, and shrimp. I think including all three is overkill, but go for it if you want. I prefer just pork, or maybe pork and shrimp. You can also make an entirely vegetarian version of this dish — more on that in the Notes.
Most recipes for Singapore Noodles are more or less the same. Mine is derived from Florence Lin’s book and from Ken Hom’s Fragrant Harbor Taste. But really, if you eat this dish a couple of times at any Chinese restaurant, you can probably figure out how to make it.
Prep time takes 10 to 15 minutes (depending on how long you soak the noodles), cooking time no more than 10 minutes. So figure half an hour, tops, from the time you begin pulling ingredients out of your pantry until you’re eating.
This recipe serves 2 to 4 (depending on what else you might serve and how serious your appetites are). Leftovers taste OK when reheated in the microwave, but their flavor isn’t as “bright” as when the noodles are hot from the wok.
- ½ pound rice stick (thin rice vermecilli; may substitute angel hair pasta — see Notes for cooking that)
- 1 cup shredded roast pork or chicken (see Notes if using raw meat)
- 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced (you can substitute a bunch of scallions)
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic
- 1 tablespoon ginger
- ~4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided (peanut oil is traditional; canola works well too, or use your favorite blend)
- ¼ pound shrimp (small ones work best, though larger ones are prettier; either raw or cooked)
- ~½ teaspoon red chili paste, or a squirt of Sriracha sauce, or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional; to taste; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon curry powder or more to taste (the Madras type is traditional, but any kind works; I generally use 2 tablespoons)
- 1 cup chicken stock (you can substitute vegetable stock or water)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce, or more to taste (Kikkoman is excellent in this dish; some people add an equal amount of fish sauce, too)
- ½ cup frozen peas
- Place rice stick (noodles) in a bowl, and pour in boiling (or at a minimum, extremely hot) water to cover. Gently pull the noodles apart so no strands are clumping together. Let soak until flexible and tender (usually a few minutes; some recipes specify letting the strands soak for half an hour – unnecessary, IMO). Then drain the rice strands in a colander, rinse with cold water, and gently spread them out on a towel to dry.
- While the rice noodles are soaking, shred the cooked pork and/or chicken into pieces about an inch long and ¼ inch thick (or a bit less). Peel the onion, cut in half through the poles, and slice thinly (parallel with the onion equator). Wash and dry the bell pepper and cut into slices a third of an inch or a bit less. Peel and mince the garlic and ginger.
- Heat a large wok or frying pan (nonstick works fine; see Notes) on medium high heat. When hot, add a tablespoon or so of oil (less if using nonstick) and add shrimp. Stir-fry (essentially sauté) briefly until the shrimp colors (if using shrimp that are already cooked, heat until warm). Remove and set aside.
- Add another tablespoon or two of oil if necessary (exact quantities don’t matter much for this ingredient), and then add the onion and red pepper. Stir-fry until the onion begins to become translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for another minute.
- Add the red chili paste (or red pepper flakes), the curry powder, the stock, and the soy sauce. Add the frozen peas, the shrimp, and the pork or chicken. Stir briefly to combine, and add the noodles. Stir again to combine, cover, and turn heat down to medium low.
- Cook until the sauce reduces and the shrimp and peas are totally cooked — about 3 minutes.
- Dish up and eat!
- If you wish to substitute a thin wheat pasta like angel hair for the traditional rice stick, here’s how: Bring a 4-quart pot of water to boil, then add about ¾ tablespoon of salt and 8 ounces of pasta. Cook until just al dente (6 to 10 minutes, depending on the pasta). Drain the pasta, spread on towels so it doesn’t clump together, and proceed with Step 2 of the recipe.
- It’s traditional to use (leftover) roast pork and/or cooked chicken in this dish. If you’re using raw meat, cut into pieces of about an inch long and ¼ inch thick. Marinate in a mix of soy sauce and rice wine (or dry sherry) for 20 minutes or so. After you cook the shrimp in Step 3, cook the meat in the frying pan/wok for a few minutes until nearly done, and set aside. Then proceed with Step 4.
- You can use fresh or frozen shrimp for this recipe. And if you use frozen, they can be cooked or uncooked. I suggest using shrimp with shells (when using larger ones, I generally leave the shell on a section or two of the tail end). If you’re using frozen uncooked shrimp, they will take a bit longer to cook than fresh or precooked. So just allow additional time in Step 3.
- You can find red chili paste in the Asian section of your supermarket. It’s often sold as chili/garlic paste, which is fine in this dish. Sriracha sauce has a somewhat different flavor profile, but works well in this dish, so that’s another possibility.
- If you don’t like spicy, omit the chili paste (or red pepper flakes). Everyone’s tolerance for spicy is different, so tailor the quantity of hot stuff to your preference.
- In fact, virtually all the ingredients and quantities in this recipe are highly elastic — vary to suit what you have on hand, and what sounds good to you.
- Many recipes for Singapore Noodles drop the protein (pork, chicken, shrimp) and go entirely vegetarian (use vegetable stock if you want to do this). Chopped celery is good in this dish, as are chopped canned water chestnuts, bean sprouts, or almost any vegetable you can think of.
- You may want more soy sauce than I suggest — I usually add a bit more at table. Fish sauce is a nice addition too.
- Some recipes suggest adding salt to taste. I find that unnecessary, since soy sauce is salty enough, although you may disagree.
- Some recipes suggest adding a teaspoon or so of sugar to this dish. Again, I find that unnecessary, but you may enjoy the result (add it in Step 5).
Years of the Snake
“So snakes in the house are a good, omen, huh?” asked Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, attacking her Singapore Noodles.
“That’s what they say,” I replied between bites.
“Wish we’d known that when we were living in Florida,” she said.
Ah, yes, Florida. The west coast thereof, to be specific, where we lived for years. With snakes, lots of snakes (mostly small and non-poisonous, fortunately). They often turned up around our pool, looking for a free chlorinated cocktail. And our cat, Kitty Riffs, rarely missed an opportunity to bring them into the kitchen.
“So if we’d known, we’d have been less freaked about serpents under the sink?” I asked.
“Well, maybe not. But at least we’d have appreciated the kitchen connection,” she said. “And you have to admit, we haven’t starved yet!”
True. Maybe those omen guys were on to something.
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