Singaporeans may be obsessed with local food, but our cuisine has actually made its way across the world – some have become well-known staples in Chinatown restaurants in countries like Australia, UK, and the US. The thing is, many of these foods labelled as ‘Singapore’ weren’t exactly created in Singapore in the first place.
We’re talking about Singapore Fried Noodles, Singapore Fried Rice, and the Singapore Sling.
Singapore Fried Noodles
Despite its name, Singapore Fried Noodles wasn’t created in Singapore – it was actually created by chefs in Hong Kong way back in the 50s or 60s.
In Hong Kong, the noodle dish consists of stir-fried bee hoon, curry powder, meat (chicken, pork, or prawns), eggs, and veggies – the name ‘Singapore’ was believed to have been used because it sounded ‘exotic’ to those in Hong Kong at the time. The use of curry powder was the key ingredient of this version of fried vermicelli – the dish has to be bright yellow.
You could get Singapore Fried Noodles almost everywhere, from big Cantonese restaurants to teahouses (cha chan teng) and stalls (dai pai dong). Thanks to its popularity, the dish spread overseas – mainly to wherever the British tend to frequent, like the UK and Australia.
Ironically, while it wasn’t created in Singapore, the dish did land here and became known as Xin Chow (or Sin Chew, depending on dialect) Bee Hoon (星洲炒米); Xin Chow was Singapore’s old moniker. While most of the ingredients of this fried bee hoon dish are similar, the Singapore version doesn’t use curry powder.
This brings us to a dish we do have in Singapore – the Hong Kong Noodle, which as you’ve guessed, does not exist in Hong Kong! The dish we call ‘Hong Kong Noodle’ here is actually a Singaporean version of Hong Kong’s Soya Sauce Fried Noodle (豉油王炒麵), which doesn’t include meat, prawn, or egg (yep, the Hong Kong version is vegan).
Singapore Fried Rice
Much like the fried noodle dish, you’ll find that the Singapore Fried Rice dish doesn’t exist here either – it’s very popular Chinese takeaway food in the UK though, where the fried rice dish contains egg, meat and/or prawns. Like its noodle cousin, it’s also usually a bit spicy. Perhaps the idea of putting ‘Singapore’ in the dish’s name was inspired by the popular fried noodle dish.
All fried rice dishes originated in China way back in the Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD), but the one that’s technically called ‘Singapore Fried Rice’ is closer to Yangzhou Fried Rice which we can get in Singapore. Except, while it does technically originate from Yangzhou, there’s no absolute ‘standard’ fried rice dish in Yangzhou itself!
Our version of Yangzhou Fried Rice typically contains eggs, barbecued pork, and shrimp. In Yangzhou, the specified ingredients for their ‘specialty’ fried rice are sea cucumber, chicken, ham, scallops, shrimp, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and green peas, but it’s almost impossible to find any restaurant that serves it using these ingredients in Yangzhou. So, the idea of the Yangzhou Fried Rice is a misnomer – it’s basically just ‘fried rice’.
Unlike its noodle and vermicelli cousins, the Singapore Sling is 100% Singaporean, concocted by a bartender named Ngiam Tong Boon at Raffles Hotel’s Long Bar back in 1915. But what isn’t well known is the fact that the original recipe was lost when it fell out of fashion by the 1930s. This means that all Singapore Slings today are approximations of the original, with bartenders concocting the cocktail from a loose collection of written notes.
Legend has it that it was created sweet and pink for the ladies. The original recipe includes gin, Benedictine, cherry brandy, and fresh pineapple juice, and shaken vigorously to form a foamy top. Most modern versions use grenadine, although purists insist that the original recipe used Bénédictine and Cherry Heering.
Thankfully Singapore could lay claim to the drink – it was originally called a ‘gin sling’, but evolved into the ubiquitous Singapore Sling by the time it was listed in the Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930.
Many dishes we know today – like Mongolian BBQ or Hong Kong Noodles – don’t exist in their home country, but this naming of dishes not only helps give them an exotic feel, it also makes diners curious about their origins. Who knows, maybe Singapore Fried Noodles, Singapore Fried Rice, and Singapore Sling could be food ambassadors for our country – even if two of them weren’t ‘born local’.