This was originally a Thai dish of noodles made from rice flour noodles (vermicelli) and served in light, piquant gravy made from tamarind juice and dried shrimp, and served with toppings such as fresh calamansi, tiny cubes of fried beancurd, chives and slices of boiled egg.
Mee siam has been adopted, and adapted by most of the races in Singapore. Indian mee siam, for instance, is pinkish in colour and sweeter because its gravy has more sugar, while the Chinese version uses more beancurd and salted fermented soybeands.
The Peranakans have also lent their influence to create Singapore’s most popular version, by adding coconut milk. For those who like a more sour-ish taste, half a lime is added to the gravy for extra zing.
The term means ‘fried egg noodles’, and in Singapore, it usually refers to the Indian version, in which the noodles are fried with cubes of fresh tomato and boiled potato, shredded cabbage, slices of green chili and green peas.
Flavour comes from the smoky wok, chili paste and a bright red bottled tomato sauce. It is not known when this dish was created, but it was already being sold in the 1950s, when hawkers plied the streets. The mee goreng man’s calling card was the sound of his metal spatula clanging against his wok – the sound could be heard from a distance, so that costumers could come out to the streets and wait for their mee goreng.
It is such an enduring favourite that there are also Malay and Chinese versions of it, which evolved along the way.