Thursday, 15 February 2007

I never thought I'd see this day...

Wow. This is what I call a breakthrough in my cooking and something for which I'm still deciding if I should pat my own back or sock my own left eye (there have been several of these pat or sock dilemmas in recent months, but will tell you about them when I make the dishes in question). For years, I'd been depriving myself of Lor Mee (literally meaning "soya sauce noodles") under the incredibly unambitious and idiotic impression that I *couldn't* replicate it here and shouldn't bother. Tzk tzk. People who say they *can't* do something without giving some thought to a try systematically irritate me so I suppose I had double standards when it came to myself, which is despicable, I concede. It's not entirely my fault, though. Throughout the years, I had attempted googling for a recipe, but the results only frustrated me by giving me addresses of where to get the best, but never how to make it.

All this talk is getting cheap, so let's see what a breakthrough looks like to me:

Summary: Egg noodles, thick brown gravy, fishcake, ngor hiang (spiced pork roll), hardboiled egg, raw crushed garlic and some serious posterior-denting chillli paste.

Some of you would know by now that I'm a Singaporean and have been living in France since 2001, so Singapore is where I discovered these noodles (I can't be an authority on where they came from). It took me time during my teenage years to warm up to Lor Mee, but when I started working, I gave it a second chance and thereupon renounced many other edible pleasures that I thought I'd enjoyed up until then. Ex-colleagues to whom I'd preached its virtues would tell you that I was crazed enough those days to totter on heels for almost a kilometre under the scorching equatorial sun at high noon to get a decent bowl of it, and sometimes return with packs of it for some of them. For those of you familiar with the area, I'd walk from my office in the old Supreme Court building, past Victoria Memorial Hall and Empress Place all the way to the 3rd floor of the Golden Shoe food centre, usually running faster up the stairs than the lift could take me!

What's all the hype about? you may pause to wonder... Until I finally succeeded in making it yesterday, I think the hype was really in the mystery shrouding the components of the gravy. I've eaten Lor Mee in tons of places all over Singapore and to my recollection, no two servings have ever tasted the same! In any typical book of Singapore recipes, you'll never find it, so I'm starting to think it's one of those things early settlers did with leftovers.

I made it with no real expectations of success, and originally wanted to make just a prawn stock. Remember, I had access to quite a lot of prawn shells this week and didn't feel like throwing away the shells unceremoniously. Besides, garbage collectors do go on strike here once in a while without warning, so if I had to dispose of prawn shells, I thought they'd definitely smell better in the trash cooked than raw.

So cook them I did, and I actually even forgot them on the stove and let a few of them burn. It was a very fortunate accident since that gave my stock a smoky taste.

How to: Gravy for 4 - 5 servings: Make about 2 litres of stock from shells obtained from about 1 kg of prawns by heating them in an empty casserole, then adding water when they turn orange. Boil shells for about half an hour. Turn off heat. Boil 4 eggs in a separate casserole, let them cool and peel them.

Add about 50 ml or more of dark soya sauce and 20ml of light soya sauce to the stock, as well as 4 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp of 5-spice powder and 2 tablespoons of black vinegar. Mix 3 tablespoons of cornstarch or potato starch with 1/2 a cup of water (stir if starch settles). Lightly beat an egg and set aside. Return stock to a boil, and when it bubbles, pour in the starch and water mixture and keep stiring to ensure that lumps of starch do not form. Pour in the beaten egg and stir. Add the hardboiled eggs.

Cook egg noodles according to the instructions on the package and divide them into individual portions. Pour gravy over the noodles, then add a hardboiled egg, slices of fishcake, minced pork roll, chilli paste and raw garlic. Add a splash of black vinegar if desired.

Fishcake and chilli paste can be found in most Asian grocery stores. As for the pork roll, I mixed 400g of minced pork with 1tsp of 5-spice powder, a handful of chopped coriander, 1 tbsp of potato starch, oyster sauce, white pepper and light soya sauce. Then I rolled a spoonful at a time in beancurd sheets and deep-fried the rolls.

Variations: In some of the places I've eaten this, fried fish bits, with or without batter, are added. Instead of sliced pork rolls, I've also seen pork balls made with just the stuffing. Some people add beansprouts or braised pork. Egg noodles can be replaced with rice vermicelli or wheat noodles.

Body Count: 0.5% of a whole pig, fishcake and maybe 100 prawnless shells.

Let's take another look, with a slight rotation of the bowl:


PS: I'd meant to warn those of you who are adventurous enough to try this recipe that Lor Mee isn't something you should eat if you're dressed in white. :)


tigerfish said...

I have not eaten this yet though I've been bac eating for 5 days, and I'm flying off tmr :(
No chance this time, again.

Claude-Olivier said...

Salut je ne connaissais pas du tout ce plat que tu as bien réussit alors ;-)

Bonne journée

Lydia said...

I've never had this dish (and don't remember it from my one visit to Singapore -- where I surely ate lots of noodles!), but the sound of this gravy has me wanting to run to the kitchen and make some! Just the gravy with a bowl of egg noodles would be very tasty....

Lisa said...

Wow Shilpa...

I don't think I've ever had Lor Mee, but I think I can imagine the taste just by seeing the photo and read the 'how to'

As Indonesian, I always love Soy Sauce and Mee. I think one day I should give it a try. Thanks for sharing the recipe.. :-)

Sandeepa said...

Wow what a recipe, it packs in all your cravings and so though I have no clue what you are talking about I want to have "Lor Mee" right now

But I think I need to taste it to create it as I can't even guess how it must taste

Shilpa said...

Hi Tiger, you missed out on a good thing! ;-)

Claude, pas étonnant que tu ne connais pas ce plat, il n'est pas aussi courant que le laksa, chicken rice et chilli crab, les "icônes" de la cuisine singapourienne :)

Hi Lydia, this dish definitely doesn't get enough recognition, so I guess you'd get to eat it only if you were looking for it. When were you in S'pore and for how long? I hope my instructions make sense if you do eventually make some! :) Feel free to write if you have doubts! :)

Hi Lisa, welcome! :) I hope you do try this recipe if you like soya sauce so much. I'm sorry if I'm wrong, but I assume you're Muslim, so do know that chicken and fish are also very good substitutes for the pork I used here.

Shilpa said...

OMG Sandeepa, it's as if you've known me for ages! How did you read my mind re my cravings?!?! :)

But yes, I think it'd be wiser to taste it before attempting it 'cos black vinegar isn't to everybody's liking.. hmmm, too bad you live so far away, would be glad to cook up another vat of it! :)

jacob said...

wow, congratulations! i've lived in singapore for five years now and i'm afraid i've tried the dish only once or twice. your recipe sounds great.

Shilpa said...

thanks Jacob! I guess it doesn't look all that appealing, and not everyone likes Lor Mee, so it's totally understandable that you've had it so infrequently :)

Keropok Man said...

yes yes yes!! the golden shoe lor mee is yum yum!

have not had that for a long time! hehe.. time to visit it again...