Mee goreng is a dish primarily of fried noodles that is associated with South Indians but remains unique to this region. It incorporates a mix of Chinese, Indian, European and Malay flavours. It takes the yellow egg noodles from Chinese cuisine, spices and mutton commonly found in Indian food, fried with a sweetness for the Malay palate and coloured with tomato sauce, which is often associated with Western cuisine.
Mee goreng is Malay for “fried noodles”. The spicy mix of egg noodles is fried with mutton or other meat like chicken, along with a handful of onions, potatoes, peas, cabbage and beansprouts, topped with thinly sliced green chilies, tau kua (grilled beancurd) and sliced boiled, scrambled or fried eggs. The noodles are stir-fried quickly with tomato ketchup and sometimes chilli. A good plate of mee goreng should have some noodles slightly charred and crispy. Singapore-styled mee goreng used to be accompanied by thinly sliced cucumber in yoghurt, but is now usually paired with a simple tomato sauce with slices of cucumber.
Some sources suggest that it was the Muslim Chulias of Madras who originally popularised the dish. The dish remains strongly associated with the Indian Muslim community although it is sometimes also categorised as a Malay dish. The earliest known mee goreng outlet, known as Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng in Penang, Malaysia, first started on a push-cart in the early 20th century.
Traditionally, mee goreng had a brown hue but now bears a strong red due to the tomato sauce used. This is especially true of the Penang mamak mee goreng, which is thoroughly red. In some stalls, mee rebus gravy is poured over the noodles. Sometimes curry leaves, tamarind juice and toasted sesame seed are added, adding a complex flavour to the dish. Other stalls add prawn stock and even mashed sweet potatoes for added sweetness. Recently, the addition of deep fried ikan bilis (anchovies) has given rise to a new genre of mee goreng known as ikan bilis mee goreng.
Chinese-style mee goreng was created in 1975 by restaurant owner Ting Choon Teng and chef Quek Ah Ai of the Punggol Hock Kee restaurant. Their fellow stallholder at Ponggol Restaurant, an Indian hawker, left his mee goreng business to his Chinese colleagues, and Ting and Quek produced their take on traditional mee goreng soon after. Their version, known as Ponggol Mee Goreng, uses a tomato chilli sauce made up of 12 herbs and spices. Instead of being crispy and dry as in traditional mee goreng, this version is more moist and has more seafood added to the noodles such as prawn and squid. Its spicy sauce also has belachan (fermented prawn paste), giving it an extra rich taste. Instead of potato and cabbage, bean sprouts and coriander are used for added flavour.
In Malaysia, the dish is known as mamak mee goreng, where mamak refers to the localised South Indian or Tamil Muslim community and particularly their hybrid dishes. Variant names such as kelinga mee and mee kling also reflect the dish’s Indian roots, thought keling is now regarded as a derogatory term for the Indian community and thus is seldom used.
Although Indonesia also has a dish known as bak mie goreng, its origins and ingredients are different from the South Indian mee goreng found in Singapore and Malaysia. However, the ingredients of the Indian mee goreng are similar to those found in the Indian nasi goreng, bee hoon goreng and kway teow goreng, where the Hokkien mee is replaced by rice, rice vermicelli and flat rice noodles respectively. Thus Indian mee goreng stalls also offer these dishes.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.