by Tan, Bonny
Mee rebus is a dish comprising Chinese egg noodles in thick, spicy gravy. Reflecting the multiculturalism of Malaya, the dish contains spices from the Malay Peninsula and was originally peddled by Indian Muslim immigrants.1
Rebus in Malay means “to blanch”, thus mee rebus refers to “blanched noodles”. Yellow egg noodles are blanched, and then flavoured with a thick gravy. Locally known as kuah, the gravy is a rich broth of grago (tiny shrimps), flour, sugar and salt. To enhance its flavour, herbs and spices such as lemongrass, ginger and shallots are added to the mix along with meats such as mutton, prawns, ikan bilis (dried anchovies) and even flower crabs. Traditionally, the gravy is thickened with mashed sweet potato, while other variations add ground peanut. A drizzle of dark soya sauce, sliced green chillies and fried shallots top the dish. A slice of limau kesturi (lime) is served on the side to be squeezed over the dish, adding a sour edge. Beansprouts, a halved hard-boiled egg, thinly sliced tau kwa (fried beancurd) and crispy fried shallots are commonly added as garnish.2
The relatively cheap Malay dish is often eaten for breakfast or as a snack, although it can also be eaten at any time of day. The mee rebus ingredients are similar to those of mee goreng (fried noodles), so mee rebus stalls usually also offer mee goreng.3
The dish is also spelt as mi rebus, or mie rebus in Indonesia. As the egg noodles used in the dish are considered to be of Chinese origin, some suggest that mee rebus has had Chinese influence.4 Others believe that the dish originated from the Indonesian island of Java, where it is known as mee jawa, although the latter dish bears little resemblance to mee rebus in its current form in the Malay Peninsula. It is also thought that the dish came from the northern states of Malaysia and was brought southward by Indian Muslim peddlers. Vendors peddled their wares from containers and a mobile stove hung between poles, cooking the food on the spot. As the dish traversed the Malay Peninsula, each Malay state concocted its own variation, adding new spices and flavours to the gravy.5
Some mee rebus stalls offer different gravies such as with sotong masak sambal (cuttlefish cooked in a chilli gravy) or one made with chicken feet for added flavour.6 Other variations include the Malaysian Klang Valley version, which uses dhal-based gravy.7
Mee rebus Johor from the nearby state of Johor in Malaysia is a popular variation. This version features thick gravy with a base of freshly ground tapioca and pure beef stock. Replacing these ingredients with tapioca flour or prawn or chicken stock apparently creates an inauthentic mee rebus Johor.8
For the mee jawa variation found in Penang, the sauce is flavoured with a can of tomato soup. Pork is used as the meat base for the soup. In Johor, mee jawa has a savoury gravy made with shallots, garlic, ginger, lemon grass and dried shrimp. It is thickened with both potato and sweet potato. Some versions do not add meat to the gravy, so to enhance the flavour, curry and turmeric powder, dried chilli paste and a touch of belacan (prawn paste) are added. The rich mix is garnished with beansprouts, fried beancurd and a slice of lime, and topped with ground peanut. Mee jawa Klang is a version of this dish.9
Another variant, mee bandung, has many ingredients found in mee rebus. The dish is said to have originated from Muar, Johor.10 Its thick gravy is a beef stock mixed with prawns and chillies. Sometimes chicken is added. It is thickened with mashed sweet potatoes and served with fried shallots, boiled egg and shredded spring onions.11
1. Temasek Polytechnic. (2015). Singapore hawker classics unveiled: Decoding 25 favourite dishes. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Cuisine, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 641.595957 SIN)
2. Famous street food of Penang: A guide and cook book. (2006). Malaysia: Star Publications, p. 120. (Call no.: RSEA 641.595951 FAM); Seetoh, K. F. (2006, February 11). The secret’s in the sauce. The New Paper, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Famous street food of Penang: A guide and cook book. (2006). Malaysia: Star Publications, p. 120. (Call no.: RSEA 641.595951 FAM)
4. Surprises in origin of some local dishes. (1989, January 5). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Seetoh, K. F. (2006, February 11). The secret’s in the sauce. The New Paper, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Cheong, S. (2006, September 30). Slurp it all up! New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
7. Tan, B. H. (2007, July 8). Mee and mama. New Sunday Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
8. Chin, D. G. (2006, September 19). JB the mee rebus capital of the nation? Bernama Daily. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
9. Tan, B. H. (2007, July 8). Mee and mama. New Sunday Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
10. Muar’s turn to shine. (2012, November 29). New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
11. Singapore-KL high-speed rail: What to see, where to shop at each stop. (2016, July 31). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
The information in this article is valid as at 2017and 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.