There is a zer cha stall at Toa Payoh that does Hongkong fried seafood noodles pretty well. I was their regular customer when I was on course at the College of TCM. Most other stalls don’t do seafood. Instead, they pepper the entire dish with pellets of yucky char siew.
If not for the char siew, this would easily be one of my favourite dishes. I love the aromatic and sweet, rich taste of the noddles, but for years, I have not been able to crack the code. I’ve tried different types of noodles, different ingredients, seasoning, but I just couldn’t get the right taste of my favorite Hongkong noodles until …
Springs onions, the first secret ingredient. I could have kicked myself for not having noticed it. In such small quantities, the taste that it imparts is pretty subtle. Nevertheless, it’s quite essential.
Onions, eggs and prawns are a must for this dish. The Cantonese have a term called “wok hei” which refers to an aroma from the wok. Actually, “wok hei” comes from a slight charring of ingredients like onions, eggs and prawn shells.
For egg noodles, I would boil the dried variety until it’s quite al dente. Then I’d fish it out and let it cool down. Make sure it’s not soggy.
Vegetables add to the colour and balances the nutritional value of this dish. You can use cabbage or any other type of vegetables. Carrots are good, provided you precook them.
Can you guess the first step? Easy. Just fry the chopped onions and spring onions in oil till you see some signs of browning – that’s going to contribute to the “wok hei”.
Next, add the eggs and prawns. Turn up the heat until you’re scared that it may burn. Toss things around to avoid burning.
Finally, the veggies and egg noodles. The next secret ingredient is salt. Yes, ordinary table salt. Soy sauce and oyster sauce will rob the dish of its natural onion and egg flavours. For this amount of ingredients, add about one teaspoon of salt. Toss everything around really well to make sure the noodles get oiled and the salt gets dissolved in the vegetable juices.
Keep the heat on and add a teaspoon of sweet black sauce. In order to get the same level of sweetness as that in my favourite stalls, I need to add almost 2 teaspoons of sweet sauce, but this also makes the noodles a bit darker than what I get outside. I’m not sure if sugar is another secret ingredient.
Anyway, this comes very close in terms of taste. Since the appearance here is quite acceptable, I don’t think I’d need to find an answer to that as well.