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Penang, Malaysia - "American" Fried Bee Hoon for breakfast

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Penang, Malaysia - "American" Fried Bee Hoon for breakfast

klyeoh | Feb 13, 2013 06:26 AM

One quirkily-named breakfast dish in Penang is the "American" fried bee hoon ("mi fen" or 米粉), which is a term which some locals used to refer to "economy fried noodles" (either rice vermicelli or Hokkien noodles), a spartan dish which involved frying the noodles in oil/lard with beansprouts, flavored with light and dark soysauce. The dish is common in the West Coast of Peninsula Malaysia and also Singapore. Side-dishes available these days include fried eggs, fried tofu, 5-spice rolls or deep-fried spring rolls - but these additions are not available in the original version of this dish. Normally, pickled green chillis, plus chilli paste are added as condiments when serving, plus some crisp-fried sweet beancurd sticks ("foo chok") . That's why this dish ended up with the tag "economy" - a reference to its humble beginnings.

But I'd never heard of the "economy bee hoon" being referred to as "American bee hoon" anywhere else (not in KL or Singapore) except in Penang. I asked a Penang friend about the origins of this term, and he attributed this to the Penangites sense of humor: in the 1950s/60s, anything "American" is deemed to be expensive. But the locals nicknamed the humblest of all street foods in Penang: the plain fried breakfast "bee hoon" as "American bee hoon" as a joke. But the term was so popular, its usage became pemanent!

I am addicted to this dish - and so are many Singaporeans.

This morning, I tried the Penang version - every bit as spartan as its Singapore counterpart, yet its Hokkien (Fujianese) flavors were there. Sheer comfort food - bliss :-)

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