How to make Mee Siam with Gravy, a Malay noodle dish of vermicelli in a sweet, sour, mild spicy and umami gravy.
Mee Siam is a beloved Malay or Nonya/Peranakan noodle dish of stir fried vermicelli in a deliciously appetising sweet and sour gravy. This is commonly served as a breakfast dish, but it can be a mealtime favourite too.
This appears slightly hard to make because you need to cook the noodles and the gravy separately, but it really is not! The two can cook concurrently, and they use the same spice base paste. I’ll be breaking down the components in this post. Alternatively, you want to watch the video above, in which you can see each step even more clearly.
What is Mee Siam?
The ‘Siam’ in Mee Siam comes from Thailand’s old name. The dish got its name due to the sourness in it, which is a typical Thai flavour profile. This is a Singaporean and Malaysian dish though, funnily enough there isn’t such a thing as Mee Siam in Thai cuisine!
This is a Malay dish, but can be considered as a Nonya or Peranakan dish as well.
Making the Spice Base Paste
The rempah spice base paste is important for the Mee Siam! Fortunately, the ingredients are minimal (or at least minimal in terms of Malay Cooking).
Dried Chillies: As with most Malay dishes, dried chillies are a mainstay. This adds spice, so feel free to adjust the amount according to your spice tolerance. Rehydrate the dried chillies with boiling water for 5 minutes for easier blending. For more detailed information on this and alternative types of dried chillies, see my Dried Chilli Paste post. If you have dried chilli paste at the ready, you can use that in place of the dried chillies. To learn to make dried chilli paste (super easy!) then you want to check out the post as well.
Onion and Garlic: Onions and garlic are standard alliums. should be I used a medium-sized red onion, but you can also use shallots. You want about 50g of shallots for this particular recipe.
Dried Shrimps: Dried shrimps add a component of delicious umami flavour to the dish. You will have to rehydrate the dried shrimps before blending, so it softens. Otherwise you’ll get tough chunks in your paste.
Water: I added water so it blends easier, you do not need to if you have a good blender. In place of water, you can use oil to blend it easier. Alternatively you can also use a pestle and mortar to grind all the ingredients to a paste – you will not need extra liquid.
The spice base paste will need to be cooked off to thoroughly cook the dried chillies, deepen the flavour and to prolong the shelf life. You will know this is done when the paste has dried down, turns a darker shade, and the surrounding oil has turn red or is floating above the paste – if you used a lot of oil. This is also known as “pecah minyak” or oil splitting. For more information on this process, see my ‘How to Cook Dried Chilli Paste’ post.
ESSENTIAL: TAUCHEO (taucu)
Speaking of umami, Taucheo or Taucu is an important ingredient in Mee Siam. It adds that unique umami flavour to the Mee Siam, while adding salt to the dish. Taucheo is fermented salted soybeans, and they are easily found here in Southeast Asian supermarkets.
To prepare the taucheo, mash the taucheo with a fork so it forms a rough paste. I like to use a pestle, it’s a faster mash. I like to have some soybeans not fully mashed, so that you can see visible chunks of it in the dish. It looks more appetising!
All taucheos have varying levels of saltiness, so you will need to adjust the additional salt depending on the brand. If your taucheo is too salty, you can rinse it before mashing to remove the saltiness.
Fortunately, you can easily replace Taucheo if you cannot find this. The best alternatives include:
Miso paste: Japanese fermented soybeans.
Doenjang: Korean fermented soybean paste.
Doubanjiang: Chinese bean sauce, the non-spicy version will work best.
ESSENTIAL: TAMARIND (asam)
Another crucial ingredient in Mee Siam – Tamarind. This adds that signature sour tang to Mee Siam. Siam refers to the old name of Thailand, and this dish is named so because of the tang of the tamarind. I love tamarind. It adds a mellow sourness that is unlike the sharpness of lemon or lime. It also has a lovely sweetness to it.
Unfortunately you cannot replace tamarind with any other ingredient. It is such a unique souring agent. Tamarind is a common ingredient though. You should be able to find it in most major supermarkets and most definitely in Asian grocers.
I’m using Tamarind (asam) paste here, and this part is optional, but I like to add some water to it, so that I can mix it in easier with the gravy later on. You can definitely just add the tamarind paste straight into the gravy. Stir to make sure the paste completely melts into the gravy.
I use the Adabi brand of Tamarind Paste. The amount stated here is my magic number, but do note all tamarind has varying levels of tamarind paste. You can add the paste a teaspoon at a time, if you’re not sure of the sour levels or your preference.
How to prepare tamarind juice from pulp:
Tamarind paste is concentrated, so if you are using tamarind pulp, you want three times the amount of the pulp. In this case you want about 4.5 tbsps of tamarind pulp. This should be about 50g worth of pulp, or a fistful. Use this as reference by the way, as – again – all tamarind paste and pulp will have varying levels of sourness.
To prepare tamarind juice from pulp, simply add warm water to the pulp – just enough to cover the pulp – and allow the pulp to loosen and extract for about 5 minutes. Go in with your hands and squeeze the pulp to completely loosen the juice. Strain the juice to get rid of the pulp, and your tamarind juice is ready.
Two Part Cooking Process
This requires two cooking processes: the gravy and the stir fried noodles. Fortunately this is easy enough. The same base paste is used for both parts. While you’re making the gravy and letting it come to a boil, you can stir fry the vermicelli noodles. The vermicelli cooks extremely easily, that by the time you’re done, your gravy is also ready!
Making the Mee Siam Gravy
The Mee Siam gravy should be sweet and sour.
In most recipes that call for water, I would recommend stock. In this case however, I prefer using water to create the gravy. I’ve used stock a couple of times, usually to use up leftover stock, and I find it takes away from the pure taste of the tamarind. It’s still delicious, just not the Mee Siam taste that I know and love.
If you want to use stock, shrimp or prawn stock would be the best option for this. The prawn flavour complements the dried shrimps in the base paste well.
I added the salt right at the end. Taucheo is salty, and adding this at the end would give me the best indication will allow it to fully develop and decide how much salt I need. Sometimes I don’t even need to add salt!
Feel free to also add more sugar and tamarind if you feel like it needs it.
Why is my gravy fishy? A common issue with gravy is that it might come across fishy – this is quite simply because you did not add enough tamarind. There is quite a lot of dried shrimps in the recipe, which can taste fishy if there is not enough tamarind. If you do not rinse your dried shrimps before adding water to soak, this might also result in a fishier taste.
Stir Frying the Vermicelli Noodles
The second part of the recipe involved stir frying the vermicelli with the same base paste as the gravy. This part is minimal, and requires not much ingredients as if you were making and other noodle stir fry such as Mee Goreng.
Mee Siam uses vermicelli rice noodles, or bee hoon noodles. The vermicelli should be sold dry, and you’ll need to rehydrate them first before use. Simply soak in hot water for about 15 to 20 minutes, until noodles become soft and pliable.
Do not soak for too long, or else they will turn brittle and mushy. That said, all is not lost if you’ve over-soaked the noodles. My Mom likes to use boiling water to soak the noodles, and sometimes she would get caught up in other chores and over soak the vermicelli. She would stir fry it as is, and the noodles would break up and it turned out still delicious. Instead of using a fork my noodles, I could use a spoon. Sometimes that’s a win.
It’s slightly difficult to toss the long noodles through the sauce, so you’ll have to use some muscle for this process. I used silicone tongs to toss the noodles through easily. You can cut the vermicelli shorter for easier tossing, or use two spatulas to stir.
I hear you asking: is this noodle frying part necessary? I’ve made this without frying the noodles, so I would simply blanch the vermicelli to cook it, and top the gravy over the plain noodles. It was good and passable, but stir frying the vermicelli in the same spice blend produced a much tastier bowl.
Mee Siam Assembly
To assemble the final noodle dish, add the fried mee siam to the bowl and top with the gravy.
At its most simplest form, this is served with boiled eggs, and garnished with chives, taupok or tofu puffs and a calamansi lime. I feel like I cannot have mee siam without that final spritz of fresh lime!
I went a step extra by adding some boiled prawns. Other favourite proteins to use include fishballs or fishcakes, or crabsticks. You can also add firm tofu into the mix.
I used extra beansprouts as a topping, but typically I would use boiled Asian greens such as bok choy instead.
If you want even more spice, you can add some sambal to it. Check out my sambal chilli recipe which goes amazingly well with this Mee Siam.
How to Level Up the Dish
I would consider this recipe a basic recipe. If you want to level this up, do these:
Use Dried Tamarind Slices
Dried Tamarind Slices (asam keping/asam gelugur) add an extra sour layer to the dish. Confusingly enough, dried tamarind slices are a completely different fruit to Tamarind. Dried tamarind slices provide more of that sourness, without the sweetness of tamarind. This is completely optional though.
Add a splash of Coconut Milk
Right at the end, add about 1/4 cup of coconut milk or cream to the gravy. This adds a very subtle creaminess and richness to the dish. You do not want to add too much, or else it will become more of a curry noodles dish. This is more Nonya/Peranakan to Malay style.
Add Crushed Peanuts
You would notice some Mee Siam has peanuts in it. Roast some peanuts (purchase the ones with no skin on for easier use), and blitz in a blender to get some finely ground nuts. When the gravy has boiled, stir in the ground nuts.
By the way, if you have extra crushed peanuts from making Rice Cooker Muah Chee, you can use those in this Mee Siam Gravy. In fact this is what my Mom always does! The crushed nuts mixture has sugar in it, so you do not need to add as much sugar.
More recipes like this:
If you like this noodle recipe, you might want to check any of these other Malay noodles:
- Soto Ayam | Chicken noodle soup
- Mee Rebus | Noodles in sweet potato gravy
- Mee Goreng | Spicy seafood yellow noodles
- Hokkien Mee | Singapore braised fried seafood noodles
Mee Siam with GravyCourse: Recipes
- Blended Spice Base Paste (split into 2 equal portions)
30g or 30 stalks Dried Chillies, soaked in boiling water for 5 mins
50g or 1 medium-sized Onion
20g or 4-5 cloves Garlic
40g or 4 tbsps Dried Shrimps, soaked in water
- Fried Vermicelli Bee Hoon
200g Bee Hoon or Vermicelli Rice Noodles
1/4 cup Neutral-tasting Cooking Oil
1 portion of Blended Base Paste
1/2 cup Water
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Sugar
- Mee Siam Gravy
1 portion of the Blended Base Paste
1/4 cup Neutral-tasting Cooking Oil
3 tbsps Taucheo or about 60-80g, mashed
1.5 tbsps Tamarind Paste
1 litre of Water
1 tbsp of Sugar, or to taste
1-2 pieces of Dried Tamarind Slices (optional)
1/2 tsp Salt, to taste
- Serve With:
Tofu puffs or Taupok
- Blending the Base Paste
- Rinse the dried chillies and add hot boiling water to rehydrate the chillies for about 5 minutes. Drain water away, and cut the dried chillies to smaller pieces for easier blending.
- Rinse the dried shrimps. Rehydrate dried shrimps with warm water for about 5 minutes to soften. Do not drain the water away.
- To a blender add the rehydrated dried chillies, chopped onions, garlic, dried shrimps along with the soaking water. Blend to a smooth paste. Add a couple tablespoons of water or oil if it is not blending easily.
- Separate into two equal portions.
- Making the Mee Siam Gravy
- Add oil to a pot, and let it heat over low to medium heat. Once hot, add one portion of the blended base paste. Stir fry over low heat for about 5-10 minutes, until the base paste dries down slightly and turns a darker shade. It should also be fragrant.
- Mash taucheo to a rough paste. Add the mashed taucheo and stir to incorporate with the base paste.
- Pour in water and stir to combine with the paste.
- Stir in tamarind paste, sugar, and dried tamarind slice if using. Let gravy come to a boil.
- Taste gravy, before seasoning with salt. Add sugar and tamarind paste, if needed. Gravy is ready to serve.
- Stir Fried Vermicelli Noodles
- Add dry vermicelli or bee hoon noodles to a bowl, and add hot water to cover noodles. Allow to soak and rehydrate for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain completely and softened vermicelli is now ready for use.
- To a pan, add oil and let it heat over low to medium heat. Once hot, add one portion of the blended base paste. Stir fry over low heat for about 5-10 minutes, until the base paste dries down slightly and turns a darker shade. It should also be fragrant.
- Add water, salt and sugar to taste. Stir to incorporate, and allow mixture to come to a boil.
- Once it boils, add the vermicelli and toss through to evenly coat noodles with spice paste.
- Add beansprouts and toss through.
- Fried vermicelli are done and ready to serve.
- Noodle Assembly
- Add the fried vermicelli to a bowl and top with the gravy. Serve with boiled eggs and prawns and garnish with chives, tofu puffs or taupok, and calamansi lime.
- * Or about 100g dried chilli paste