Crazy Rich Asians · Kwan

The Nearest Kopi Tiam’s Char Be Hoon

Author: Kwan, Kevin
Book: Crazy Rich Asians
Difficulty rating: Little Women
Deliciousness rating: Exceeds Expectations

The third course of our Crazy Rich Asians Dinner.

Char Be Hoon Small

They could play soccer until the sun went down, and then head to the nearest kopi tiam [coffee shop] for cold beers and some nasi goreng or char be hoon (Kwan 76).

Nick (one of the main characters) is obsessed with noodles, so we had to include a noodle dish on the menu for the night. Char be hoon is fried rice vermicelli — sounds tasty, obviously. Plus, the other options we could try to recreate sounded pretty daunting (e.g. “braised quail and abalone over hand-pulled noodles” (17) or “E-fu noodles and seared scallops in ginger sauce” (140)), and we already had the langoustine and calamansi lime gelée terrine to contend with. The comparatively simple char be hoon therefore had even more appeal.

I Go Shopping for 7 Items. It Takes Me 1.5 Hours in One Store.

Jenne and I always talk about how bad we are at estimating how much time the shopping will take for this blog, and this expedition was no exception. Two soy sauces, oyster sauce, noodles, cabbage, pork, MSG — how hard could that be? I asked. I thought it would take me a half-hour tops. Of course, that was before I knew how many soy sauces a Vietnamese market carried. A Japanese market has maybe 3 feet of aisle dedicated to soy sauces; at Thuan Phat, they had…
Soy Sauce Aisle
…an entire aisle! It took me a full 20 minutes to find the Kim Lan and ABC. I asked a clerk for help, and she told me, “Oh, just look for aisle 10.” Thanks, that’s not even remotely helpful.

So I finally located the soy sauces we needed, and now it was time to find noodles.

More Noodles
This is all rice noodles. And in fact, there’s an entire additional aisle of rice noodles on the other side of the store.

Holy selection, Batman! Next time, I will make sure to bring Jenne with me so she can help me make decisions instead of answering endless texts sent from my dying phone.

THE NEAREST KOPI TIAM’S CHAR BE HOON
We consulted a number of recipes online, but most notably Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s and Grandma Tan’s Kitchen’s

Ingredients:

  • Rice vermicelli, soaked in water for 30 minutes, then drained
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Shallots
  • Cabbage
  • 1/2 lb of crispy skin BBQ pork, cut into small pieces (found at the dim sum place next to the Vietnamese market where I did the rest of my shopping)
  • Oyster sauce
  • Light soy sauce (Kim Lan)
  • Dark soy sauce (ABC)
  • White pepper
  • Water (to be poured in while frying)
  • Monosodium glutamate

Directions:

  1. Soak vermicelli in water for 30 minutes.
  2. While the noodles are soaking, mix a sauce to taste using oyster sauce, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and white pepper. (we looked at about a million recipes online and they all had different ratios of the three sauces, but we used about equal parts of each and thought it was great.)
  3. Stir-fry the cabbage with plenty of oil. (seriously, don’t be shy) Add garlic and shallots. Add pork.
  4. Drain the noodles and add to the wok.
    Noodles
  5. Add sauce in three parts, mixing after each time. Add more to taste.
  6. Serve immediately.

Did it measure up?
This was totally yummy. And fast and easy! (Which was fortunate, because we’d had quite a bit of champagne and several Singapore Slings by the time we got around to making this dish.)

We had every intention of making an egg omelette, slicing it up, and adding it to the noodles at the end. But in our tipsiness, that detail slipped our minds. Next time!

Kwan, Kevin. Crazy Rich Asians. New York: Doubleday, 2013.

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