Mee Hoon Kueh and ordering in Chinese

Mee Hoon Kueh and ordering in Chinese
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One of the interesting things about Singapore is the language.  Everyone knows English here but not everyone necessarily speaks English.   If you’re from Singapore you speak Singlish which is a cut up version of English words in a Chinese accent.   You then add “La”  to the end of any phrase or word; which throws me off sometimes because it sounds like a totally new word.

The way I think about Singlish is it’s kind of like when Jamaicans are talking in their Caribbean dialect and you have no idea what they are saying but it’s still technically a version of English.  Same goes for Singlish, there are many times I have no clue what someone is saying.

That being said I haven’t had any major issues with the language here except for a couple times when I’ve been ordering food.   Take the other night for example:  I was coming back late from the gym and I stopped at one of my go-to spots called Toa Payoh for dinner.  It’s a busy train station on the outskirts of the downtown area with some great little food vendors that are conveniently right outside as you walk out the station.

I did my standard walkthrough of all the different food stalls and looked around to see what everyone had already ordered.  This one stall had a long line and there were two Chinese ladies behind the counter; one cooking with an enormous Wok and the other taking orders while prepping the food.

This was the spot.

I wanted to try a different kind of soup with flat noodles and I noticed that everyone was ordering in Chinese.  I figured since the pictures of the food are all in English that shouldn’t be too hard.  I mean, I can read and phonetically sound it out, right?

I get up to the counter and blurt out “TOM-YAMMM-MEE-HOON-KEUY”.


No response from the lady as she looks at me with a blank face.  I’m about to say “do you speak English” but I refrain and say “Tom Yam Mee Hoon Kueh!” again; this time slower and longer.

She just continues to stare and then starts to belly laugh.  She’s laughing so hard I begin to laugh as well.  She continues to laugh to where she can’t even stand up straight.   I’m cracking up at this point and so confused.   What did I say?  I then just point to the picture and say TOM YAM.   Ends up she didn’t really speak English anyhow so I guess I’ll never know what I said.   She did keep reiterating that it was “VETI SPICE”.  And it certainly was spicy.

In the end, the Tom Yam Mee Hoon Kueh was fabulous.   Tom Yam is a hot/sour soup and the Mee Hoon Kueh is a flat noodle dish cooked in pork broth with spinach, sausage, little dried fish called ikan bilis, and topped off with a soft boiled egg.  Mee Hoon Kueh is a very popular dish by itself and not traditionally cooked together with Tom Yam.  I highly recommend trying it the next time you are at a Chinese restaurant.

I also had another language barrier experience in Chinatown last weekend.  I ended up hitting up a place directly across the street from the Sri Mariamman Temple on my way to go check out Club Street.  I don’t know the name but you can’t miss as it’s right between the Chinese Bank and Jade shop.  As soon as I walked in I realized this is where all the Chinese workers came for a late night meal.

This meant it was definitely a good spot for food but not that helpful when it came to ordering.  I ordered a beer and looked at the menu and figured out they specialized in satay and anything skewered.   Luckily at this place you ordered by writing on a sheet of paper.

The grilled stinky tofu and organs with dip sauce were very tempting!

I ordered the chicken, grilled spring fish, prawns, and beef skewers.  I thought the prawns were the best.  The prawns in Southeast Asia are so much bigger and it seems like they are much fresher than the ones I get on the Eastern seaboard of the U.S.

The grilled spring fish was also quite good with whatever seasoning they used to neutralize the fishiness – though it was a bit salty.  They grill the entire fish so you eat it whole which is neat.

Towards the end of my meal I struck up a conversation with some Japanese guys sitting across from me who owned a restaurant in Singapore and they too were struggling with ordering.  I left feeling a little bit better that it wasn’t just my English.  But I definitely need to work on my Singlish!

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