Vegetarian Beehoon, The Most Tedious Yet Cheapest Dish In Singapore

When I was younger, my mom used to go to the wet market to shop once a week. Since the hawker centre was adjacent to the wet market, she would ask us what we wanted for breakfast. Vegetarian beehoon was my answer most of the time and it was a well-thought through one. Unlike dishes like chicken rice or fish ball noodles that taste best when eaten at the hawker centre and are highly dependent on the hawker’s skill, vegetarian beehoon was one of those reliable dishes that always tasted consistent every morning and did not suffer from advance preparation – making it the perfect option for a takeaway breakfast.

Later, I figured that one of the reasons why it was always consistent was probably the fact that the components, such as the mock charsiu and dried fungus rolls, are prepared in a central kitchen rather than fresh at the stall. I scoured the net for recipes to try making these vegetarian meat-replacements but could not find any, from a Singaporean perspective, so I set out to develop a full recipe for vegetarian beehoon myself.

I’ll be honest and tell you that, of all the recipes on this site so far, this is the most tedious. Preparing wheat gluten (also known as seitan or mian jin) from scratch and fashioning unique products from the same dough is truly an art form. Almost all of the five components can be prepared in advance – so you can certainly ration out the prep over a couple of days.

Vegetarian Beehoon

(Serves 3)

For the mock goose:

1 teaspoon five spice powder

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoon light soy sauce

2 tablespoons vegetarian oyster sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

480g water

50g dried beancurd sheets

For the wheat gluten:

1500g flour

1125g water

For the char siu:

1 lemongrass stalk, cut in 3

Half of the wheat gluten

1 tablespoon angzao (red glutinous rice lees) or ketchup

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon taucheo (fermented bean paste)

1 tablespoon sugar

Black fungus rolls:

Half of the wheat gluten

15g dried black fungus (preferably in one big piece), soaked in water and squeezed

Seasoning liquid leftover from mock goose

1-2 tablespoons dark soy sauce or caramel sauce

For the cabbage or lettuce:

1 tablespoon oil

200g sliced cabbage or torn lettuce

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon soy sauce

For the beehoon:

2 tablespoons oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 onion, peeled and sliced

380g water

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons dark soy sauce or caramel sauce

3/4 teaspoons sugar

3/4 teaspoons salt

240g beehoon, soaked then drained

120g beansprouts, rinsed and drained

For the mock goose, begin by preheating the oven to 120C. mix all the ingredients except the beancurd sheets together. Pour some of it out onto a large, flat dish and dip the beancurd sheets into it. You do not need to separate the sheets. Allow the beancurd to soak until fully rehydrated. You will have a lot of leftover seasoning liquid – save it for the black fungus rolls.

Transfer the soaked beancurd sheets onto a chopping board and cut into rectangles about 2-3″ wide. Stack roughly 5 layers of rectangles on top of one another, then thread each with a satay stick to keep them in place. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 15 minutes or until dry. Remove satay sticks.

Fill a wok or big saucepan with oil and when a wooden chopstick or toothpick sizzles gently when inserted, add the beancurd skins and fry over low heat until golden brown. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. The mock goose will seem soft and floppy in the oil but will firm and crisp as it cools. Once cool, you can store the mock goose in an airtight container for 2-3 days. Save the deep-fry set-up for the char siu.

To prepare the gluten, mix the flour and water together to form a shaggy, wet dough. Rest for 15 minutes, then cover with water and allow to rest for another 30 minutes. Knead the dough in the water for a few minutes. Drain through a colander, then transfer the dough back to the bowl, add fresh water and repeat a few times The dough is ready when the water resembles chalky rice water rather than soy milk. Cover the dough with fresh water and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Cut the dough in two with a pair of scissors – one part for the char siu, and the other part for the black fungus rolls.

For the char siu, heat a small pot of water with the lemongrass until gently simmering. Meanwhile, take one piece of wheat gluten and pull gently to form a long rope. Twist the rope and tie a knot in the centre, then twist the two ends and tie another knot. Repeat another time if necessary to form a ball. Place the wheat gluten in the pot of simmering water and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the ball floats.

Transfer the ball of gluten out into a dish of cool water to help it cool down, while you unravel it gently. Mix together the rest of the char siu ingredients and coat the rope of wheat gluten with it. Heat the wok or saucepan of oil over low heat until a wooden toothpick or chopstick only gently sizzles – bubbles should not stream vigorously from it.

Add the char siu and fry for a minute to lock in the colour. Baste with the sauces again and fry again – this builds the coat of colour. Once cool enough to handle, slice and set aside.

For the black fungus rolls, flatten the remaining piece of gluten out. Place the rehydrated black fungus on the gluten and roll up. Tie with string to secure, then steam for 20 minutes on high heat. It should feel firm and springy. Remove the string and cut into slices. Combine the slices in a pot with the leftover mock goose seasoning liquid and dark soy sauce and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside.

For the cabbage or lettuce, heat a wok over high heat, then add the oil. Add the cabbage or lettuce. Stir briskly, then add the garlic and soy sauce. Cook until the leaves have softened and set aside.

For the beehoon, in a clean wok, heat the oil over high heat. Fry the onion and garlic for a minute or two, then add the water, soy, dark soy sauce, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, then add the drained beehoon. Allow to cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. Taste and if the beehoon is not fully cooked through, add slightly more water. Add the beansprouts and turn off the heat. Stir the beansprouts through.

Serve the vegetarian beehoon right away with the cabbage, char siu, fungus rolls, sambal (optional) and broken up pieces of mock goose.

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Author:

Pamelia Chia is a Singaporean chef and the author of the bestselling cookbook ‘Wet Market to Table’. After graduating with an Honor’s degree in Food Science and Technology from the National University of Singapore in 2014, she decided to trade a food scientist’s lab coat in for chef whites. She has since been working in restaurants in Singapore and Melbourne, including Candlenut and Carlton Wine Room. Her deepest interest being the preservation and celebration of Singaporean food heritage and culture, she started Singapore Noodles in 2020 as a platform to share about Singaporean food to a global audience. Find her on Instagram @pameliachia.

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