Fish Head Noodles

23 Feb

Malaysians must really like fish heads. You can get it in curry, you can get it cooked in tamarind sauce, and of course, you can get it with noodles. Like fish head curry and assam fish head (neither of which I’ve blogged about, shockingly), fish head noodles are a distinctly Malaysian dish, though you might find it in Singapore.

I was a little disappointed that my bowl of fish head noodle didn’t come with an actual fish head, although for RM5, you can’t expect that sort of extravagance. (Plus, fish heads are really big.) Presumably it was in the stock. Instead, my bowl of beehoon — the rice vermicelli that’s traditional for this particular noodle dish — had a slice of fried fish, some homemade fish paste (squeezed directly into the boiling soup, rather than being shaped into balls), and a handful of preserved mustard cabbage. Pretty much your standard noodle soup, except for the secret ingredient: evaporated milk in the broth. I have to assume this is a vestige of British colonialism, like marmite chicken (which is actually a Chinese dish). Fish head noodle is so identified with evaporated milk that Carnation sponsored a TV show to find the best fish head noodle in Malaysia, kind of like the Pillsbury Bake-Off. (Warning: the video is in Chinese — I think Mandarin — but the Monty Python-esque opening credits are worth watching. Plus, you can see how they make the soup.)


So, is fish head noodle tasty enough to warrant its own show? I enjoyed my bowl; the tanginess of the pickled cabbage played off the richness of the soup, and while vermicelli isn’t my favorite noodle, I liked that they absorbed the delicious broth without competing with it. The evaporated milk might seem like an odd ingredient, but think of it as a lighter, Chinese version of fish chowder. Maybe the Malaysians are onto something with this fish head business after all…


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