My Grandma’s Prawn Mee Soup

Growing up, I think one of the things my grandma really enjoyed doing was cooking for the whole family. Every Sunday was a “Special Food Day” where she would cook up her specialties like popiah, mee siam and, prawn mee soup. Even though we no longer live together, nothing brings everyone home like a message on the phone saying, “Tonight got prawn mee.” It still warms my heart when I remember the troubles my grandma used to go through cooking up a storm for the family. When we were living with her and going to school from her place, she would wake up at the crack of dawn to cook breakfast for us.

In university, a big group of my friends from hall would also pop over to her place for one of her famous prawn mee parties. She was boisterous, friendly, and always so at ease with everyone. I do miss those days terribly and one of my biggest regrets is not being interested in cooking at a time when she still had the energy and clarity to teach me.

My grandma is getting on in years and with her senses like smell, taste and hearing losing their acuity, she no longer cooks. My mum, who has taken over the cooking duties, often complains how my grandma is always so critical of her cooking (even though the older woman can now hardly taste anything). I think all my grandma wants is to relive those days where everyone heaped praises on her cooking and, to feel useful again.

My Grandma’s Prawn Mee 
To cook her famous prawn mee, my grandma would go to extreme lengths to prepare the ingredients. She had a specific market she would go for the prawns, then another for the fish cake, and then another for the pork, etc. etc. The prawns she used (and which my mum uses when she cooks prawn mee) is a type called “sua lor”. It’s Hokkien for “sand basket”. Apparently, this type of prawns yields the most flavourful and thick stock.

In this first attempt, I obviously did not follow my grandma’s methods. I got all my ingredients from Fairprice Finest at Bukit Timah Plaza. I guess I wanted to make sure I could at least get the basics right before investing all that time and efforts into gathering the “perfect” ingredients.

My Prawn Mee
I woke up at 7am and was at the supermarket by 7.30am because I wanted to avoid the weekend crowd. I decided I would make everything (with the exception of noodles and fish cake lah!) – even the shallots – from scratch. To make up for my “normal NTUC” prawns’ lack of flavour, I improvised by frying the heads and shells with a generous slab of pork belly fat.

I made my fried shallots from scratch!

I made my fried shallots from scratch!

From all the recipes I’ve read online, all of them recommended the removal of the heads and shells once the stock was made. But I have learnt, in the aftermath, that my grandma and my mum leave them in the soup so as to squeeze out every ounce of flavour from them.

The next time, I’ll be sure to do that.

Ingredients:

Prawn Stock
3 tbsp of shallot oil (frying chopped up red onions in oil, remove them and keep the oil)
4 bulbs of garlic, chopped up
Some pork belly fat (retain the lean meat to accompany the noodles later)
Heads and shells of 500g of prawns
1 litre of boiling water

Your prawn stock should be a vibrant shade of orange.

Your prawn stock should be a vibrant shade of orange.

Prawn Soup
1kg of pork ribs blanched in 2 litres of boiling water to remove the scum
Prawn stock
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white peppercorns*
3 litres of boiling water
1 whole garlic (don’t have to remove the skin)
2 tbsp of light soy sauce*
4 tbsp of Thai fish sauce*
1 tbsp of Shaoxing wine
*For these ingredients, please add more as the soup is simmering according to your preference. 

Prawn Noodles 
1 packet of yellow noodles
1/2 packet of vermicelli (pre-prepared by softening it as instructed on the packet)
1 fish cake cut into small pieces ( I used Bobo’s tilapia fishcake)
500g of prawns cooked in boiling water
Lean pork slices from pork belly, cooked in boiling water and cut into small pieces
Fried shallots from the shallot oil
Fresh garlic, minced
Chilli padi, chopped
Beansprouts, lightly blanched if you don’t like them raw

Steps:

To make the prawn stock
1. Heat the shallot oil and fry garlic until lightly browned.
2. Carefully add the pork belly and prawn heads and shells.
3. Fry. Use a masher to squash the heads and shells to squeeze out the “essence”.
4. Once shells and heads turn a bright orange, add the boiling water.
5. Reduce stock by boiling the whole thing for 20 minutes.

To make the prawn soup
1. Soak the ribs in boiling water for 5 minutes to remove blood and scum.
2. In soup pot, add ribs, prawn stock, salt, peppercorns, garlic, and 3 litres of boiling water.
3. Bring to boil and add soy sauce, fish sauce, and Shaoxing wine.
4. Bring the soup to a simmer. Cover and let it simmer on a low heat for at least 2 hours. Taste the soup every now and then, and add more soy sauce, peppercorns or fish sauce if needed. But, be patient. The flavour of the ribs will slowly come out and the soup will become richer in flavour as it boils.

To put everything together
1. Blanch the noodles, vermicelli, and beansprouts quickly in a pot of boiling water
2. Strain and put into a bowl. Add prawns, fishcake, and lean pork slices. Add soup.
3. Add fried shallots, garlic, and chilli padi (sorry, my family don’t use chilli powder).
4. Eat it as quickly as you can and then demand for a second helping!

This amount is good for 4 people.

Pales in comparison to my grandma's but I think I will get there!

Pales in comparison to my grandma’s but I think I will get there!

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