KL Hokkien Mee is just the best! The noodles are rich, salty, a touch smoky and sweet and glisten darkly on your plate just begging to be eaten!
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Table of contents
What’s in a Name?
Let’s tackle the name first, shall we?
KL stands for Kuala Lumpur, which is the capital of Malaysia. It’s where both my sisters live, incidentally.
Hokkien is a Chinese dialect from the Fujian province in South East China. They formed the majority of Chinese immigrants to Malaya (Malaysia + Singapore) in the 19th century. You can read more about the make up of the population in these 2 countries over on this Recipes Page.
This is the local word for noodles. We all use it, the Chinese, the Malays, the Indians, the Eurasians and the Nyonyas! And we have a gazillion kinds of noodles, but not Singapore noodles! That’s an American Chinese invention, via Hong Kong!
So what’s KL Hokkien Mee?
KL Hokkien Mee is a plate of thick yellow egg noodles, braised in a rich and salty sauce. It’s a hawker centre and roadside dish, cooked up in a matter of minutes, with every order.
These Malaysian noodles are sometimes also called Hokkien Char and Fukien Chow, but really, not by the locals. Hokkien Char is in fact an actual dish in Penang made with a combination of yellow noodles and rice vermicelli. Look out for that recipe in the coming weeks!
Besides the noodles themselves, KL Hokkien mee is traditionally fried with pork belly, prawns (shrimp), Chinese cabbage and a Chinese green like choy sum or pak choi (bok choy). These days though, many hawker chefs add squid, fishballs, meatballs and so much more for a slightly different plate of noodles.
But Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, and KL Hokkien Mee without pork (halal KL Hokkien Mee) has long been commonplace in the capital and beyond.
And as I don’t consume pork, my go-to pork belly substitute has always been duck meat. With its fatty skin and darker meat, it’s perfect in any recipe that calls for pork belly. Like in this Eurasian Christmas salad, Seybak.
But if you eat pork, then by all means, go ahead and cook your Hokkien Mee with pork belly, following the recipe exactly as laid out in the recipe card. Including the part where we render the fat.
Cooking Hokkien Mee at Home
There are certain steps to follow when cooking KL Hokkien Mee at home, but it is all very, very doable. Let’s take a look at them.
Render the Fat
The first thing to do, is to render the fat from our meat. So non halal hawkers in KL would be doing this with pork belly to get pork fat and crispy pork lardons. This is a 5-minute job perhaps. I do the exact same thing with the duck skin.
At the end of this process, we’ve got a two fold product to use in cooking our KL Hokkien Mee:
- the rendered duck fat that will add another layer of flavour to our noodles.
- the crispy bits of skin to top our noodles with.
Prep the Sauce (Optional)
The so called KL Hokkien Mee Sauce is made up of stock, cooking caramel and soy sauce (we’ll look at the ingredients below). You can add all these individually as you are cooking the noodles, but for simplicity, I always advise my students to mix noodle ingredients together.
This is so you end up pouring only one sauce, as opposed to 3 or 4. Doing this is especially important if you are frying noodles that’s always a quick process. In this instance, we braise our noodles, so you’ve got breathing space!
Fry it all Up
This is the easy bit, we start with frying the meat and garlic in a wok (or large frying pan), then add everything else in turn. We then allow the noodles to cook and soak up all that delicious sauce before serving it up.
KL Hokkien Mee, as with most noodle dishes, wants to be served immediately. The longer you wait, the drier the dish gets and the soggier, as they will be soaking up all the sauce, like a sponge.
We use thick yellow noodles for KL Hokkien Mee, sometimes referred to as Hokkien noodles. These are made of wheat and contain eggs.
Here in the UK, you can get them easily in all our larger supermarkets. However, over the years, I’ve noticed that these noodles have got progressively thinner! But flavour-wise, they are still the same and perfect for our Malaysian noodles today.
If you can’t get fresh egg noodles, use the dried version, and prepare the noodles by following the instructions on the back of the packet. Then, add to this recipe.
Cooking Caramel (Karamel Masakan)
This is the secret ingredient in cooking KL Hokkien Mee. I’ve seen far too many recipes calling for the use of sweet soy sauce (kicap manis) to explain away the sweetness in these noodles. Sweet soy sauce is always nice but cooking caramel is what gives our KL Hokkien noodles that signature dark colour and smoky sweet taste.
The brand that’s long been used is the Cheong Chan Cooking Caramel, although Lee Kum Kee does it too. You can get it on Amazon, using this affiliate link if you like.
However, fancy making your own Cooking Caramel for savoury dishes? Click here for the recipe I published last week, in preparation for today’s KL Hokkien Mee.
We make it with the following ingredients:
- sugar (white plus a small amount of gula melaka/brown sugar)
- dark soy sauce
- pinch of salt
Super easy, and so dang tasty! Will last ages and can be used for so many other things!
Last night, I placed a tablespoon of the cooking caramel in a small bowl, squeezed some lime juice in and added some chopped spring onions (scallions) and chillies and served it as a condiment with our rice and curry. Total yum!
Other Sauce Ingredients
We also use some chicken stock, dark soy sauce and light soy sauce. So yes, your noodles are going to be salty, that’s what this dish is all about.
So if you’re not sure about the salt content or on a low sodium diet, add half the amount that the recipe calls for. Then, once the noodles have had a couple of minutes of cooking, taste, and add more as you like.
As mentioned above, traditionally, this would have been pork.
These days, you have purely seafood versions and the ones made with chicken meat. And naturally, vegetarian Hokkien mee is not uncommon either.
I’m using a combination of duck meat and prawns. You can sub this with whatever pleases you. I love using fresh squid too.
So this would be Chinese cabbage, aka, Napa cabbage or wombok in Australia. Choi Sum, for a touch of green is often used too.
I tend to go for a combination of Chinese cabbage and pak choi, as choi sum is still not the most common vegetable where I am.
In these pictures though, I’m using beansprouts, as I do sometimes.
How to Serve KL Hokkien Mee?
Hot, straight off the stove!
Along with some sambal belacan and wedges of lime, because, repeat after me:
Lime juice makes everything taste better!
And now, shall we get cooking?
If you enjoy the recipe, drop me a comment and let me know. And if you are feeling like a star, don’t forget that 5-star rating!
If you make this recipe, post it on Instagram and tag me @azlinbloor and hashtag it #linsfood.
More Noodle Recipes
KL Hokkien Mee
- 1 knife
- 1 chopping board
- 1 small bowl
- 1 teaspoon
- measuring spoons as needed
- 1 small saucepan for rendering fat
- 1 wok or large frying pan (skillet)
- 1 spatula
- 400 g fresh thick yellow egg noodles (give or take weight, depends on the packaging in your area)
- 200 g boneless duck breast with skin on traditionally, this would be pork belly, use that if you prefer
- 200 g prawns (shrimp)
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- dash of white pepper
Aromatics and Vegetables
- 3 medium cloves garlic about 15g pre peeled weight
- 200 g Chinese cabbage regular white or Savoy cabbage will work too
- 2 heads pak choi or choi sum
- 1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp sweet soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp light soy sauce
- 250 ml chicken stock
Mix sauce ingredients and set aside.
Finely chop the garlic. Cut the cabbage into thin shreds. Cut the pak choi to separate the leaves from the thick stems. Keep the leaves whole and slice the stems (about 2.5cm/1 inch thick). Pull the duck skin of the meat and chop both up. Shell your prawns if you need to. If you do have prawn shells, you could simmer them in about a quarter cup (60 ml) water for 10 minutes and add to the sauce.
Render the Duck Fat (or Pork Fat if using Pork Belly)
Place the duck skin pieces in a small saucepan with 125 ml (½ cup) water and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes until the water has evaporated and you are left with just the liquid fat. At this stage, your duck skin will also be brown and crispy.
Take the crispy duck bits (or pork lardons) out and place them on a plate lined with kitchen paper.
Let's get cooking
Heat the duck fat and oil on medium-high heat and fry the garlic for 20 seconds, then add the duck meat and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Pour the sauce mixture in and bring to a simmer, mixing well. Add half if you're concerned about the saltiness. Add the pak choi stems and simmer for 2 minutes. This sauce is going to be very salty, don't worry about it. (I forgot the sauce picture!)
Add the noodles, Chinese cabbage (or beansprouts) and pak choi leaves and toss everything and mix well to coat the noodles.
Cook for 3-4 minutes until the noodles and prawns are cooked through. Finish off with a dash of white pepper and serve immediately.