It’s been a while since the scent of curry lingered behind the kitchen walls of my home. Growing up, that scent undoubtedly meant having “mi fen” (or rice vermicelli as most people know it) for dinner. I dreaded that. Actually, reflecting back, I dreaded just about everything that my mom made. It wasn’t until high school that I magically lost my disdain for Chinese food and yes, even began looking forward to having mi fen for dinner.
Back then, I thought- “What could possibly be worse than the dry, rough texture of an impersonating noodle made from rice?” It was delicate and fragile, two qualities that it in my mind definitely didn’t qualify it to be worthy of liking. But now as I appreciate the story behind mi fan, why the Chinese eat noodles on birthdays (for good luck, of course!), and how mi fan wholly captures spices that few other noodles can, I’ve developed a fond liking for it.
Mi fen is one of those foods that bridges the cultures between Asian cultures including Chinese, Filipino, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and even Pakistani. In Filipino, it’s called “pancit,” which actually means “pian i sit” or literally, “something conveniently cooked fast.” In America, they’re labeled as “rice vermicelli,” or rice noodles. One of those lightbulb clicking moments where I realized that I actually liked mi fan was when I found it in the vegetarian spring rolls they sell at Costco. Go figure. Fake American Chinese food made me realize how much I liked authentic Chinese food.
So my mother, who is actually home for the next week (or two) cooked a heaping batch of her mi fan which will last me for a good three packed lunches. There are tons of variations on this dish, but I’ve never seen anyone make it the way my mother does because she uses curry powder. I think it provides an intriguing flavor, which only a thin noodle such as this, can pick up.
Mi Fen (米粉) [Fried Rice Vermicelli]
- 1 pack of rice vermicelli
- 1/2 head of cabbage, cut to shreads
- Handful of mushrooms (dried or fresh)
- Shredded beef (pork or chicken works fine)
- 2 tablespoons oil
- Curry Powder
- Soy Sauce
Notes: Other traditional ingredients that go into this dish include carrots, shrimp (for Singaporean style), bean sprouts, scallions, etc… Measurements for the curry powder and soy sauce are not given since you should always season to your own taste.
Rice vermicelli may come in sticks (like Italian pasta) or in square-ish bundles that are entangled within each other. You can use either, but we use the latter.
In a pot of warm water, let the rice vermicelli soak and soften. This should take anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables and meats. If you’re using dried mushrooms, also soak it in warm water for 15 minutes before slicing as shown below.
Begin by cooking the meat first in the oil. When the meat begins to brown, take it out of the pan and set aside. You don’t want it to cook fully through or else it’ll overcook later. Then, cook the cabbage and mushrooms (oil the pan if it’s too light). The cabbage will begin to shed water and wilt. Add in the softened rice vermicelli and cooked meat.
Keep tossing until everything is well integrated. Add in curry powder and soy sauce. We usually go by a tablespoon of curry powder and around two tablespoons of soy sauce. Continue to stir fry for 2-3 minutes until the noodles turn yellow from the powder and the flavor sets in.
This may sound disgusting, but since I find that just about everything tastes great with ketchup and this is no exception, you should try it with ketchup. It adds a bit of sweetness that compliments the savory really well. Really, I’m not joking.