The 'Mee Siam Mai Hum' Mystery

Sunday, 27 March 2011


During one of his speeches a couple of years ago, the Prime Minister said, 'Mee siam mai hum.' He was relating how he would order the noodle dish, mee siam, without cockles.

The PM was perhaps making an attempt to connect with commoners who eat humble stuff, like me. But the speech set tongues wagging, to put it mildly, because mee siam doesn't have cockles, ever.

The harsher critiques thought the PM's little boo-boo showed how disconnected he was with everyday life. But I think there could be another explanation for his culinary faux pas. What he actually wanted to say was mee siam without tamarind, or mee siam mai assam. How do I know that? Take a look at his grandmother's mee siam recipe, extracted from Mrs Lee's Cookbook (Mrs Lee being said grandmother):

Run your eye through the list of ingredients for the gravy. See? There's no assam in Grandma's recipe.


So, confronted with the commoners' version that always comes with assam, the PM would say mee siam mai assam. But that fateful day, no thanks to a slip of the tongue, he said mai hum instead.

That might be one mystery solved, but I'm still scratching my head. Every single mee siam I've ever eaten is slightly tangy with assam. When I have a craving for mee siam, it's the spicy sourness that I long for. Why on earth would anyone make mee siam without assam?