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What Is Pan Mee?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pan mee is a Malaysian noodle dish made with pork, dried anchovies, and often a soft boiled egg. The most traditional way of serving pan mee is as a soup. In this preparation, the noodles boil and later float in a pork broth. Chili pan mee is a hotter, spicier pan mee dish that is prepared not as a soup, but rather as a noodle plate. Both versions of the dish are popular throughout Malaysia, and are widely available in restaurants and roadside food stalls, as well as being frequently made at home.

Different cooks have different preferred ways of preparing pan mee, and there are accordingly numerous variations. It is common to find the dish made with various shapes and types of noodles, for instance. Some cooks add ingredients that they have on hand, including pork belly, shrimp, peanuts, or green peppers. Most cooks also have their own unique chili sauces. The quality of chili sauce is often what distinguishes otherwise uniform pan mee preparations in restaurants.

The most traditional soup version of the dish is typically made by boiling hand-made flour noodles in pork broth. Black mushrooms, fried anchovy, potato leaves, boiled pork, and green onions are added on top. A soft-boiled egg is a common, but not ubiquitous, addition. The soup is always seasoned with chili flakes or chili sauce, though this is usually kept on the side so that individuals can control their soup’s heat.

Pan mee soup is a common Malaysian breakfast, particularly in the North. It provides a lot of the energy needed to get through the day and uses fresh, local ingredients. In the summertime especially, the cool mornings are also some of the only times when eating hot soup is comfortable. Nevertheless, restaurants and shops in most of Malaysia’s cities, including its capital, Kuala Lumpur, will serve the soup at any time of day.

A more recent innovation is chili pan mee, which is served as a typical noodle dish without broth. Its ingredients largely mimic those of the soup version: noodles are commonly topped with pork, fried anchovies, chili flakes, boiled egg, and green onion. Most of the time, the toppings are arranged in quadrants on top of the noodles with the onions as a garnish. Diners eat the dish by breaking the egg with their chopsticks, then mixing the runny yolk with all of the other ingredients to coat and cover the noodles. It is common to add additional chili paste or chili sauce to taste.

Chili pan mee has a heavy Chinese influence and is believed to have originated at about the same time as Malaysia’s major Chinese immigration wave in the late 19th century. Chinese settlers brought aspects of their language, culture, and culinary proclivities — particularly those involving spicy red chili — to Malaysia during this period. Chili pan mee is sometimes classed as a facet of Malaysian-Chinese cuisine. This version is eaten at any time of day, most often as an afternoon snack or late lunch.

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