My mother rarely let us have sweets in the house when I was a child — something I have a great appreciation for now. (I realize I have her to thank for my lifelong aversion to soda and overly sugary pastries.)
There was one treat that she shared — rather, showered us with, however: Bee chian kueh.
Magically, this spongey Singaporean pancake — filled with crushed sweet peanuts — would appear in our kitchen, usually following a trip she’d made to the wet market for groceries. It’s typically eaten for breakfast, with strong coffee, or as a late morning snack. When done well, the pancake’s firm sponginess encased in a crispy crust, combined with the crunchy peanut filling, is just delicious. And if you bite into it while it’s still hot, it’s simply divine.
I hadn’t had this pancake in many years — it’s not something I’ve found in the Chinatown haunts of my adopted home, New York, and when I’ve visited Singapore, I’ve tended to focus on crossing off the meals I miss, not snacks I somewhat dimly remember.
In recent years, however, this pancake has started magically appearing in my Singapore kitchen again. One day, my mother took me to a nearby hawker center so I could see why …
If you go to the hawker center and wet market at Block 58 New Upper Changi Road on Singapore’s East Coast any morning, you’ll usually find a small line outside a little stall in the heart of the food centre.
The draw here is two shelves of Chinese pancakes. Besides the traditional peanut version (SGD $0.70; USD $0.55), you can also get ones filled with shredded coconut sweetened with gula melaka (palm sugar) for the same price, red bean (SGD $0.60; USD $0.48) and cheese (SGD $0.90; USD $0.72).
But these days — blame my new Western predilections, if you will — my favorite is the cheese version, which particularly appeals to me because it’s not too sweet and has a touch of salty savoriness that’s a lovely juxtaposition with the lightly sweet pancake casing.
(Also, who can resist hot oozy melting cheese in any confection?)
When my mother showed me Bedok Mian Fen Guo, I assumed this was just like any other Chinese pancake hawker in the country. (There’s usually one in every market.)
But a little search showed that it’s actually somewhat recognized. The Straits Times — the national newspaper of Singapore — ran a rave on it in 2013, in fact.
Bedok Mian Fen Guo, Block 58 New Upper Changi Road, #01-163, Singapore.