Hong Kong Recipes: 豉油炒麵 – Soy Sauce Fried Noodles

Soy sauce is one of the most common, everyday ingredients in Hong Kong cooking. A bottle of it can always be found sitting next to the stove, next to the oil and vinegar, close at hand for the moment when the cook needs to add a few splashes of pure flavour to a stir-fry. Many families also keep a second bottle, often of more refined quality, reserved for pouring into small soy sauce dishes, and used for dipping morsels of food. 

And while we can find a great number of varieties across China, and other Asian countries that commonly use soy sauce for seasoning, it is only in Cantonese cooking that two different sauces are used simultaneously. They are referred to as light soy sauce (saang1 cau1 生抽) and dark soy sauce (lou5 cau1 老抽) and are usually mixed together in different proportions from one recipe to another, in order to achieve subtle flavour nuances that merge best with the other ingredients used and the dish being prepared. 

Light soy sauce is thinner and saltier, with a sharp and defined flavour. It comes in a number of grades and varieties, according to its quality and the time in which it is extracted from the fermenting vat. Dark soy sauce, on the other hand, has a rather complex flavour profile, more mellow and rounded, as sugar, or sometimes molasses, and occasionally flavours such as anise or licorice might be added by the manufacturer to achieve a more distinct flavour. The consistency is more syrupy, and the sauce itself is both salty and sweet. Many Chinese food recipes that you find online call for the two soy sauces – as this is a Cantonese and Hong Kong tradition that has been carried around the world by the southern Chinese diaspora through the centuries. 

While a few drops of soy sauce are ubiquitous, there are also a few dishes where soy sauce is one of the prime ingredients, the one that imparts a flavour punch and a caramel colour to local specialties. One of the most easily encountered dishes in Hong Kong to give pride of place to soy sauce in are soy sauce fried noodles, or, as they are called in Cantonese, Supreme Soy Sauce Fried Noodles (si6 jau4 wong4 caau2 min6 豉油皇炒麵), a cha chaan teng staple that can be very easily and rapidly reproduced at home. This dish doesn’t require special equipment, or a lot of cooking experience, and it takes about 20 minutes from prepping to plating a very satisfying meal. 

The fact that this is such an everyday and beloved dish, however, doesn’t mean that everyone will agree on how to make it. The basics are universal, but there are as many versions of soy sauce noodles as there are cooks. The commonly accepted recipe requires, obviously, noodles, although these can come in a few different varieties. If you buy them fresh, at a noodle shop or at the wet market, ask for caau2 min6 (炒麵), noodles for stir-frying. (These gave their name to chow mein, the fried noodle dish found in many overseas Chinese restaurants.) At the wet market you will be asked if you wish to have them with or without eggs, or with shrimp roe: those without eggs are a paler yellow than those with eggs, while the shrimp roe variety is darker, no longer yellow but caramel-coloured. If you buy them dry, at the supermarket, look for packets that say “Hong Kong-style noodles,” which will also come in a few varieties: with shrimp flavour, abalone flavour, and, most frequently, eggs. 

Once you have your noodles, you will need to assemble some spring onions and/or chives, a few soybean sprouts, garlic and, of course, dark and light soy sauces. Add some cooking oil, and you have all the necessary items for the simplest type of soy sauce fried noodles. In little stalls or fancier restaurants around town you can then see all manners of extras added on: some cooks add ginger, a sprinkle of sesame seeds or little strips of stir-fried meat to the noodles, others will thinly slice bits of dried tofu, or add shrimps, a fried egg on top, or a variety of different vegetables. 

Another aspect that varies from cook to cook is how soft or crisp the end result will be. If you stir fry the noodles, turning them frequently, lifting them from your wok at every stir, they will be nicely chewy and soft. But you can also stir only once or twice and let the side of noodles that touches the iron of the wok get crispy, then flip them over to crisp up the other side, and plate. Different cooks may add oyster sauce to the sauces mix, too, either in its common variety, or the vegetarian one. If you have never cooked this dish before, bear in mind the basics, and then feel free to add and vary as you fancy: this is a forgiving and versatile dish, satisfyingly delicious in its simplest form as in its more elaborate ones. 


Recipe: Soy sauce noodles

Ingredients for two servings

  • Noodles for stir-frying, either fresh (about 300 grams) or dry (200 grams)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 3 spring onions, washed
  • A small bunch of chives, washed
  • A small bunch of soybean sprouts, washed and with the tops and bottoms discarded
  • 1 and a half tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 1 and a half tablespoons of light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce (regular or vegetarian)
  • About 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil 
  • A little salt 


  1. Fill a regular saucepan with water and wait for it to boil. As the water boils, add a teaspoon of salt, throw in your noodles and separate them with a quick stir using chopsticks or a wooden spoon. If you are using fresh noodles, let them cook for only two minutes, then drain and cool with cold water. Dry noodles will require one more minute of cooking – then drain, cool down, and set aside.

    2. As the noodles cook, cut the spring onions into three centimetre pieces, then cut them into halves and cut those into strips. Set aside. Chop the round tips of the chives, and cut the flat part into three centimetre pieces, and put aside together with the spring onion. Wash the beansprouts and set aside.3. In a small bowl, combine the three sauces and stir them together.

    4. Heat your wok over a high flame, add the oil and swirl it around to coat the wok evenly. When the oil is hot, add the slivers of garlic, the spring onions and the chives. Stir frequently with a spatula for about one or two minutes, or until the aromatics turn fragrant and slightly translucent. Take the aromatics out of the oil and set them aside.

    5. Add your cooked noodles to the hot wok, separating them with long chopsticks or a spatula. Stir to coat them with the oil and pour in the sauces, stirring until they are evenly distributed. Once the sauces are distributed, let the noodles get a bit crispy on the bottom (wait one or two minutes without stirring them).

    6. Add the cooked aromatics you had set aside, flip the noodles so that the crispier bottom gets mixed in with the rest of the noodles and the aromatics, add your beansprouts, stir, add one more spoonful of oil if it is getting a little dry, and after one minute more, you are done. Ready to plate, and enjoy.


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