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SINGAPORE — Fifteen years after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced the term "mee siam mai hum" into Singaporean lingo in his 2006 National Day Rally (NDR) speech, he apparently made a callback joke to that gaffe with another reference to hum (Hokkien for cockles) in his latest Rally speech on Sunday.
The Malay dish, mee siam, doesn't contain cockles, so PM Lee's press secretary had clarified later that he meant to say "laksa mai hum" (laksa without cockles) instead of "mee siam mai hum" – but the meme became immortalised in Singlish anyway.
Announcing that the government would mandate an increase in minimum wages for low wage workers from more sectors in the next two years, PM Lee said last Sunday that Singaporeans would have to share higher costs of food as wages rise for cleaning and waste collection work, in order to help low wage workers.
"All of us as consumers must also chip in – pay a little bit more for our favourite things, like bubble tea or bak chor mee, with or without hum," said Lee, to laughter from the audience.
Some netizens wondered why the prime minister seemed to be talking about hum in bak chor mee (minced meat noodles), when the shellfish ingredient is not normally added to the dish.
However, on 31 Aug, Lee posted a photo on Instagram of a bowl of bak chor mee – with hum. "Comfort food for a cold, wet day," the PM wrote.
Lee reiterated in his post that support for lower-wage workers would mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for meals at food centres and eateries. He also said that inclusive economic growth required a whole-of-society effort, with support from government, employers, unions, and consumers.
Netizens were intrigued and many asked the PM where he had procured his meal.
Lianhe Zaobao later reported that the noodle stall which the bak chor mee came from is located in a coffee shop at Changi Simei Community Club operated by Fei Siong Group.
Zaobao quoted the stall assistant as saying that a staffer from the Prime Minister's Office had turned up and requested for a special take-away order of bak chor mee with hum.
The stall assistant, Sun Kai, said that he found the request strange as it was the first time he had received such an order.
Having said that, many noodle stalls sell both bak chor mee and laksa, and cockles are added to laksa, so it is, in theory, possible for customers to request for hum in their bak chor mee.
In his 2006 NDR speech, PM Lee said that politics should not be a joking matter, in reference to a humorous satirical podcast by comedian Mr Brown revolving around ter kwa (pork liver) in bak chor mee.
Lee said of political discourse on new media, "You put out a funny podcast, you talk about bak chor mee. I will say mee siam mai hum."
Well, after all this, I'm craving for bak chor mee – maybe I'll ask for some hum in it!