A minor war of sorts has been taking place not far from my home in Singapore.
In a sleepy pocket deep in the East Coast, on each side of a tiny carpark, two eateries selling the exact same dish, with very similar names, have been facing off for years now. On one side, you have the large, often more crowded Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim stall. Across the street, there’s a tiny stall in a cozy kopitiam (coffeeshop) called Ah Lim Jln. Tua Kong Branch.
Both specialize in mee pok tar (which means “dry wide noodles”), a Teochew–Chinese dish featuring tagliatelle-like egg noodles tossed in a spicy chili oil gravy and topped with items like fish cakes, fish balls and minced pork.
Of these two, the larger one is talked about more — the people who run it come from one of the old and beloved mee pok families in this country, after all. Having tried both however, the smaller stall is my favorite — the gravy has more zing and it’s just a better bowl. Why? Let me tell you …
First of all, let’s make sure you find the right place. Look for this corner coffeeshop — Kwek Seng Huat Eating House — that’s just to the left of the entry to the carpark.
Then head to the stall at the front corner of that.
The bowls come in three sizes — Singapore $4, $5, and $6 / USD $3, $3.75 and $4.50 (ignore the prices in this photo, which was taken a few years ago). I love their system for keeping track of orders — note the colorful laundry pins on the right. Each one signifies a price or type of noodle etc.
Once you’ve placed your order, take a seat.
And very shortly after, these festive red bowls will arrive.
I’ve tried the small and medium bowls and the main difference is that the the small ones just have minced pork, fish balls and fish cakes while the medium ones have shrimp and sometimes, pork balls as well. You also get a little bowl of broth on the side to go with your noodles.
What makes this a superb noodle dish? The noodles, first of all, are always perfectly done — very nicely al dente. And the spicy chili oil gravy it comes in just can’t be beat — there’s plenty of fiery kick as well as flavor. Whatever combination of pepper, oil, chili etc. they use here is just terrific. Once you toss it all together like a salad, you’re ready to go.
I also love how packed with crunchy cubes of deep-fried lard these bowls are — even with the small ones, you’ll encounter at least four or more good-sized ones. They add extra umami to your noodles, whether slightly melted into the noodle mixture or eaten in crunchy form with bites of noodles. I usually like to toss in some added sliced chili padi (the super fiery tiny chilis) for even more oomph.
By western standards, this may not seem like a huge amount of food but trust me, it’s so rich that a little goes a long way.
It’s lovely for any meal but I especially like it at breakfast — talk about a stellar way to start any day.
Ah Lim Jln. Tua Kong Branch Mee Pok, 324 Bedok Road, Kwek Seng Huat Eating House, Simpang Bedok, Singapore.