Xin Heng Feng Guo Tiao Tang (Singapore): Scratching a Noodle Itch

Meepok taMy mother and I sometimes have to do a little sneaking around when we go to our neighborhood wet market / hawker center in Singapore.

You see, if we’re spotted sitting near or even just passing by a certain noodle stall, a sweet lady will pop her head out with a wave and chirpy “Ni hao ma?” Which always makes us feel so bad we’ll drop all other breakfast plans to dutifully belly up to her counter and order a bowl of noodles.

It’s not to say that we don’t like her noodles — sometimes though, I may crave something else for breakfast. My sister, on the other hand, always craves the one dish this hawker makes — mee pok ta, a dry Teochew style dish of noodles with fishballs, fishcakes and minced meat — and has been a faithful fan for years. And that is why this mee pok lady stalks us.

Naturally, for my sister’s first breakfast after landing in Singapore, she has meepok on her mind. So, off we went …

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Mei Wei Economic Bee Hoon (Singapore): Fried Chicken Surprise

IMG_6545Just after dawn on a weekday, my mother and I make a short trek to Joo Chiat, one of the sweet pockets of Singapore‘s laidback East Coast where you’ll still find pre-war townhouse-packed narrow lanes that feel like 1970s Singapore.

A dusty little corner kopitiam (coffeeshop) beckons — Poh Ho Restaurant, which we’d visited once for excellent plates of wanton noodles. When we left then, I had vowed to return — from what we could see, the handful of other stores there held much promise. One Indian hawker, for example, is constantly mentioned as one of the best makers of roti prata in the country.

Unfortunately, we had chosen to make the journey on one of the few mornings each month that the prata guys are off. Our disappointment was brief, however. A queue snaked around the front of the kopitiam, framing it like a necklace.

Singaporeans like queues — in a country filled with thousands of superb eating options, there’s no need to line up for good food. So if there is a line, something terribly good must exist at the front of it. Well, we immediately got in line …

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Ah Lim Jln. Tua Kong Branch Mee Pok (Singapore): A Spicy Noodle War

IMG_9351A 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 TeochewChinese 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 …

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Gingery Chicken & Bok Choy Noodle Soup: A Winter’s Bowl

IMG_6393If I had to name one food I absolutely could not live without, it would have to be noodles.

I ate noodles almost daily as a child in Singapore, then craved it daily when I moved to the U.S. many years later. And once cold weather hits? Forget about any other dish — I make myself a hot bowl of noodle soup at least once a day, for dinner, lunch and yes, even breakfast.

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview I did with Kenshiro Uki of Sun Noodles, which has supplied noodles to some of the country’s best noodle joints (Momofuku included), he said that a bowl of noodle soup is, in a way, the perfect, all-encompassing meal. Calling it “the ultimate bistro dish,” Uki explains, “in a bistro, you start out with a soup or salad, then you have starches, protein and vegetables—a bowl of ramen is all of that together in a bowl.”

In my Brooklyn kitchen, unless I have just five minutes for a meal, I insist on making my noodle soups from scratch — once you have certain ingredients on hand (garlic, ginger, scallions, good organic broth and perhaps seaweed, dashi or quality miso), this is a fairly easy and quick process. And it’s one you can endlessly experiment with — add some Japanese seven-spice powder one day perhaps, or toss in some kim chi the next.

So when my international Let’s Lunch club decided on sharing a noodle dish for this month, the topic wasn’t hard. I just had to choose which one of my daily experiments to share…

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Thanh Da (New York): A Noodle Soup To Remember

Bun RieuThe Ex and I have been on a bit of a quest recently. After a Thrillist list of “10 Best Pho Spots in NYC” by the lovely Patty Lee caught my eye a few months ago, we decided hey, why not check them all out?

My immense love for pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) is well-documented on this blog — not just places in New York, but also Edinburgh, Berlin and even Wichita, Kansas.

In New York, however, I’ve found myself going to the same place over and over recently — the always reliable Xe Lua in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a little place that Chef Simpson (of Cafe Asean) introduced to me and one that I absolutely love. (The pho broth there is intensely aromatic and meaty — very satisfying.) So when this list presented itself, we said, let’s try them all!

With a big blizzard about to hit our fair city, a bowl of hot Vietnamese soup seemed just about right. So off we went, on the trail of Thanh Da, in the sprawling Chinatown in Sunset Park, New York

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