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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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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Sin Heng Claypot Bak Koot Teh (Singapore): Peppery Pork Rib Perfection

Sin Heng Claypot Bak Kut TehThere are very few people I trust whole-heartedly when it comes to making food decisions. Especially if I’m in a city for a limited time, I find few things worse than a bad or even mediocre meal — that’s just one valuable eating slot needlessly squandered.

In Singapore, I’m fortunate to have several food gurus — among them, I have absolute blind faith in my dear friend Willin, who has never steered me wrong. He’s a chef, after all — check out his newly revamped Wild Rocket if you haven’t — so he is particularly discerning.

When I recently mentioned to Willin that it’d been ages since I’d had bak kut teh (which means “pork bone tea”), a peppery pork rib soup that’s a favorite dish of the Teochew Chinese of Singapore (i.e. my people), he immediately had a suggestion.

“Go to Joo Chiat,” he said, referring to a small neighborhood on Singapore’s East Coast that has recently become a hotbed for eats (and Vietnamese prostitutes). “That place on Joo Chiat Road is one of the best.”

Since this was Willin, I didn’t need to think twice. As soon as we found ourselves hungry again, my mother and I headed over …

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Xin Lu Teochew Fishball Noodles (Singapore): Sampling An Old Favorite

Fishball noodlesSunday afternoon at Meiling Market in Singapore and the hawker center is bustling. Amid the hubbub and the action-packed food stalls, there is an alluring energy: The place is simply brimming with possibilities for the brunch ahead of us.

There’s the shredded chicken noodle shop round the corner, or perhaps a spot of hearty duck rice. I’m sometimes at a loss when I come here — it’s not a market I know well (yet) and my first response is often bewilderment. I can’t decide because I simply want to eat everything.

Well, the sampling of every dish here could possibly be accomplished, but that’s got to start somewhere. Today, my father has a few wise words: Go to the fishball noodle stall with the long queue, he says. It’s very good.

And so, I do …

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Mee Pok Ta: This One's For Dad

People often ask me what’s the first thing I have to eat when I step off the plane in Singapore.

It’s impossible to say because the answer really is, everything.

Right up there, though, is mee pok ta (also known as ta mee pok), a dish comprising al dente tagliatelle-like egg noodles tossed in a spicy aioli together with fishballs, sliced fishcakes, minced pork and crispy cubes of fried pork lard.

The dish has special meaning for me — in Singapore, my father and I love nothing more than to get in the car first thing in the morning and drive over to our favorite mee pok place nearby for breakfast. There, as each fiery bite of noodles sinks in, we’ll slowly wake up.

So when my international Let’s Lunch group of bloggers suggested posting a Father’s Day-inspired dish for June, mee pok came to mind. I had never attempted to make it before — it’s so inexpensive (about U.S. $1.50 or $2 a bowl) and easily found in Singapore, no one needs to bother.

In New York City, however, it’s an entirely different matter. So with a bag of fresh noodles from New York Chinatown in hand, I decided to give it my best shot …

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