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 …

[Read more…]

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 …

[Read more…]

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 …

[Read more…]

Xing Ji Rou Cuo Mian (Singapore): The Taste of Home

photo 2My mother and I have a ritual each time I land in Singapore.

The moment I’ve cleared customs, we hug, rev up the car and head over to a little hawker center in nearby Bedok. At 1 in the morning — my usual landing time, coming from New York — the streets are quiet and dark. As we near Fengshan Food Centre, the beacons of fluorescent light from the rows of still bustling hawker stalls beckon.

The Teochew-style oyster omelettes (orh luak) here are terrific, as are the barbecue chicken wings. But on these nights, only one thing calls to me, a dish I’ve usually spent the entire plane ride back (and often weeks before that) thinking about: bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) at a little stall called Xing Ji Rou Cuo Mian

[Read more…]

River South (Hoe Nam) Prawn Noodles: Rainy Day Fukienese

Snow, biting winds, ice chips pelting my windows — last weekend’s storm in New York City has had me wondering why I don’t just throw in the towel each winter and decamp to tropical Singapore.

What has gotten me through these past few freezing, sloshy days however, is my intense memory of and cravings for Singapore noodle soups.

These are harder to find in cosmopolitan New York than you’d think. Sure, Cantonese wonton soups and Vietnamese phos are everywhere. But beefy Teochew broths spiked with star anise or rich Hainanese curried noodle soups? I actually have never seen those on menus around here.

So when the weather starts turning in New York, the cravings begin. Which is how I haven’t been able to get Hoe Nam prawn noodles out of my head …

[Read more…]