The age old question – what would you want as your last firing squad meal ?
Mine may well be a curry instant noodle soup with stirred egg and crispy fried luncheon meat OR a heavenly bowl of mee pok dry extra chilli.
Noodles to an Asian is both evocative and personal. Asking a singaporean what is your favourite mee pok stall is like asking a Malaysian where is the best Char Siew in KL. Lines are immediately drawn and grown men may turn into an opinionated prickly aunty who will throw a hissy fit if you try to say your mee pok favourite is better.
There are so many different types of mee pok stalls that sometimes we get a little confused with what’s what, and the comparisons are no longer apples for apples.
First, what most traditionally term as minced meat noodles gets confused with the Teochew mee pok which also contains sliced pork and minced pork. I identify minced pork noodles to be this – it has sliced pork and more minced pork than others, and in some stalls liver is an offering and there is usually the ubiquitous smooth factory manufactured pork ball . Some stalls offer the delightful flat fish (Ti Po) as a garnish. It will always contain vinegar and the skill is getting the right dosage and balance of good robust chilli and a strong vinegar with neither overpowering the other. Finally, a good stall will usually braise in a pot on the side sliced dry mushroom in a rich soya broth. When they cook your bowl of noodle with all the sauces and ingredients, they will spoon a portion of the dried mushrooms and the sauce over as a last flourish. Think Tai Hwa Mee Pok and that’s what i would refer to as minced pork mee pok.
The sauces in a minced pork mee pok are not subtle at all but a thick heady mixture of robust chilli, vinegar and mushroom sauce. Pork lard is hardly necessary because of the already robust flavours and will in fact be an overkill.
Compare this to the traditional Teochew mee pok which does not contain such a robust mixture, and the skill is in getting the right balance to make it tasty yet light, with a fiery yet delicious chilli that becomes all important, and sometimes with a sprinkling of pork lard to lift the flavours to the next level
You will hear people waxing lyrical about the chilli in a good bowl of Teochew mee pok precisely because it stands out, but not so much for the minced meat noodle where you are more likely to hear compliments about the chilli vinegar balance.
The Teochew mee pok usually contains sliced pork, some minced pork , fishcake , fishballs , sometimes prawns, and finally some stalls offer a “Keow ” (fish dumpling). Vinegar is not usually present and even if it is , it should be just a hint and not a main component like the minced meat mee pok. Lard becomes important but it has to be crispy and fresh and not huge stale chunks.
For me, the three basic components I assess a good Teochew mee pok on is how good is the chilli, how al dente are the noodles and how springy are the fish balls. I look for freshness in the taste of the ingredients, how the good chilli and oil mixture coats the al dente noodles, visual appeal and how balanced the whole ensemble is when put together.
The third type of mee pok offerings are called Fishball mee pok. They differ from Teochew fishball mee pok in that they they contain no pork or prawns at all. The quality of the fish balls and the fish cake becomes all important and will make or break the bowl.
In between this three main types, there are variations and bastardisations.
In the east, the famous mee pok stalls are in the second category ie the Teochew fish ball mee pok. The magic word is Jalan Tua Kong as it is the location which has spawned a flurry of such mee pok stalls.
A doctor friend of mine Adrian Tan who is skilled in the hidden arts of an extreme foodie decided that, in the interests of humanity and the future of mankind, we needed to do a taste test on all the East Coast Teochew mee pok stalls all in one morning. We had to order all mee pok dry at each of the stalls, more or less the same size and with no special instructions so we let the stalls give us their standard offering. To make it even more representative, he brought along 3 generations – his parents and his two foodie teenager sons who would all have different taste preferences representing 3 generations.
We started at 8 this morning and tried 4 stalls in a row . Needless to say , I shall not be having mee pok for a while.
132 Mee Pok Kway Teow
Block 50 Marine Terrace
When one talks about the Mee Pok wars in the East, this is the granddaddy of them all.
The patriarch is Mr Chan Sek Inn the undisputed master of the mee pok wars. Not surprisingly, the Mr Chan is also the central figure in a series of disputes with the other players many of whom learned the trade from him.
Mr Chan, with his wife, Madam Hia Yam Hua, and their son, Chan Choon Wing, set up a mee pok stall at the old Siglap market in the 1970s. Madam Hia’s family was also in the noodle business.
When the market was demolished to make way for Siglap Centre, he moved opposite to a row of HDB flats in 1989.
Between 1990 and 1995, he moved twice again, first to the Star-Leaf Food Paradise coffee shop next to Siglap Centre, and later to the Soy Eu Tua coffee shop in Jalan Tua Kong (where the Jalan Tua Kong name was created to become synonymous with great Mee Pok).
In 1995, he left the area to set up shop in Lengkong Tiga in Kembangan. In 2005, he relocated to 53 Upper East Coast Road. It was only in recent years that they moved to the current locatio at Marine Terrace.
Choon Wing is his youngest Son who has followed him into the business at a young age. Mr Chan has 3 other children who did not want to come into the business but joined the corporate world instead. For many years now, the Father has retired and is currently enjoying his retirement. Choon Wing has taken over the helm cooking and the quality has not suffered when passed down from Father to Son.
I am always fascinated by the methods and tradition of Choon Wing’s cooking which, I am sure, much of it is passed down from his Father. He is suitably aloof and can be a little temperamental on some days, although he is friendly with me and always exchange pleasantries when I come right up front after queuing. He is focused and his movements are unhurried but methodical and efficient. His mis en place is amazing – everything is neatly placed in containers and compartments and everything is wiped very clean. In between the cooking, you can sometimes see him even arranging the noodles to sit neatly, almost in an autistic fashion. He is always in a red collared t shirt when he cooks, and I don’t think I have seen him wearing anything else in the last 10-15 years. This is obviously a man who follows rituals religiously, and this is manifested in the consistency of his cooking.
One of the main strengths of 132 is in their chilli, which is said to contain shallots and buah keluak. It is fiery and tasty, yet has a clean taste. The entire bowl presented is visually appealing with nice colours.
Their noodles is springy and Al Dente and the smattering of tow gay adds a nice crunch . Prawns are always fresh and crunchy.
If I had to find one slight fault at 132, I find that their fish balls can afford to be made more bouncy and soft, like in the other stalls. Theirs is firmer and smaller. But that comes down ultimately to a matter of taste and preference.
This is my idea of a perfect bowl of mee pok heaven and for me, is my go to Teochew mee pok in Singapore.
Rating : 8-8.5
Jalan Tua Kong Ah Lim Mee Pok
15 Upper East Coast Road
Soy Eu Tua Coffee Shop
So what I remembered was that most of the mee pok stalls calling themselves Jalan Tua Kong Mee Pok had once occupied the Coffeeshop at Jalan Tua kong but had vacated.
So these guys currently at the Jalan Tua Kong premises would have been the latest to occupy that space. Expectations were not high but I was pleasantly surprised.
The crunchy garlic was a nice
touch but perhaps the serving of garlic was too generous and overwhelmed the bowl a little bit . The second time I tried this stall, I asked for less garlic and it was perfect .
Chilli was of medium heat and was savoury – perhaps there was some dried prawns and shallots ? The chilli was tasty but just a tad too sweet for my liking but it was decent, and I think most people will be happy with it. The Fish balls were nice and fluffy. Noodles were al dente. Not bad at all.
I must say the folks running the stall were extremely friendly and personable. That did not factor into my assessment of their food but the customer experience was pleasant.
Rating : 7-7.5
AH LIM JALAN TAU KONG BRANCH (Kwek Soon Huat Coffeeshop at 324 Bedok Road,Simpang Bedok)
This is owned by Mr Jeffrey Lim. He also owns another air conditioned cze zar outlet just a stone’s throw away.
I ordered the $6.50 bowl and when it arrived, it was chock full of ingredients.
I have seen customers ordering meepok and the color was not great. I ordered dry kway Teow instead.
The fish ball here was average. Chilli was spicy with a fiery kick but didn’t taste much of anything. You just felt the burn and little else. Prawns were ok – quite crunchy. Kway Teow was a little mushy.
Everything just tasted average and within 10 minutes of leaving the stall, I had no memory of what it tasted like. But average came to mind. It wasn’t bad but it didn’t rock my boat.
Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok (306 Bedok Road, Simpang Bedok)
This stall consists of 2 coffee shops and is the most hyped in the mee pok wars. It’s sign board dubbed itself quite pretentiously with the label “The Art of Mee Pok”
The owner is Mr Lim Kim Heong, who has been running Lau Lim with his wife, Ms Linda Goh, since 2004.
He was originally a worker for the founder of 132 Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee, Mr Chan Sek Inn, who is said to have trained other mee pok hawkers too. 132 Mee Pok is currently located in Marine Terrace.
The huge Coffeeshop operated by Lau Lim was manned by an army of unIformed PRC workers. Disappointingly, the cooks at the cooking stations were all PRC too. I believe that a good hawker stall needs to retain its artisanal flavour by having the owners cook themselves. This was not the case here.
I ordered a $5 Kway Teow to taste test and to compare with the Kway Teow I just had at Ah Lim. When it arrived, visually the bowl of kway teow was quite unappealing. But the biggest problem was the chilli . It was the oilest of the lot. With that much oil, the chilli had better be outstanding. Instead, I found that it has a level of sourness and ketchup taste that just didn’t work for me. Swimming in oil, sourish and ketchup tasting – that was not a good combination. The only saving grace was the Fishball which was the softest and bounciest of the lot. I liked the fishball this way although some people may prefer their fishballs a little firmer.
I tried the meepok at Lau Lim on another occasion. Pretty much the same observations.
So overall it was a grave disappointment, particularly when it is the most hyped about stall of all the Jalan Tua Kong mee pok stalls. Frankly, I am mystified
with the hype and the following.
Rating : 5.5 – 6
So there you have it – the completely biased and personal views of the mee pok contenders.
Try it and tell me what you think .