You often hear people describing a food stall as “old school” in a positive way.
Why is old school a good thing and more importantly, what does it take to be old school?
This is what it takes to be old school:
1. Your stall must look forlorn and frozen in the fifties
Yes it has to look as shitty as possible – almost infested with pests and rodents from days of yore.
A few cockroaches scurrying slowly across his floor is old school. Even the cockroaches have been there since the fifties and do not have young legs.
No fancy signboards and certainly no lighting. So nobody can know whether you are open or closed.
The only way to find out is whether there is a queue or not.
Queue – open. No queue – closed.
No fancy cash register. The old lady collects your money and puts it in an old plastic bag.
Or her laundry pail.
2. The stall must be manned by old people predominantly
Old school means you cannot hire anyone and the old ailing couple runs it.
The old man must have a musty wax like appearance and his movements are super slow because of his arthritic Parkinson hands and high blood pressure.
He has some form of amnesia so he will serve you the exact opposite of what you just ordered.
Or you can pretend you have paid and get lunch every day for free.
Every 20 mins or so, he will stop cooking and sits on a chair to take a cat nap. Queue or no queue.
He can’t employ energetic young people wearing T-shirts bearing the stall’s name.
That’s not old school and that’s not gangster.
3. The cook must be artistic and temperamental
Because he’s been doing this for 50 years, he’s frankly sick and irritable.
And his bunions are hurting him.
So he is cantankerous, militant and volatile.
You can bet your bottom dollar there will be no pleasantries and if you don’t like it, you can shove off.
That’s when you know the food is bound to be good.
4. There are not many options and if you want to choose, you can shove off
The old man inherited his stall from his grandfather and the style of cooking is almost a hundred years old.
So you will eat it as his grandfather’s father’s grandfather has prepared it.
In only one way.
There will be no dry or soup – it’s soup.
You want a bigger portion ? Buy 2 bowls.
You want Kway Teow instead of yellow noodles?
People’s Park Center
This building is as old school as it gets.
The food center is on the ground floor. The next three levels above it houses 17000 textile shops.
Why, you ask ? What’s the logic of having so many of the same shops selling the same thing?
There can’t be that many people needing textiles?
Yes it’s possibly money laundering .
These people set up shop 70 years ago as they knew the casinos were coming so as not to make the connection too suspicious.
They are fronts for international cartels like the world bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the family office of Warren Buffet.
Why do you think Buffet is always so well dressed and where do you think he gets his textiles from ?
The Yong Tau Foo war
If you wanted to try not just Yong Tau Foo but “old school” Yong Tau Foo, people’s park is the mother lode.
The food centre houses 4 old school Yong Tau Foo stalls:
1. Yong Xiang Xin Tau Foo
This is touted to be the best of the four.
Well it has to be firstly because of its shitty old school appearance.
And more importantly, at the peak of lunch hour it is closed.
That’s how gangster they are.
They only open at 1 pm and runs out for the day 2-3 hours later.
All the articles about it talks about their horrendous queue. Not difficult to understand since they only open 3 hours a day when an average stall opens for 9 hours.
If you don’t want to queue, you can shove off.
2. Koo Kee Yong Tau Foo
With such a silly name they are bound to do great things.
This used to be superb and have been franchised for as long as I remember.
Of course back then in the 60s there was no concept of franchising. Koo Kee’s brother Poo Kee opened another, then his brother in law mother’s side Loo Kee opened another, then 17th cousin twice removed Noo Kee set up shop ……. You get the drift.
Maybe it’s because you can get it everywhere now but when I had it recently, I felt that it wasn’t that great anymore.
3. Bai Nian Yong Tau Foo
Bai Nian means 100 years and with that bold assertion in its name, you would expect them to fit the criteria I mentioned above about old school.
It’s not old school and it’s not gangster.
First, the modem funky signboards.
Then the edgy food options like prawn ball, minced pork with black fungus etc sounds like it was thought up by a clever investment banker son.
And what’s with the fried chicken wing ? It wasn’t bad but in which universe does it go with Yong Tau Foo?
It’s Wharton School of Business up-sell 101.
Old school doesn’t come with appetisers.
They might as well add a side dish of ice cream.
The yong tau foo pieces were not bad but nothing stood out.
But wait. It doesn’t stop there.
Then there was this.
I couldn’t understand it but I was suddenly seized with great love and longing and missed my dog Truffles terribly.
Then I realised what it was.
They reminded me of dog turds.
Truffles used to look guilty if he peed or pooed in the house. But now with his old age, his incontinence is building, and he leaves little turd presents for me around the house like an act of love.
Now when I come home he is wagging his tail and looks at me adoringly as if to say “Love you Hooman, scavenger time !”
The dog turd pieces tasted unobjectionable but I didn’t get it. Why make Yong Tau Foo into tiny turd pieces which tasted of nothing ?
The soup was clear tasting but comfortably bland.
The chilli was fiery and vinegar and old school and was delicious.
But it would be a 100 years before I think of this stall again.
Hmm why the queue?
4. Poy Kee Yong Tau Foo
My spirits were lifted.
The signboard was as shitty as they come.
And the stall was run by not one not two but 4 octogenarians!
Grumpy old man no 1 takes the order and collects money from the queue.
Temperamental old woman no 1 who appears to be the Kingpin stirs the large cauldron of Yong Tau Foo while muttering curses.
Agitated and irascible old man no 2 cooks the noodles.
Petulant and querulous old woman stands at the back of the stall smearing fish paste on the Yong Tau Foo, sulky and muttering too.
It was the perfect setting for old school mastery.
What I liked about Poy Kee was they offered either Mee Pok or Mee Kia which is very unusual for a Yong Tau Foo stall.
When they were serving me, old man cooking the noodles unceremoniously shoved a bowl of Mee Kia on my tray.
I said “Excuse me, I ordered Mee Pok”.
There was discord in the Yong Tau Foo universe.
Kingpin old woman looked like she was going to have a fit. She barked at noodle man who barked back.
Order collector also muttered something and I swear went to the back of the stall to bark at Yong Tau Foo spreader – maybe to blame her for not telepathically stopping noodle man.
I had my money’s worth. Loved the Korean drama.
I thought the noodle was done quite well, albeit a little soft. But it was comforting and slurpy.
The fishballs were meh but the rest of the Yong Tau Foo pieces were good, particularly the fried Tau Foo.
Soup was tasty.
Only regret was they didn’t serve bitter gourd.
Maybe I could helpfully suggest that they change their 100 year old history by tweaking the menu a little ?
Cauldrons might be overturned. The 4 old timers might revolt and close the stall.
I will certainly have to come back one day to try OG Yong Xiang Xin.
Yong Xiang Xing Dou Fu (永祥興豆腐)
Address: 32 New Market Road #01-1084A, 050032 (People’s Park Food Centre)
Koo Kee Yong Tow Foo Mee 高記釀豆腐面
People’s Park Food Centre.
Address: Blk 32, #01-1114.
New Market Road.
BAI NIAN YONG TAU FOO 百年酿豆腐
People’s Park Food Centre
32 New Market Road
Poy Kee Yong Tau Foo 培记酿豆腐
Address: Blk 32 New Market Road, #01-1066 People’s Park Cooked Food Centre, Singapore