You know you’re growing old when nostalgia becomes a thing.
Jovan Musk – For Men
You are strolling by one day and the whiff of cheap cologne stops you in your tracks.
Wait a minute, isn’t this my cheap mama shop cologne called Jovan Musk which I used to love and use copiously as a schoolboy (this was at least 10 years before Drakkar Noir, Aramis 500 and Davidoff Cool Water splashed on to the scene).
The epitome of a testosterone driven bygone era when attracting the opposite sex was the sole reason we were put on this earth.
But God sent help to gangly pimply teenagers everywhere in the form of Jovan.
How do I know there is divine intervention and a cry to manhood ? Because the bottle says “For men” in very small letters.
So despite being a proud parent of beautiful kids and having attained partnership in a major law firm, I felt that I will be a complete loser if I didnt immediately, that very day (under the “Mai tu Liao” doctrine) go search for Jovan – For Men (yes this explains my inexplicable lack of action growing up).
So off I rushed to the epicenter of retail magic- our very own Mustapha centre in Syed Alwi Road – where you can buy a 13k gold bar, a large screen LCD TV, Toman fish and icky squid, cumin, yoghurt and onions and check it all out at the same cashier (I’m not kidding).
So did I find my Jovan Musk -For Men at Mustapha ? Not only did I find it and it still says “For men “, I also found my schoolboy sweaty sports daytime cologne called “Spalding”.
So yes, I have not looked back since.
Now I smell fruity and spring – fresh like mama lemon during the day, and debonair, dashing and dangerously musky like a secret agent 008 at night.
The “old “ food
The other attack of nostalgia comes in the form of food
I have fond memories of some food that I had as a child and teenager.
One was the famous Hock Lock Kee Rendezvous restaurant which my grandfather used to bring me with the family.
I could never forget the small swinging cowboy saloon doors of the Restaurant, and the array of colourful mostly yellowish and crimson red padang dishes which were aromatic more than spicy.
And for fellow rendezvous fans, who could forget their iconic cucumber salad ?
Odeon Beef Noodles
Some of you may be old enough to remember Odeon, which was the most iconic movie theatre in singapore in the 70s and 80s, alongside Capitol theatre, which still exists today.
So what you would do then in those days when I was a wee school boy is that you spritz yourself liberally with Jovan Musk, and then you hang out at Bras Basah road area, hoping to meet the blue pinafore brigade school girls from CHIJ (Covent of the Holy Infant Jesus).
While waiting for dusk to fall to catch a movie at iconic Odeon, one needs to eat a late lunch and there is nothing more compelling than burying your face into a bowl of black sticky beef noodles at a stall opposite to Odeon theatre.
Welcome to Hwa Heng Beef Noodles.
Hwa Heng Beef Noodles
This stall was run by two brothers at a stall opposite the theatre. Later on in life, it was relocated and the two brothers set up a stall at the basement of Scott’s Far East food court where it continued to attract a loyal flock of die hard customers determined to savour it’s goodness, and relive their teenage dating nostalgia.
I lost track of this stall for the next 20 years after it relocated from its Scott’s location. I am given to understand that the older brother now runs a stall at the foodcourt in Food Republic Ion Orchard known as Scott’s Hwa Heng Beef Noodles.
The younger brother, however, went the hawker centre route and had a stall know as Toa Payoh Hwa Heng Beef Noodles.
Why the addition of the name “Toa Payoh “ I wonder ? Did it relocate to Toa Payoh?
However, I read recently that their new location is now at Bendeemeer Food Centre unit #01-01.
Agent Jovan 008 investigates Bendeemeer
A few days ago , with a spritz of Jovan Musk – For Men, I went on the Hunt for Hwa Heng.
There are a few things you need to know. To avoid detection from a certain Lao Beng secret agent aka Jovan 008, they have changed both their name and location.
I found no signs of Hwa Heng at unit 01-01 at Bendemeer Food Center at 215 pm on a hot Tuesday afternoon. Like a good sleuth, I just wandered around and spotted with my little oriental eye the longest queue in the market and waddled towards it.
They have dropped the “ Toa Payoh” and Hwa Heng Beef Noodles is now adorned across a crimson red sign board.
Take note that the Unit no is now 01-86.
I got into a line which was about 10 men deep. A quick call to my Food Guru Benny Se Teo confirmed that this was indeed them and yes it is still the best Goddam Beef Noodle in Singapore.
When my turn came to order, I was mortified to be told they had run out of sauce for the dry version and I could only have the soup version.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a very good bowl of beef noodles. The soup was pleasantly herbal and aromatic, the beef was tender, beef balls were bouncy, there was nothing that I could find fault with.
Except it wasn’t dry.
Soup doesn’t go with Jovan Musk.
It’s not life changing as Brother Benny would put it.
It’s not edgy.
And it’s not Gangster.
The Second Mission for Jovan 008
Two days later Jovan 008 was back at Bendemeer Food Center – this time at 10 am.
The queue was 15 man deep.
When I got my order, the sight of that jet black, almost evil looking sauce filled me with some trepidation but mostly anticipation of a thousand illegal pleasures.
My lunch companions and I looked at the bowl and each other. There was an air of trembling anticipation, near reverence for what was to come.
We feasted in silence.
Jovan 008 was shaken. And immensely and deeply stirred.
It was the same magical mouthful from days of yore. Savoury, tangy, unctuous, tantalising, the slightly acidic and saltish stab of Chinchalok (fermented mini prawns) I have dribbled liberally over the noodles, the fresh attack of the delightful chilli sauce that lifted the ensemble to an undulating crescendo.
I closed my eyes.
It took me back.
To Odeon theatre.
To simpler times.
To Jovan Musk.
To giggling school girls in pigtails and pinafore.
To a time of innocence and old Singapore.
I was home.
HWA HENG BEEF NOODLES
Bendemeer Market Food Centre, Block 29 Bendemeer Road, #01-86, Singapore 330029. Open Wed to Sat: 10.00am – 2.30pm, Closed on Mon and Tues and Public Holidays