Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Mee Pok Wars

In Singapore, I live among famous Mee Pok stalls.   To some, it's like the Gold Coast of Mee Pok.  To me, it's like the Bermuda Triangle, lost in time (the long wait).  To those uninitiated, Mee Pok is a noodle dish (like linguine) tossed with a trademark fiery chili paste and garnished with fishballs, shrimp, slices of fishcake and pork, fried cubes of lard (best part) and sprinkled with tiny chops of Chinese chives and Chinese parsley.   Some hawkers throw in ground pork or sliced dried Chinese mushrooms but to me, that borders on creative license.

Actually, almost all these stalls derived from one at the old Siglap Market which was a block away from my childhood home at Yarrow Gardens.  Today, I could probably walk blindfolded from my old house to the very spot at the market, where I used to buy packets of Mee Pok for Saturday lunch for the family.  And to this day, I very often find myself doing the same thing for the family for a weekend lunch. Only this time, I go to a different location since the old market is now a concrete shopping mall called Siglap Center.

A few years back, there were several articles about which stall served the best noodles.  Frankly, the jury is still out because taste is subjective.  As with most Singaporean conversation centering around food, everyone has an opinion and each person's vendor is 'the best'.  So, the Mee Pok saga is representative of a Singaporean discourse on food.

The three stalls that surround me are:

- 321 Mee Pok at the 'Big Drain' beside Siglap Center
One would think that this is the original market stall since it is, distance-wise, closest to old ground zero. Interestingly, it is managed by the sister of the original market hawker's wife.
The landmark Big Drain divides the coffee shop where the current stall is located, from the old market.  To get to the old market, one had to pass through a tiny alley where live chickens were slaughtered.  Messy, squeamish business.
Back to the mee pok, it is the one vendor I have frequented most over the years (the lady recognizes me) and I am therefore familiar with the taste.  So I use it as my standard against which all other mee pok versions are measured.

- 132 Mee Pok at 'MP 59 Food House', Block 59, Marine Terrace, #01-05 (www.132meepok.com.sg)
The website is only indicative that the original owner has theoretically passed his baton (or ladle) to his son.  Modern times.  And this is the original owner from the old market.  My sister swears by this stall.  In truth, a regular packet (i.e. no request for 'extra chili') is already pretty spicy.  There is a kick.  And oh, those lard cubes.
As for the unique taste, the owner once divulged in a newspaper article that his secret ingredient is 'buah keluak'.  That fooled my very Baba father, let alone the rest of us.
The only snag is that it is a 30 to 45 minute wait on average as the old vendor still artfully ladles each order as if time stood still.

- Jalan Tua Kong Mee Pok at 'Soy Eu Tua' coffee shop at the corner of Jalan Tua Kong and Upper East Coast Road. 
I have no patience for waiting for this one.  The hawker comes across as if he enjoys suffering fools.  That said, the one or two times I've tried his noodles, they were impressive enough.  Just not worth that long wait which once took me close to an hour.  The problem with long waits is that everything else you've bought gets cold or soggy.  Besides, with noodles, one should actually eat it on the spot.  

Then of course, there are a couple more hawkers that I have not even chanced upon although I am told of their existence.  Happy sleuthing.

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