“The more attractive the restaurant in Southeast Asia, the less likely it is to serve delicious food. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but they are shockingly scarce.”
That is what Matt Goulding, the former food editor of Men’s Health, and the co-author of the New York Times bestselling series “Eat This, Not That” said.
Sometimes, I have to agree with it.
When he visited Singapore some months back and wanted a meal with me, I didn’t think twice. I wanted him to eat our Char Kway Tiao.
We made our way to Hong Lim Market & Food Centre. Hong Lim has recently been known more for protests and speakers’ corner, but one mustn’t forget that the two storey food centre is a gathering of some of the best street food available in Singapore.
Yet, it is often off the radar.
People talk about Maxwell, Tiong Bahru, Newton, Chomp Chomp, but few yak about Hong Lim.
Matt and I managed to gather some of the best food there from laksa, prawn noodles to tauhu goreng amidst the busy lunch crowd, one queued while the other ate and talked with some of the stall owners.
Even though I did not cook any of the dishes, there was immense joy and pride while he took a mouthful of char kway tiao and said “This is freaking good stuff!”
Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee #02-17, Opening Hours: 7am-3.30pm (Closed Sun & PH)
My optician used to be at Outram Park, and being short-sighted since the age of 5 meant I have been eating from this stall for a long long time. Uncle Ng used to sell at this corner coffeeshop (before that Metropole Cinema) where the entire space was filled with soot and smell. The entire plate was full of hum and pork lard which I would crunch to bits. It may explain for my obesity at primary school. Mr Ng Chin Chye has taken over the stall from his father.
While it is not as smoky or oily than his father’s, his skills of executing a late of char kway teow full of wok hei cannot be undermined. He fries every plate individually, squeezing an exact 42 squeezes of a special mixture made of soy sauce and fish sauce. The result is dark black kway tiao almost evenly covered with moist egg, still smoking hot when served, still with some of those crispy pork lard.
Tuck Kee Ipoh Sah Ho Fun #02-40, Opening Hours: 11am-3pm (Closed Sun)
Many come for their crayfish horfun, and it was sold out. We had the prawn and mushroom version instead, and found out that the winning combination is really the smooth thinner than usual horfun that would slide down as you eat, and the tasty sauce cooked with chicken bones and prawns. Instead of eating, you can slurp the noodles because it is soft, long yet not clumpy. Definitely one of the better versions around. But but but, the stall has recently been suspended by NEA due to roach infection. Yikes.
Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa #02-66, Opening Hours: 10:30am-6:30pm Mon-Sat (Closed Sun)
While I did not get clayfish from the last stall, I got it from this. The Asia Delight Laksa ($3/$4/$5.50 with crayfish) is also one of a kind. The gravy cooked using fresh coconut, scallops, dried oysters and dried prawns is rather sumptuous and flavourful, yet very very thin with texture like some chicken soup. It is not as ‘lemak’ (coconuty) or thick like the normal (unhealthier) ones, but taste is not compromised.
Owner Mr Soo is also generous with the ingredients with fishcake, prawns, cockles, tau pok and slices of chicken added. He also has a strange, but rather appetizing fruit juice mee siam. Let’s be healthy.
Ah Heng Curry Chicken Bee Hoon Mee #02-58
Heng Kee Curry Chicken Bee Hoon Mee downstairs are said to be the original and have a longer queue, but Ah Heng makes some calorie-worthy curry chicken noodles as well. You really don’t get good curry chicken noodles anywhere else but at Hong Lim.
The chicken, like chopped Hainanese chicken, is moist and tender, topped on a bowl of oily coconut-ty gravy. Plus generous portions of fish cake and taupok soaked within. While it is oily, it is not as heavy as the usual curries that it is possible to finish drinking. (I only said it is possible, but do go easy on them for the sake of your blood vessels.)
Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist, #02-48/49 Opening Hours: 6:00am – 8:30pm (Mon – Sun)
They have their own facebook page, and I saw a post where they exposed rude customers who did not pay for their meals. I say, good for them! Although Ji Ji have been around since 1965, they really propelled into fame when it won the “Favourite Hawker” in the wanton noodles category by a huge margin, beating all the usual suspects. I always go for their wanton noodles which has generous ingredients of char siew, wanton, mushrooms and even chicken slices. The very person who recommended me this stall, is actually my mother who never fails to ta-bao 3 packets home.
Recently, I discovered that their soy sauce chicken wing and dumpling noodles are gems of their own. Their noodle texture is almost entirely different from all the other usual stalls, slightly thicker and moist. The last I visited, owner Auntie Lau says she had an operation and would be passing the business to her two daughters.
Many stalls at Hong Lim continue to enjoy long queues. Some of which are Heng Kee Curry Chicken Bee Hoon Mee, High Street Tai Wah Pork Noodles, Ah Kow Mushroom Minced Pork Mee, and The Old Stall Hokkien Prawn Mee. Either their original bosses or children are holding the fort, so we have the assurance that these local delicacies are still in same hands, at least for a good number of years.
Hong Lim Market & Food Centre
531A Upper Cross Street Singapore 051531 (8-10 min walk from Chinatown MRT)
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