Makansutra: Old-school goodness in this mee pok tah
The mee pok tah at Joo Chiat Chiap Kee in Bedok North will take you back to your childhood
Those from the older generation often speak about the "old-school" taste, something someone in their mid-40s and above yearns for.
Belonging in that group, I have to agree that a lot of what is earning "likes" on social media does not make the cut these days.
For example, they do not fry a lot of char kway teow over wood or charcoal fire any more for safety and legal reasons.
When food rules are governed by folks who have concerns over environmental issues, something has to give.
So when my makan buddy Sean gave an eyebrow lift after the first bite, I knew this mee pok tah (fishball noodles) has what I call "emotional deliciousness".
Joo Chiat Chiap Kee in Bedok North has a long queue daily, but queues are not always a sign of quality, but of price and rarity in many instances.
I normally check out the faces in a line to determine the appeal of the food.
There were white-collar professionals, home-bound Merdeka Generation aunties and uncles and PMET (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) types. These people know their mee pok tah from their bak chor mee.
This version harks back to my childhood days in Geylang, squatting beside my grandfather at a streetside kway teow soup cart hawker along Lorong 5.
First, there is the texture of the fishball - it has a fragile firmness and surrenders to your first bite easily, crumbling as you chew in.
The mild fishiness is on point, while the soup has that clarity and distinct yet simple taste that comes from boiling fishballs that are made with salt, seasoning and fish paste.
The mee pok tah is just moist enough so you do not get a big ladle of soup mixed with the sambal at the base which can "mush up" the noodles.
The texture holds and clings nicely to the simple sambal that takes nothing away from the flavour of the noodles.
Its kway teow soup will also please. The kway teow is slippery smooth and soft as it sits in that clear fishball broth with pieces of lard croutons.
So comforting but there was one element missing - tung chai (pickled cabbage) sprinkled over the kway teow soup. That would have completed it for me - ditto for the glass noodle soup.
So I salute those hawkers and cooks who somehow still cook with wood fire (like black ink sambal sotong and fried Hokkien mee), who still press and stuff their own yong tau foo with homemade minced meat or fish paste, who still fry their own sambal and who still boil their own stock concoction with bones and dried seafood.
You are not just selling authenticity but protecting a method to this delicious madness.
Joo Chiat Chiap Kee
Block 216, Bedok North Street 1, #01-31
6am to 1.30pm
Closed on Wednesdays
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now