Mee pok with a touch of Japan
For sure, there is a complex and entertaining movie plot buried here somewhere.
Remember the movie Tampopo and the quest to find and learn the definitive ramen? Or Jiro Dreams of Sushi - about the perfection of sushi? Now, we have our very own street food Mee Pok Chronicles.
There is the Grandmaster hawker, the sifu, and the ardent Japanese disciple who is working this iconic Singapore dish with his skills from the Land of the Rising Sun.
So, the plot in brief: Eric Chia learnt mee pok tah from the grandmaster, Ah Lam (of Lam's Noodles), in the 90s, then moved on to set up Ah Hoe Mee Pok and Guan's Mee Pok.
He had a curious and dedicated Japanese devotee of his noodles who sold bento meals next door. The latter was so enamoured that he asked to apprentice at Ah Hoe's.
So Mr Naoji Kuribara gave up his bento dreams and learnt the mee pok art for six months. He did so well that Mr Chia offered him a partnership.
Now there's two Japanese-style Ah Hoe mee pok tah stalls in the West Coast area and Mr Chia still operates his Guan's Mee Pok stalls in Singapore.
Cut to the final chapter and take it from scene 38, right after Ah Lam exits the storyline.
The big question: Who does it better and what is the difference between Ah Hoe (the Japanese-run version)? and his sifu (master in Cantonese) at Guan's Mee Pok (owned by Mr Chia)?(Above) Naoji-san’s version.
AH HOE MEE POK (Father Naoji-san and daughter) Block 710, Clementi West Street 2, Weng Kwang Coffeeshop 6am-3pm, closed on Sundays
There's always a curious and informed queue at this stall. I took away all novelty factors about this stall (that he only takes orders in English and preferably Japanese, although the bulk of his customers are locals) and sized it up for what it was.
Verdict: The sambal is rich but not overly spicy, with hints of sweetness and a weak dash of black vinegar (you can ask for more). They can use the Hakka type mee kia (like the yong tau foo stalls) if you choose so, and it has an appealing al dente texture and holds the sambal well with each scoop.
They use slices of locos, an abalone-like shellfish, and the lean meat, pork balls and minced meat are all diligently done. The soup version came with a properly rendered broth - very close to how ramen is done.
AH HOE MEE POK (Mother Mrs Naoji and son) Block 713, Clementi West Street 2, Kim Soon Coffeeshop 11.30am-2.30pm, 6pm-9pm Monday to Friday; 7am-4.30pm on Sunday
Closed on Saturdays
I don't know if this was deliberate, but I detected a world of difference. The sambal felt more "economical" with a more generous addition of black vinegar.
The noodles came in the same texture as her husband's version but the soup was at least three points (out of a total of 10) shy of the other branch. This is very nice - if you don't compare with the other stall or Guan's.
Perhaps it was because we ordered the first bowl of the day and flavours had not yet settled in the pot properly, but it should not be this far off the family recipe.
(Above) The sifu’s version at Guan’s Mee Pok.
GUAN'S MEE POK, STALL 99, MAXWELL HAWKER CENTRE, 7am-2pm. Closed on Wednesdays
Eric Chia taught his Japanese disciple well, right down to the 35-36 seconds of noodle blanching technique where a timer is used. It's pretty much the same sambal and meat plus pork ball but the sifu has the edge here - that soulful touch by folks who own the heritage of this dish.
The balance of sambal and vinegar is just nice, it is sharp and spicy but none takes centre stage in your mouth. I feel he has to concede his soup version to Mr Naoji and his daughter's.
Mr Chia's fish maw soup, with bits of dried scallop, is so thick, it reminded me of the No. 3 army outfit we had to starch iron for our passing-out-parade back in the day. It is a nice trick for them to introduce the tamago egg and yakitori skewer toppings (obviously suggested by Naoji-san).
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now