Gaga over lala
A rose by any other namewould still smell sweet and look lovely.
And it doesn't matter whether you call this dish white beehoon, seafood beehoon, braised beehoon or now by another name, lala beehoon.
It's essentially what the Cantonese call "mun mi fen" or braised beehoon.
The appeal of this dish is its comforting feel. Slurpy, smooth seafood stock-braised beehoon is cooked with prawns, clams, crabs, squid and vegetables, and then served likemums in the old days used to do.
You now see this dish on hawker centre menus under one name or another. But while it sounds simple, it is not so easy to make, and I have tried enough of it to know.
Mr Francis Mak, owner of Cafe D Hong Kong in Balestier Road, took a scaled-down operation concept to a hawker stall. It seems that many restaurants and cafes are heading that way.
Mr Mak says: "I can point to so many reasons why, but the real reason is the manpower shortage."
He adds that operating a hawker stall is not cheap in today's climate.
But it requires a lot less manpower (just three to operate his kitchen) and common maintenance fees are shared by the other stall tenants in the coffee shop.
Boss Francis Mak with partners Philip Soh and Chef Khuan Kok Fai. PHOTO: KF SEETOH
He adds: "I don't even need to manage that part."
Are more restaurants heading the hawker stall route? It remains to be seen and it will depend on the manpower supply situation.
Frankly, I think local foodies are more concerned about food quality and fair pricing than they are about decor or even service. Even the Singapore Michelin Guide recognises humble hawkers.
The seafood beehoon at Xian Seafood has a distinct self-made stock. I can taste the roasted prawn heads, garlic, clams, dried seafood and even some chicken bones in the lightly milky broth (done sans milk).
When this is slow cooked over several hours, the intensity of the flavours meld together and the result is an umami bomb of a stock.
I don't know how long these folks can afford to continue using the restaurant-class and expensive grey sea prawns, but Mr Mak promises that it's a permanent fixture in the recipe.
A basic set, with clams (lala) and three decent-sized prawns, goes for a reasonable $5.
An ice bed of fresh seafood at Xian Seafood Lala Beehoon. PHOTO: KF SEETOH
The bigger plates, which can include flower crabs, crayfish, prawns and clams can cost up to $25.
I like that they use cabbage to add crunch. But those who know will understand that this vegetable can also lend a layer of sweetness to the whole equation.
Of course, the generous spoon of lard croutons sitting atop the platter reminds us why gluttony is often said to be the greatest of the seven sins.
My opinion? The savouriness and appeal of the stock, plus the texture of the beehoon, and the freshly-picked-off-the-ice-bed seafood, make this among the better white beehoon or seafood beehoon versions around.
But I will flip over if there were some roasted teepo (sun-dried and smoked sole fish bones) infused into the stock. But that's just the Cantonese in me alluding to Teochew flavours.
Xian Seafood Lala Beehoon
Block 304, Ubi Avenue 1, #01-103
10am to 2pm, 5pm to 9.30pm daily
KF Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like food markets, his own TV shows on cable, publishing food guides, consultancy and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.