Fishball Noodles

15921157420_b838f9b7e9_c詠香麵家, Sims Vista Market & Food Centre

It’s been a long while since I’ve had a decent bowl of fishball noodles — and for only just $2.50, this was quite a delight. There was a time, some years ago, when I’d have a bowl of fishball noodles for lunch or dinner almost thrice a week from the same stall at Excelsior Shopping Centre. That probably went on for a good couple years. Heck, I didn’t even have to place an order. The elderly lady running the stall would spot me in line and have my usual fix prepared and waiting for me on a tray once my turn came; she’d even sneak an extra wonton or two inside if she was certain her other customers weren’t looking.

It was funny though, despite remembering my preferences down to the exact proportions of vinegar, ketchup, and chili I’d have in the mix, she never failed to ask the same questions about my life no matter how many times I answered them.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Planning to get married anytime soon?” Even if my answer to the first question was no.

“What time do you get off work?”

For some reason, I never got tired of answering those questions, neither did I ever get bored of her fishball noodles. I find routine and familiarity comforting — kinda like that old, beaten pullover you slip on for warmth on a wet and dreary day.

Anyhow, life happened, and a new job took me away from the area, as well as my beloved fishball noodles. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I made the effort to visit her stall again. And just like before, I stood in line waiting for my turn to be served. Only this time, my usual fix wasn’t prepared and ready as it was before. “Sorry, it’s been so long. I’m getting older and my memory’s getting bad. What was it you used to have?” she said, with that same old cheery smile that never once eluded our conversations. Then, before I could place my order, her smile broke into an even wider grin as she asked — “Do you have a girlfriend?”

We laugh.

 

Nasi Briyani

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Mohd Sahbir Muslim Food, Sims Vista Market & Food Centre

Ever since being introduced to nasi briyani by my Aunt Gin way back when I was a kid, I’ve been hooked. The alluring fragrance of all them condiments, spices, and basmati rice combined, harmoniously accompanied by a tantalizing slab of chicken or mutton and a side plate of curry with an equally intricate aroma — every mouthful you take is a tender eruption of flavors.

The second best nasi briyani I’ve ever had came from a roadside eatery in the mystical land of Burma. Fluffy Burmese rice laden luxuriously with ghee, the glistening tenderness of chicken achieved only by cooking it together with the rice, and next to me, my buddy Kiang, whose company made good things even better. It’s been a long while since we’ve hung out over a bottle of whiskey and stories of his colorful life as a musician in the 60s. I miss jamming with him at his guitar shop, playing them golden songs of old. Hell, I even miss his shit stirring ways. We’re almost 40 years apart but damn, we were tight as fuck. I’ve probably gotten drunk with him more than any other friend of mine…

You know, Kiang cooked his own rendition of Burmese nasi briyani for me once… And that, by the way, was the best nasi briyani I’ve ever had.

Fried Rice

15847272450_4efa90269f_bConcern Western Food, Sims Vista Market & Food Centre

There’s something profoundly magical about tasting the perfect balance of flavors and textures in a single mouthful of fried rice. It’s kinda like listening to a good song — all the different instruments and vocal harmonies come together exquisitely, creating a delightful piece of music that resonates within you.

 

Dumpling Noodles

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Liang Kee Ban Mian, Sims Vista Market & Food Centre

It was only in recent years that I started exploring the noodle circuit more. In the past, aside from visiting my usual noodle stalls, I was almost never willing to give others a go. Blame laziness and a sentimental fondness for routine.

Then I found a job.

Unless you brown-bag your lunch, where you eat is mostly determined by where you work. Give it a week or two, maybe a month; you probably would’ve explored most food places within a 3 mile radius of your workplace. It’s been a good number of years and work has placed me in different parts of Singapore and taken me to many other countries around Asia. Pho from a roadside stall along Bui Vien, mie kocok from the back alleys of Bandung, wonton noodles from a pushcart along Sukhumvit… I’ve had pretty decent luck expanding my noodle horizons.

As for this bowl of dumpling noodles, it wasn’t too enjoyable. Too much vinegar was added to the mix, the egg was poorly done, and it was rather soupy for a bowl of dry noodles. It just wasn’t as good as the first time I had it a week after my office shifted to Aljunied. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. Till the next noodle adventure beckons.

Nasi Lemak

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香香哪唏噜嗎, Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market & Food Centre

In my life, there’re probably a couple of nasi lemak stalls I try to patronize every once in awhile. However, I can safely say that unless it’s somewhat convenient for me to do so, I wouldn’t be going out of my way for any — except for one: 香香哪唏噜嗎. It’s the one and only nasi lemak stall I’ll always make the effort to return to.

My Aunt Gin gave me my first taste of nasi lemak regality at 香香’s way back when I was a kid, probably during my kindergarten days. I remember her saying she’d be taking me to have the “best nasi lemak ever.” I’m quite certain I didn’t know what it was at that point in time. Although, I do recall being more excited about catching a movie after lunch. Now, you’re probably expecting an evocative recollection of just how awesome a nasi lemak awakening my 5 year-old self had, but unfortunately, I ain’t got much of that. The memory of walking towards the market from Tanjong Pagar MRT Station, waiting at the table for my aunt to return with the food, and dipping the ingredients in a red glob that gave them all a sweet, spicy tang — these are the memories that remain.

20 odd years have came and went since that very day. The sights and sounds of Tanjong Pagar has changed quite much, as with the rest of Singapore. Commercial and luxury lifestyle developments ceaselessly displace the heritage and traditional charm of the area. I’m just thankful and glad they haven’t taken away my market and food center yet. There isn’t a year that goes by without me visiting 香香’s at least a couple times. Brilliant nasi lemak aside, the routine of doing so kinda takes me back to the good times when life was simpler, happier.

Take today for instance. I walk down the usual pathway that leads to the market, feeling a tad bummed knowing it’s gonna be a long day at work after lunch. But mostly, I was thrilled at the thought of finally getting to savor my favorite nasi lemak. I order my standard lineup of ingredients, and as usual, the lady running the stall slips an extra ngo hiang onto my plate. All for $3.

Hurriedly, I make my way to the nearest table, and without even unstrapping my backpack, I begin stuffing my face; not forgetting to constantly dip my portions of fish fillet, otah, spam, fishcake, and ngo hiang into the red glob which I now know as sambal.

Two decades later, that sweet, spicy tang hasn’t changed one bit. My Aunt Gin was right — it is the best nasi lemak ever.

Breakfast Bee Hoon

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Sheng Hui Coffee Shop

This is kinda like the breakfast equivalent of economy rice, but with bee hoon as the base and a selection of ingredients to choose from. A standard order for me at any of my favorite stalls would include luncheon meat and a fish fillet. On hungrier mornings, I will not hesitate to overload my plate with an assortment of extras: fishcake, a hotdog, maybe even a hash brown for that matter! Just like any other Singaporean staple, its availability is widespread. However, the stalls that fry up the best renditions are run by elderly locals and usually found in hawker centers and coffee shops around older estates.

 

Prawn Noodles

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Sheng Hui Coffee Shop

A bowl of prawn noodles is always within reach wherever you are in Singapore. Food courts, cafeterias, hawker centers, coffee shops… it sure is one heck of an omnipresent dish. Good prawn noodles, on the other hand, are much harder to come by. What’s considered good then, one might ask? A Google search will probably yield a seemingly endless stream of articles dictating where you’d find the best prawn noodles in Singapore. But that’s the problem right there. The idea of what’s good has been cheapened and trivialized to the opinions of soulless mainstream sources motivated by monetization and fame. It is then perpetuated by the insipid majority who fervently worship trends and fads. It’s a vicious cycle that one doesn’t have to buy into.

Delectability is a whole lot more intricate than that.

You see, we’re all individuals with unique palettes. As for me, I believe that good food doesn’t just pleasure your taste buds and satisfy your stomach, it must kindle your soul. And that’s what this $3 bowl of prawn noodles did — every mouthful was like a hit of nostalgia, triggering some oft-neglected but tender memories of me as a child, happily eating lunch with my grandparents after coming home from school. And that, to me, is the reason why this bowl of prawn noodles is the best.

Economy Rice

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Jia Jia Economic Rice, Sims Vista Market & Food Centre

Rice, baked beans, potato cubes, luncheon meat, fishcake, battered fish, onion and carrot strips, curry gravy — all for $3.50! And the best part? It is sensationally scrumptious. Talk about cheap and good! However, at the rate tradition and heritage are being callously displaced in favor of commercialism and gentrification, authentic Singaporean hawkers and their timeless culinary magic will cease to exist sooner rather than later. Fuck that shit. Call me schmaltzy or label me obstinate, but I’ll be clinging on to every last dollop of tradition left in Singapore.