Makansutra: Cheap and good mee rebus, mee soto and soto ayam at $2.50
Warong H.J. Sukarjo in Bedok is a star find
Much noise was recently made regarding the social enterprise hawker centre issue, especially over the high cost of rentals.
These hawkers are charged above market-rate prices, with a tight leash on operation freedom, and are also obliged to offer at least one dish at $3 or below.
Of course, this will yield a few problems.
Dishes using more expensive seafood and meat, and require longer and more complex cooking will slowly disappear as they eat into cost and hence profits.
But I note that many hawkers, on their own, and without the need for regulations and contracts, are already offering meals below $3 on their own accord.
They know their location and demographic, and how to make money offering cheap but delicious fare.
The two sisters at Warong H.J. Sukarjo at New Upper Changi Road Hawker Centre are a joy to watch. They work closely and are proud of their kitchen and food, although their opening hours can be erratic.
When asked, with the biggest TV personality smile I could muster, if I could interview them, they said with an even bigger smile: "No photos or interviews please."
But the food speaks for itself.
All their items - including Mee Rebus, Mee Soto, Soto Ayam and Gado Gado - costs only $2.50.
Pause a while to appreciate that this is what is offered in the world's most expensive city to live in.
Even our neighbouring countries in the region cannot beat this, dollar to value.
I salute these hawkers who know their regulars well and adjust accordingly.
This stall once competed in the shadows of the popular and more famous mee rebus stall, the defunct Selera Rasa.
Now, the queue has jumped over and the customers are not complaining - it is as good, many tell me.
The Soto Ayam comes with generous chunks of torn chicken pieces and will fill you up with huge blocks of lontong, or rice cakes, and greens.
The magic is not just in the rempah they swirl into the chicken soup, with a hint of blue ginger, but the spoonful of coconut milk they add to thicken the broth and bind the rempah in so nicely.
The soup looks thick and rich, but a word of advice - go a little after the stall opens to let the broth simmer first.
The signature Mee Rebus does remind me somewhat of their erstwhile old neighbour's.
It is smooth, light and easy with seafood stock accents and hardly sweet as some are wont to be.
I am fussy about how well the yellow noodles are blanched - too little and the raw factory taste takes over, too much and they turn into soft rickshaw noodle texture.
This one sits right between and the thick sauce coats the noodles well when you fork them up.
The toppings of egg, fried shallots and little squares of tau kwa with lime are totally unimportant in this case.
The Mee Soto comes with that rich soto ayam broth, topped with chunks of chicken and nicely blanched noodles that are neither soft nor hard.
All this at only $2.50 a portion keeps the budget feeder and fussy food hunter like me happy.