Makansutra: Feel the love in Ah Hua's fishball noodles
Ah Hua Teochew Fishball Noodle promises quality
I have eaten at and seen a lot of proud hawkers hand-pounding, slicing, pressing and squeezing the way they know how, humbly offering platters and bowls of fishball noodles, meatballs, thin beef shank slices in soups and also yong tau foo.
They respect the customer's expectations.
So imagine a handmade fishball noodle hawker who dishes out a decent 250 bowls a day.
If he offers a minimum four fishballs a bowl, that would mean he needs to hand-press 1,000 balls every day.
And that excludes the side show meatballs, fish cakes, rolls or fish "rulers".
Mr Lim Jian Hua, 60, had been a fishball supplier for decades when he decided to run his own fishball noodle shop, Ah Hua Teochew Fishball Noodle, four years ago at Pandan Gardens.
We rate fishball noodles by a few factors - the texture of the noodle, the sambal, the fishball and/or meatball and the soup.
You can feel the handmade love in each fishball and meatball, which are springy and juicy.
At Ah Hua, 1,500 balls are hand-pressed each evening, rested and ready for the next day. That excludes the fish "rulers" (flat pieces of fish cakes that are grooved and striped), fish rolls and the keow.
The rolls, with carrot and cucumbers inside, are all handmade, as is the keow, a thin fishpaste skin wonton of sorts packed with minced pork and teepo (dried and roasted sole fish bone powder). These are exceedingly moreish.
The noodles are blanched till al dente, while the sambal is dense, rich, "heartland" spicy (mildly so) and agreeable.
I love one of the unique signatures - a dry-style, softly blanched bee tai mak (rice needle noodles), sauced humbly with what feels like sesame oil, lard and fish sauce.
If you add some flecks of freshly cut bird's eye chilli over it, this becomes a keeper.
If you are not sure where to start, order the mee pok tah ($3), bee tai mak set ($5) and a bowl of mixed fishball soup ($4).
Mr Lim's 30-year-old daughter quit her admin job 1½ years ago to help run the stall.
It is upsetting that the truly artisanal local chow we are proud of, that gives us the guts to claim a place on the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage list, is expected to be "cheap" in many people's minds.
Perhaps in future, your $3 bowl of mee pok tah will be factory-made wonders. If you want rich, handmade sensations, be prepared to rustle up $7, or we will witness the extinction of Unesco-class hawkers.
Ah Hua Teochew Fishball Noodle
415 Pandan Gardens, #01-117
Opens 7am to 3pm, closed on Sundays and public holidays