Makansutra: Glad to order from these Happy Hawkers
Supporting coffee shops is easy with tasty beef noodles and fried porridge
Much has been said about the hawker centre situation and how this nation still relies on them for daily meal fixes amid enhanced efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 in these well-loved community spaces.
But do not forget the coffee shops or kopitiam. The stalls that operate there are also manned by hawkers, so I shall pivot to some shout-outs for these places.
Collectively with foodcourts, they house over 10,000 stalls, which is more than all the government-run hawker centres combined (6,000).
There are no entry restrictions and they are way quieter than hawker centres, with fewer stalls and foot traffic.
You can saunter into a coffee shop such as Happy Hawkers at Block 204 Bedok North Street 1 and da bao (take away) affordable yet tasty local heritage fare from these two stalls
HORIGINAL BEEF NOODLE
Opens 10am to 8.30pm daily
I had eaten at the stall when it was newly opened earlier in the year and was not impressed.
Today, three outlets later, I am hearing better comments.
Serial hawker entrepreneur Michael Ho roped in chef Kai Koh of Roast Paradise and worked on improving their different style of beef noodles.
For a start, the dry sauced version (from $4 for a basic order) now comes bolder but not as gamey and beefy like the local Teochew or Hainanese versions.
It sits nicely between a light Vietnamese pho and those local versions we are familiar with.
Alongside the usual toppings such as tendons, tripe, beef balls and slices, its premium version has braised oxtail ($9), and that is a plus.
But the real differentiator is the types of chilli and dips on offer.
The four varieties include cincalok (fermented krill and shallot sauce), blue ginger chilli, Thai chilli and roasted dried chilli paste with a faint hint of mala oils.
The soup version comes closer to a pho with all the ingredients.
I would say Horiginal has gone a couple of notches up since my first few meals there, and Kai tells me they are "still R&D-ing" - that is, working on research and development.
I am looking forward to be dazzled again six months down the road.
OLD WORLD BAKUTEH
Opens 10am to 8.30pm, closed on Mondays
As I was taking pictures of the beef noodles, I was constantly distracted by a picture of Horiginal's neighbour's fried porridge ($5).
It looked so arresting - with offal sitting atop a bowl of dark and smooth porridge - and I had to give in.
I am not fawning over the bak kut teh here, which is as good as the usual above-average ones all over the country.
Then the porridge came, looking nothing like the photo - just a bowl of dark soup-based porridge, that you wondered if the offal were a separate item. But the first mouthful made me forget about the insignificant non-existent toppings.
If you have ever wondered what wok hei (smoky flavour) in a porridge is like, this one will enlighten you.
A pot of cooked and chilled overnight porridge is portioned into a wok, stir-fried with the offal and ingredients over uber high fire.
They literally wok roast the porridge to raise the wok hei and add stock to smooth it as it heats up.
Alas, it is served with the "toppings" inside the porridge.
I added an order of crispy fried large intestines, which sealed the deal.