Makansutra: Hock Lam's legacy lives on at Empress Place Beef Kway Teow
Legacy of Hock Lam Street Beef Kway Teow lives on at Maxwell
Earlier this month, a Facebook post announcing the closure of the legendary Hock Lam Street Beef Kway Teow in July made headlines.
The brand has been in the business for about a century, and that post was about a stall at Alexandra Retail Centre. The stall was founded by Mr Tan Chin Sia in 1921.
His oldest daughter, the late Madam Tan Sok Eng, branched out with her husband to operate Empress Place Beef Kway Teow at the now defunct Empress Place Food Centre, and the apple did not fall far from the tree.
This one stuck to the old ways - it sold only the beef soup version - and I remember wolfing down a couple of bowls back in the late 70s, as my teenage bones needed that kind of nourishment then.
I had the works, from beef balls to brisket, tendons to medium rare slices, and once, I was challenged to tear into "gu piang" (bull penis) slices.
I loved the dish too as my makan companion was Mr David Lim, the son of Madam Tan and my childhood football buddy, who is now in his early 60s and helming the stall - now at Maxwell Food Centre.
I remember how stubborn he used to be.
"I only sell the original Teochew soup version like my grandfather did, no starchy dry version," he said then, knowing the latter is a Hainanese version.
If you try Mr Lim's version (prices from $4), you will realise there is a nice citrus-y edge to the insanely tangy and spicy chilli sauce - housemade with pineapples blended in.
The all-important beef stock is classic Teochew style, robust but calmed with pandan leaves in the brew.
The type of kway teow he uses is the thin, smooth and soft version, and in the words of another foodie, "it is like what a good Vietnamese pho should be".
The arsenal of toppings include beef balls, brisket (melting soft), medium rare beef slices (the hot soup will cook it through in your bowl) and chewy soft tendons, and there is "no gu piang any more", Mr Lim said with a laugh.
That spoonful of salted vegetables he plops atop each soupy bowl of noodles is heaven-sent, containing the beefiness without burying it.
So with that piquant spicy chilli that packs a punch, I was delighted he came up with a dry version some time ago.
Today, it is equally popular.
The dry one comes with a little ladle of chilli sauce, a splash of soy sauce and sesame oil.
I like this one with the works - brisket, medium rare beef slices, beef balls and tendons.
His 35-year-old daughter Melissa left her teaching job to join the family business.
She has known she wanted to do it since her schoolgoing days, and together, they run their Empress Place stall "in the Hock Lam tradition". So in many ways, the 108-year-old beef kway teow legacy still lives on.
Empress Place Beef Kway Teow
#01-43, Maxwell Food Centre
10.30am to 8pm daily