Need a char kway teow fix?
These char kway teow specialists hit the spot
The first time I took the late Anthony Bourdain for a char kway teow spin at a stall in Bedok some eight years back, he glanced at the dish, took the first bite and, in vintage Bourdain style, gushed: "How can something so ugly be so good?"
Since then, every time we met, he would request "sha kwai shao", his messed-up pronunciation of the beloved sinful fried noodles.
Often, this comes from a one-dish master at work.
To hawker centre regulars, you can tell if the dish is in range just by hearing that distinct clanging of the wok, made by a short spatula being jabbed onto a steel or cast iron wok.
These masters usually cook them two or at most three portions at a time, depending on workflow, size of wok and type of flame used.
It is a snack as well as a meal. It is also an addiction - you know you need a plate of this every so often. It is also a famous 'last meal' request at hospitals, so say my doctor and nurse friends.
It looks easy - stir fry some kway teow alone or with some yellow noodles, add tau gay, Chinese sausage, fish cake, eggs, blood cockles and ladle sweet soy sauce over with fish or regular soy sauce, and voila, your plate is ready.
In reality, it is not so easy.
When we invited the late Mr Ng Chang Siang of Hill Street Fried Kway Teow - who wowed Bourdain at his Bedok stall - for a Singapore Day stint in London some years ago, I was flabbergasted at how detailed and professional he was on his stove and wok set-up.
If this dish was so easy to cook, believe me, there would be a lot of foreign chefs clanging away. The complexity lies in the technique.
Here are two other stalls that cook it as well, if not better.
Day Night Fried Kway Teow, #02-41, Block 163 Bukit Merah Central Food Centre, 10am to 8pm, closed on Thursdays
The line for this one-dish specialist is visible from across the hawker centre and it is usually a 20-
minute wait. The master cook does about two portions at a go to maintain consistency. He fries it fast and furious and smokes up the glass-enclosed stove and wok area.
The noodles are not overly sweet, are smooth and moist and boast a comforting degree of savouriness from perhaps touches of miso or oyster sauce blended with the black sauce. The wok hei is intact but the cockles are small and pathetic (a national supply issue).
The $4 portion is big enough for a full meal or snack for two. it is best to go past 1.30pm, when the lines are more bearable.
786 Char Kway Teow, #01-28, Block 115 Bukit Merah View Food Centre, 2.30pm to 10pm, closed on Fridays
Mr Ang is a Chinese Muslim who runs this Muslim-friendly char kway teow stall, and he proudly displays his conversion card up front.
What makes his version stand out is the sauce. It is a sweet, savoury blend and the chilli is automatically folded in. I suspect this suits the Muslim palate and I see why. That spiciness kicks in but does not
All the attendant ingredients are in place, from cockles, fish cakes and bean sprouts, minus the Chinese sausage slices.
Best to order a $3 portion and add $1 extra cockles for maximum pleasure.