Quaint vibe, quality fare at Nonya cafe Makko Teck Neo
Nonya cafe in quiet Telok Blangah corner serves up a large menu of delights
The first thing that struck me about Makko Teck Neo was its location - in a cul-de-sac along a row of HDB shop lots at Telok Blangah Rise, framed by black and white bamboo curtains and coloured with Nonya touches and lanterns.
Past the sliding glass doors, the cool interior reminded me of Nonya cafés I ate at in Malacca, featuring a very loud counter bedecked with takeaway Nonya snacks and kueh.
Madam Peck, or Makko Teck Neo (aunty Teck Neo), 66, has been running this charming little corner café with her sister and son for nine years now and I wondered why I had not been here before.
The area is a quiet, lovable mini-HDB village centre that has a little hawker centre and wet market.
Everyone I saw was a resident or regular, no casual passers-by around.
A few things stood out from the extensive menu.
For starters, I had the Dry Mee Siam ($5.80). The orangey beehoon was not too soft nor irritatingly stringy, and was tossed in a rich mee siam rempah with a couple of spoonfuls of sauce or kuah.
With a squeeze of lime, it was sweet and tangy and the sambal prawn, fried tau kua and boiled egg gave it an added edge.
The Kueh Pie Tee ($9.90) was classic, with half a shrimp topping the soft turnip and carrot stew in a crispy top-hat cup.
Add a drop of the tangy chilli, and it hits the next level.
I also ordered a rare and not entirely Nonya dish, fried pork chops with a tomato sauce ($11.90).
It was battered and crispy and soft inside, but I wished it was fried fresh to maximise the texture and intensity.
We had to try the yardstick dish, Ayam Buah Keluak ($16.90). This one was memorable because the chicken chunks were braised in a thick rendang-like rempah and served with a huge dollop of the keluak paste with the black nuts over it.
You blend them as you wish and it was beautiful over nasi.
They fried and blended the black nut paste before re-inserting it back in the shell.
We washed it all down with the Pork Rib Kiam Chye Tng ($10.90), or salted vegetable pork ribs soup.
The balance of sour and umami was well-controlled, and I could tell they blanched, soaked and "de-salted" the salted mustard greens before cooking it.
The Nasi Lemak ($5.80) had all the pre-requisites (sans the ikan selar), like a fried chicken wing, cucumber, ikan bilis and sambal. But the outstanding touch was the chopped string bean omelette, which lent a sweet and added crunchy touch to the dish.
The Tahu Goreng ($6.80) was good because the tahu was of a good grade, devoid of sourish over-fermented hints, and came with a crunchy, thick and peanutty sauce.
It was done sans tamarind in the spice - something I like as the tanginess can mar my enjoyment of this dish.
The BurBur Cha-Cha ($4.90) was one of the best I've had in a while. They stewed the ingredients (tubers and jelly) perfectly and the rich coconut milk was nicely tempered by the gula melaka.
I also like the kueh, which came with an entire menu of their own. The Rempah Udang ($2), spicy dried shrimps wrapped in glutinous rice, was delightful, with the grains coloured by blue pea flowers.
And there were still many dishes that I will be back for. Hang in there, laksa!
Makko Teck Neo
Blk 35, Telok Blangah Rise, #01-303
Tel: 6275 1330
K.F. Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets and has his own TV shows on cable. He publishes food guides and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram