Bak chor mee, or minced meat noodles, is a staple at hawker centres in Singapore. It is one of Singapore's most iconic street foods, and this beloved dish also transcends all classes.
Most dry versions come with slices of stewed mushroom, minced pork, slices of lean pork and sometimes, fried ikan bilis, atop noodles tossed in a punchy chilli-vinegar sauce, while soup versions are lauded for the depth of pork flavour in its broth.
The Straits Times' food critics list their favourite stalls for bak chor mee in Singapore.
1. Tan Hsueh Yun recommends: Macpherson minced meat noodles
When people think of dishes that best represent Singapore, most would probably name chicken rice, laksa and chilli crab.
I would like to nominate the humble minced pork noodles.
It can be found everywhere in hawker centres, coffee shops and food courts, but a good one is hard to find. That is because it takes skill to get the texture of the noodles just right, to properly balance the condiments that make up the sauce and to cook the pork perfectly.
MacPherson Minced Meat Noodles, in a coffee shop at the corner of Serangoon Road and Opal Crescent, gets it all right.
I am late to the game. My friends have been going for years but after checking it out, it has been difficult not to plot a visit there when I'm in the neighbourhood.
Singaporeans are equal opportunity eaters who are as comfortable in a humble coffee shop as they are in a high-end restaurant. This is on full display at the coffee shop, where some customers roll up in luxury cars with drivers in tow.
At 7.30am, the place is more than half filled and regulars know to order a yellowtail fish cake ($2) to nibble on while waiting for the noodles. The torpedo-shaped fish cake is softer than most and tastes more of fish than flour but I would rather save space for the main dish - minced pork noodles ($4).
My noodle of choice is never mee pok because the noodles are so thick and wide that they are all I taste, rather than the sauce and the other ingredients in the bowl.
Mee kia, skinny noodles, is what I usually order, but the version this stall uses is thicker than usual.
So my default choice here is mee sua, wheat noodles that are usually cooked for birthday celebrations. Usually, the noodles are too salty and clumpy but at this stall, they are just about perfect.
Each noodle strand is slicked with the perfect balance of soya sauce, chilli and black vinegar. I never have to ask for extra vinegar because the sauce has plenty of zing. There is no clumping, no mushiness. It makes me fall in love with what I think of as a stodgy noodle.
Thick slices of pork, just cooked, have a natural sweetness. Other goodies include two slices of pig liver, sliced fish cake, a chewy fish dumpling and stewed mushrooms.
When I am ravenous, I also order a bowl of fishballs and fish dumplings ($3.50). Despite their chewy texture, there is something very compelling about the translucent fish dumplings. I do wish they are more plump though.
The fish balls are smaller than at other places but like the fish cake, taste more of fish than flour.
Morning is the best time to go. It is cooler, especially when there is a breeze blowing. The place is packed at lunch time and although the closing time is 2pm, the smart eater will get there at about 1pm or risk not having any noodles at all.
WHERE: MacPherson Minced Meat Noodles, 1382 Serangoon Road
MRT: Tai Seng or Potong Pasir
OPEN: 6am to 2pm (Wednesday to Monday), closed on Tuesday
2. Wong Ah Yoke recommends: Seng kee mushroom minced meat noodle
One of my favourite hawker dishes here is bak chor mee (minced meat noodle), not least because it is unique to Singapore.
The closest is Malaysia's pork noodle, but that has significant differences, especially the dry version - it is tossed with black soya sauce instead of chilli sauce and vinegar.
I have found many good dry versions here, but a good bak chor soup noodle is more elusive.
Seng Kee Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle in Serangoon Garden food centre is one of the places I go to.
Unlike the tasteless soups in many stalls, it has a sweet broth with distinct flavours of pork and dried sole.
The basic noodle with minced pork, lean meat, liver and mushroom slices starts from $4.
But if you are in a generous mood, get the $9 bowl which has pieces of fried fish maw as well as egg drop in the soup. There are more of the other ingredients as well.
It's best to go later in the day. The broth builds up more body as more and more meat is cooked in it. However, you also run the risk of some ingredients running out.
WHERE: Seng Kee Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle, Serangoon Garden Market & Food Centre, 49A Serangoon Garden Way
MRT: Serangoon/Lorong Chuan
OPEN: 7.30am to 3pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday
3. Rebecca Lynne Tan recommends: Lai Heng mushroom minced meat mee
A friend of mine eats at Lai Heng, a bak chor mee stall, at least once a week. Prices start at $4 a bowl.
Instead of the usual mee pok, or flat egg noodles, she recommends mee tai mak - short, fat and smooth rice noodles that resemble rats' tails - served dry. I have to agree that is the best option - all the better to soak up the sauce.
But the secret is that you also have to ask for extra chilli so that there is enough to coat each tail. The slippery mee tai mak is able to absorb the flavours of the aromatic and mildly spicy chilli that has been fried with plenty of lard.
I also like that each bowl is topped with pieces of salted flat fish that give the noodles an extra hit of saltiness, as well as tasty stewed mushrooms and springy, perfectly cooked pieces of liver.
WHERE: Lai Heng Mushroom Minced Meat Mee, Block 51 Toa Payoh Lorong 6
MRT: Toa Payoh
OPEN: 8.30am to 4pm (Thursday to Tuesday), closed on Wednesday
4. Wong Ah Yoke recommends: Ding Ji
I love it when hawkers improve their offerings with good quality ingredients for those who do not mind paying for them, but still keep their original and more affordable options on the menu.
Ding Ji in Bishan Street 24 is one of them. Opened by the Fei Siong Group, it is part of a chain of hawker stalls selling fishball noodles, bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) and laksa that has been around for some time and has outlets around the island, including one that opened recently in Toa Payoh North. But not all the outlets sell the same items.
What caught my attention was a Facebook post by a friend showing a bowl of bak chor mee soup topped with fried fish maw. I like both bak chor mee and fish maw, so it did not take me long to scoot over to Bishan during lunch to the kopitiam in his post.
Ding Ji is not the first to add fish maw to bak chor mee. I have previously recommended in this column another stall, Seng Kee in Serangoon Gardens, which offers a similar version for $9 a bowl.
But Ding Ji's, at $8, is cheaper. The noodles are served dry, topped with strips of stewed mushroom. The fish maw comes in a separate bowl of eggdrop soup, together with fishballs, dumplings, pork and pig liver.
The soup is delicious, with a robust pork stock and the distinct flavour of dried sole. I like the noodles, too, which are thin, flat and springy.
The dish is not as good as Seng Kee's - the noodles need a bit more black vinegar to perk up the flavours - but comes close.
And for those who find $8 too much to pay for kopitiam fare, Ding Ji also offers normal bak chor mee, sans fish maw, for $3.50.
WHERE: Ding Ji, Block 280 Bishan Street 24, 01-24
OPEN: 24 hours daily
5. Rebecca Lynne Tan recommends: Yan Kee noodle house
There's a dry mee sua in the Central Business District worth trying.
Best, of all, it's open 24 hours.
The stall is located at BK Eating House, a coffee shop at the corner of South Bridge and Circular roads. It sells bak chor mee, or minced pork noodles, and customers can opt for any type of noodle, from mee pok to mee kia, but mee sua is its signature item.
I am always sceptical about ordering mee sua because too many times, it has been served mushy and clumpy. In my mind, mee sua is a noodle for children and elderly folks who cannot chew.
But here, the mee sua is gloriously chewy. There is bite to it. It is not a ball of mush.
The noodles also have that black vinegar flavour which I love, and the sambal is fragrant.
In each serving, you get a decent helping of minced and sliced pork, a stewed mushroom, two meat balls and the highlight of the dish for me, crispy fried ikan bilis.
Unfortunately, the soup is bland and nothing to shout about.
A bowl of mee sua starts at $4.
It is available all day and all night, except on Sunday, when the stall is closed.
WHERE: Yan Kee Noodle House at BK Eating House, 21 South Bridge Road, corner of South Bridge and Circular roads
MRT: Clarke Quay
OPEN: 24 hours, closed on Sunday
This article was first published on Nov 10, 2016.
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