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Over 300 stalls, 3.5 years in the making: He created a country-wide map recommending bak chor mee

Over 300 stalls, 3.5 years in the making: He created a country-wide map recommending bak chor mee
PHOTO: Wee Shi Chen

At first impression, Wee Shi Chen is your typical Singaporean family man who spends the bulk of his time either at work or with his wife and kids. 

But on the side, he's also a man on a mission to try as many bak chor mee spots in Singapore.

As of the time of writing, the 37-year-old data analyst, who aptly calls himself the BCM (bak chor mee) hunter, has already covered more than 340 stalls. 

And every time he tries a bowl of bak chor mee, he adds it to his extensive Google map called BCM Hunter's Sample Size

It took him three-and-a-half years to visit the hundreds of stalls on his map, he told AsiaOne in an interview. 

These are neatly colour-coded too — those marked in maroon are for the stalls he has visited, the yellow ones are for the stalls he plans on visiting, and the ones in green are his personal favourites. 

The maroon and green pins link back to a Facebook post where Shi Chen does a review of the food. 

He told us that he doesn't purposely visit places to find a bowl of bak chor mee and will only make an exception for two reasons — if a stall is about to permanently close or if there is a new business in town that needs support. 

But as he travels around Singapore often, he gets plenty of opportunities to try new gems. 

If there are several bak chor mee stalls in the same location, Shi Chen explained that he uses a metrics to choose where his next bowl of noodles will be from. 

"If there is a hawker centre and a coffee shop, I will go to the coffee shop first. Because stalls in coffee shops are in a precarious position, they fold quite fast if they don't have the proper support," he explained. 

In a situation where the only option is a hawker centre, Shi Chen shared that he would go for standalone stalls that are "without brand". 

If the hawker centre has several of such "standalone stalls", his next course of action is to choose the hawker that looks the oldest. 

"Because they're probably closer to retirement," he elaborated. 

"And let's say, if all the hawkers look of similar age, then I will go for the one with a shorter queue to support them," Shi Chen said. 

Unlike most food review platforms, Shi Chen does not have a rating system for the food he tries. 

"The reason is I believe strongly that everybody's taste is subjective and relative," he explained. 

Personally, he prefers his bak chor mee to have a good balance of both vinegar and chilli. 

A passion-turned-hobby during the pandemic 

Bak chor mee is something Shi Chen has loved since he was a child. 

In fact, he had varying favourites at different phases of his life. 

"There's always been a very special store at different parts of my life. When I was young, there was a stall I ate at for many, many years until the family retired," he shared with AsiaOne. 

"In university — I was from National University of Singapore (NUS) — I also frequented quite a few joints around the Clementi area. Comfort food during exams." 

When he got his first job, he discovered a favourite near his office too. 

"There was this place that was open 24 hours and back then, I was on shift work. So no matter what time I ended my shift, there was always a bowl of soup waiting for me," he recounted. 

This stall, which is Gao Feng Traditional Teochew Minced Meat Noodles at 1 Upper Circular Road, also happens to be one of his favourites. 

"Bak chor mee has been there constantly in different parts of my life," said Shi Chen. 

It even was with him during a darker period of his life — during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Shi Chen's previous organisation started an initiative encouraging employees to do something positive for their mental health.

As he was sick of being cooped up at home, he decided to do something related to food. 

So, he started a Facebook page on Oct 10, 2020 documenting all the different bak chor mee he has tried. 

"That was just a casual thing that I did for fun. But after that, there was so much feedback telling me to go bigger and plot the different places," recounted Shi Chen.

"Because if you just use Facebook as the main mode of engagement, the posts will inevitably get pushed down."

And two months after creating the Facebook page, he made a Google map to complement it. 

He has tried bak chor mee everywhere — including overseas 

Shi Chen loves bak chor mee so much that he even eats it in camp during reservist. 

"But of course, I cannot take pictures," he told us with a laugh, adding that the bak chor mee found in camps are "exclusive" because not everyone can go in to try it.

If you're curious to know how it tastes like, Shi Chen described it as something that reminds him of "school canteen food". 

Price isn't something that holds Shi Chen back either, and he is willing to spend on a bowl of bak chor mee. 

The most expensive one he has eaten is from Shangri-La Singapore. And when he ate it a few years ago, it cost him a whopping $28. 

He doesn't just eat bak chor mee in Singapore— he sources for it overseas too. 

One spot he tried is Joint Asian Market in Hong Kong, which was introduced to him by an ex-schoolmate. 

He also has a list of places that he wants to visit, such as Com Ga Hai Nam Singapore Eat Lah in Vietnam and Singapulah in London. 

Additionally, friends and netizens have alerted him to other eateries across the world selling bak chor mee and all of these are pinned in yellow on his Google map.

Shi Chen shared that these bowls of bak chor mee tend to be a bit different from what you can find in Singapore. 

"They have to use ingredient substitutes for certain things but it's comparable," he remarked. 

So far, he hasn't found an overseas bak chor mee spot that he prefers over what he can find in Singapore. 

"But to caveat, the food there is altered for the tastes of the locals over there, so it's not an apples-to-apples comparison," he explained.

Some may wonder if Shi Chen has grown sick of the local noodle dish since he has tried hundreds of bowls of it. 

Surprisingly, the answer is no. 

He told us that three years in, he still has a huge appetite and love for bak chor mee. 

But he also shared that he does have rules in place to ensure that it all doesn't get too much for him. 

One is that he caps the number of bowls of bak chor mee he consumes a week at three. 

The most number he has eaten is six across one weekend. 

"I had to detox after that," he told us with a chuckle. 

What if he runs out of bak chor mee places to try? 

While bak chor mee is a common dish in Singapore, there are still only so many eateries out there. 

In fact, for a while, Shi Chen was concerned that his bak chor mee hunting journey was coming to an end. 

"Actually, I was running out of ideas already," he admitted to us. 

So, in December last year, he decided to turn his platform into a crowd-sourcing community so he could discover new bak chor mee spots. And through this, he has found many more gems. 

But when he does eventually run out of bowls of noodles to try, he may set up a new map for another hawker dish he adores — lor mee. 

"I wanted to branch out to something else which I love, which is lor mee," he told us. 

And he has also considered making TikTok videos for that — Jurassic Park-style. 

"I'll call it The Lor-st World," he told us with a chuckle. 

"But that's on hold for now because there's really a lot of bak chor mee left to eat." 

ALSO READ: Singaporean who moved to London sets up business selling thunder tea rice

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