Just as how fried chicken, cornbread and collard greens maketh a staple meal for Southerners in the United States, bak chor mee (minced meat with noodles) is my Singapore soul food.
Having lived in Singapore for all 26 years of my life, my familiarity with bak chor mee began from a young age. At under 5 years old, I developed a premature fondness for spicy and complex flavours, and immediately took a liking to the traditional Teochew noodles. A typical bowl of bak chor mee is characterised by its distinctive tart flavour from the splashing of sharp Chinese black vinegar, and a spiciness from the concoction of dry chilli seasoning that is unique to each chef’s recipe. My allegiance has always been with mee kia (thin, yellow noodles), and I recall eating a bowl for all occasions, at different life stages, and at various timings of the day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dish was my go-to meal for comfort food and often made the good days better and the bad days easier to get by.
Despite my early acquaintance with bak chor mee, I was late in discovering the ever-popular Tai Hwa Hill Street Pork Noodles stall run by hawker chef, Mr Tang Chay Seng. Renowned as the inventors of the authentic Singapore Teochew-style bak chor mee since the 1930s, the long queues at the Tai Hwa Hill Street Pork Noodles are legendary and equally as (in)famous. With its recent – and surprising – win of a one Michelin star last month, the stall has since gained international recognition for being one of the world’s first Michelin-starred hawker stalls, and is now more popular and crowded than ever.
Priced between SGD$5 and $10 for a bowl of noodles, Tai Hwa Hill Street’s bak chor mee is considerably cheaper than a meal at other fine-dining establishments on the Singapore Michelin guide, but more expensive than the usual SGD$2 to $4 charged per bowl at other hawker stalls. While some locals here may balk at Tai Hwa Hill Street’s ‘steeper’ prices, we never hesitate to order the largest and most expensive portions here, as the noodles and meat toppings are consistently generous and delicious.
Tai Hwa Hill Street’s rendition of the bak chor mee is truly a delight to savour. Combining a mixture of fresh pork slices and mince, tender pig’s liver, crispy sole fish, pork-filled wanton dumplings and springy mee kia, each bowl of noodles is patiently cooked by a single chef, a third generation of Mr Tang’s family. From start to finish, the chef assumes responsibility for each step in the cooking process of his noodles, making sure to customise the ingredients according to the preferences of his customers who demand of him, a perfect bak chor mee.
Armed with a noodle ladle, the chef dips the fresh meat and noodles into a pot of boiling pork-based broth, and proceeds to toss all ingredients in a self-measured concoction of deep-fried lard, soy sauce, sambal chilli, fish sauce and a generous dash of black vinegar. The end result? An unmistakeably savoury, robust and hugely satisfying bowl of Teochew noodles.
When asked by friends whether we would continue patronising the Tai Hwa Hill Street stall, now that queues have grown longer and waiting times are stretching to almost two hours on a good day, the answer is a simple and resounding, yes. Having eaten a bowl of noodles here at least once a month for the past year, I can tell you that every visit has been consistently good and keeps me wanting more. Tai Hwa Hill Street has certainly set the standard for how the Teochew noodles should taste like in the eyes of the world, and is fully deserving of its Michelin star.
More importantly, its dedication to a perfect bak chor mee reminds me of home, of childhood, of growing into adulthood… and, of my first real taste of umami.
Tai Hwa Hill Street Pork Noodles is located at the Tai Hwa Eating House coffee shop, at Block 466, Crawford Lane.
466 Crawford Lane #01-12, Singapore 190465
Nearest MRT station: EWL Lavender station