Should a fishball be soft and moist, which brings many of us back to the childhood days when mummy would splice a couple of it into our rice porridge and chase us around the house for lunch. Or should it be firmer, the kind that feels more like a meatball, so it has a distinct bite feel when had over mee pok bathed in a glorious sambal chilli. Would you even like those made with flour and starch to enhance texture and delivers a “perfect” sheen, look and shape. Your perfect answer should be “ it’s subjective, to each aficionado, his own.”. Ok, lets not even talk about those made with added seasoning and flour, this is a Makansutra article after all, we hit only the food fusspots who know just what goes into a good fishball, be it with noodles or in soup. I’ll also throw in the mother of all her kiao or fish paste dumpling in this story.
They have been literally “pressing” on with this business for over 70 years. The Teochew patriarch started in Koek Road back in the day and moved to the iconic Orchard carpark hawkers or Gluttons Square in the 60s (where Orchard Central now stands). They were fishball heroes of sorts then. Each ball was hand made with salt and fish meat, hand beaten and mashed till it’s protein is released and turns it into a bouncy mounted of fish paste, all ready to be squeezed through the palms, up and through between the index finger and thumb, into a fishball. They soak it in water to release the salts and retain that firmer texture.
“We still do this by hand today at our Bedok factory. No choice, that’s the only best way we know how”, second generation fishball noodle master Yeo Song Teck reminds me (he now runs the stall with his brother Song Seng). This second gen folks are already in their mid-60s, and no successor is in sight. When they walk into the retirement sunset, so will this slice of our makan heritage. Their stall is one of the last four Orchard carpark hawkers (many of them are street food legends) left in Newton Hawker Centre, where they were relocated since the food carpark was disbanded in the 1978. I remember eating at this stall then. The fishball was big, fat, plump, juicy and bouncy. It had a perfect middle ground texture between firm and soft. The level of saltiness had been tamed over the years (and for good reason) but not much else had changed. This kind of fishball tend to make you forget about the noodles- which incidentally comes with a coherent sambal, that stings like a bee and floats like a butterfly (in your mouth), yet does not deliver a knockout to you. The mee pok, was soft yet aldente, the kind l like and was not drowned in a wet sambal.
The other star billing I must give a standing ovation to, is their her-kiao. This fish paste skin dumpling (a translucent skin made with fish paste and sweet potato starch) is filled with tee po powder (sun dried sole fish bones) and minced pork. I have heard of so many other “great ones” but this one gets my makan Oscar. They coated it with a thin film of starch flour before they blanch the dumpling. The result- it has a smooth, slippery almost creamy coating and cajoles the palate to enjoy the soft springy fish paste skin and the umami bomb of a filling inside.
And yes “we also still hand make this her kiao”, repeats Song Teck.
Soon Wah Fishball Kway Teow Mee
01-69, Newton Hawker Centre
500, Clemenceau Ave North
Closed on Wednesday and Sunday