It is upsetting that these truly artisanal local chow we are proud of, that gives us the guts to even claim a Unesco Intangible award for, is still expected to be “cheap” in many people’s mind. I have eaten at and seen a lot of proud hawkers hand pounding, slicing, pressing and squeezing the way they know how and humbly offering platters and bowls of fish ball noodles, meat balls, thin beef shank slices in soups and also yong tau foo. They respect the customer’s expectations. So imagine a handmade fishball noodle hawker, who dishes out a decent 250 bowls a day. If you offer 4 (minimum) fishballs per bowl, it would mean you need to hand press 1000 balls every day. And that excludes the side show meatballs, fish cakes, rolls or “rulers”, yes fish rulers, every day. Stay with me.
Mr Lim Jian Hua, 60, had been a fishball supplier for decades and he decided to run his own fishball noodle shop four years back, albeit in this far flung corner of the west. We rate fishball noodles by a few factors- the texture or the noodle (“qq” in kid speak), the sambal, fish and/or meatball and even the soup. You can feel the handmade love in each fishball and meatball. It’s the texture, springy but not rubbery and the juiciness is a big giveaway. 1500 balls are hand pressed each evening (look at his hands for clues) rested and ready for the next day, and that excludes the fish “rulers”, fish rolls and her kiow (fish dumplings). Those flat pieces of fish cakes that are grooved and striped are fish chiok or fish rulers. I think it’s the markings that gives it its name. The rolls or her kao, with carrot and cucumbers inside are all handmade as is the her kiow, a thin fishpaste skin wanton of sorts packed with minced pork and teepo (dried and roasted sole fish bone powder).
All that won’t make a wave unless they come moreish..that taste mojo. And this one does. The noodles are blanched till just short of perfectly al dente, so it’s perfect when it reaches you and the palate. The sambal is dense and rich and “heartland” spicy (mildly so) and very agreeable. I love one of their unique signatures- a dry style softly blanched bee tai mak or rice needle noodles, sauced humbly with what feels like sesame oil, lard and fish sauce. Very easy to like and if you fleck some freshly cut bird eye chilli over, whooah, this one becomes a keeper. If you are confused what works here, order the mee pok, bee tai mak and a bowl or bowls of mixed fishball soup with all those kiao, chiok and kao peering at you. His 30 year old daughter Jean, quit her administration job one and a half years ago to help run the shop now and this gives us some reprieve, knowing there’s continuity is the business.
And, try not to expect these handmade loves to be cheap anymore. It’s ridiculous. Perhaps your $3 bowl of mee pok tah will in future come from factory made wonders and if you want some of that artisanal and rich hand make sensations, be prepared to dig deeper for a $7 bill in future, or we will witness the extinction of these breed of Unesco class hawkers.
Ah Hua Teochew Fishball Noodle.
Blk 415, Pandan Gardens
7am-3pm, close on Sundays and Public Holidays