The Taste of Old School

By KF Seetoh - Friday, Apr 26, 2019

We often speak about the “old school” taste, something an older generation (you gotta be at least in your mid 40s to know what this is about) yearns for. Being in that group, I have to agree that a lot of what we “like” that’s popular of social media does not make the cut these days. For example, a simple starter reason- they don’t fry a lot of cha kway teow over wood or charcoal fire anymore, for “safety and legal” reasons. When food rules are governed by folks that have concerns for environment issues, something has to give. So when makan buddy Sean gave an eyebrow lift with a “this reminds me of my childhood days kinda flavour”, after the first bite, I knew this mee pok tah has what I call an “emotional deliciousness”.


Perfectly moist mee pok tah with old school fishballs


Of course this stall has a long queue daily, but queues aren’t always a sign of quality, usually of price and rarity in many instances. I normally check out the faces in a line to determine the appeal of the food. There were white collar professionals, home-bound Merdeka Generation aunties and uncles, and blue collar PMET types. These folks know their mee pok tah from their bak chor mee.


The people in the queues is an indicator of quality


And the reason for the line is the fish ball noodles or mee poh tah. It harks back to my kiddy days in Geylang, squatting beside my grandad at a street side kway teow thng or kway teow soup cart hawker along Lor 5. Firstly, there’s the texture of the fishball- it has a fragile firmness and it surrenders to your first bite very easily and they crumble as you chew in. The mild fishiness is on point. The soup has that clarity and old flavour that comes from boiling fishballs that are made with salt, seasoning and fish paste, hence that distinct yet simple taste. The mee poh tah is just moist enough so you don’t get a big ladle of soup mixed with the sambal at the base which can “mush-up” the noodles. The texture holds and clings nicely to the simple sambal that takes nothing away from the flavour of the mee pok noodles.


It’s the fishballs you come for, not the others


Their kway teow soup, and this name conjures up certain expectations to that mature crowd and fans of this, will please. It was slippery smooth and soft as it sat in that clear fishball broth with some pieces of lard croutons. So comforting, but there was just one point missing- tung chai or pickled cabbage sprinkled over the kway teow soup. This would’ve completed me. It was the same for the glass noodle soup.


The slippery smooth kway teow thng


So, to those hawkers and cooks that still somehow cook with woodfire, like black ink sambal sotong, fried Hokkien mee, or those that still press and stuff your own yong tau foo with own-made minced meat or fish paste, fry your own sambal for whatever you use it for, boil your own stock concoction with bones and dried seafood etc.. I salute you. You are not just selling authenticity, but protecting a method to this delicious madness.


Joo Chiat Chiap Kee
01-31, Blk 216, Bedok North Street 1
Closed on Wednesday