"Hokkien Mee and Teochew Porridge"
- the Food not the Play
Hokkien Mee - Part I
Our story begins in a dingy coffee shop on Changi Rd., near where it meets
Lorong Mydin (or was it Marzuki?). No matter. There, a man called Kim
was frying Hokkien Mee dressed in a long-sleeved polyester shirt and
dacron pants. A most unusual attire for frying Hokkien Mee you must admit.
But his Hokkien Mee was so delicious that it attracted crowds from
far and near and people queued patiently to buy a packet of his famous
Mee.His business grew by leaps and bounds. Soon he was frying Hokkien
Mee dressed in Lanvin and Y'ves St. Laurent shirts and his Seiko
watch metamorphosed into a gold Rolex King. He bought the land next
door and built a restaurant complete with parking lot. To top it all,
he bought a house next to his restaurant to live in, and parked a Mercedes
in the porch. "Kim's Restaurant" now served all manner of dishes besides
the famed Hokkien Mee. Customers could order Herbal Chicken wrapped
in foil paper, cruellers (Yew Char Kway) filled with squid meat, barbecued
Sting Ray, Black Pepper Crab and many other dishes.
But his success attracted envy, and some people began to talk. How
could a Hokkiem Mee seller grow so rich? Some said that he was a bookie
and the Hokkien Mee business was just a front. Some said he was part of
a syndicate manipulating the price of penny stocks. And horror of horrors;
some said his long-sleeved shirts hid the scars of a hastily erased
tattoo, the memory of a triad connection.
Then one day, Kim announced that he was starting a branch in Geylang,
in a 7-storey building he called his own. The building was located
on Sims Avenue near Lorong 7, and was illuminated with 2-foot high
neon lighting that said "KIM'S SEAFOOD RESTAURANT AND KARAOKE (KTV)".
Kim left his son to cook at the Changi Rd. site while he took care
of the new place. But after a few months, the original site at Changi
closed with just a few days' notice, and Kim's son moved to Geylang too.
And it is to Geylang that we will travel tomorrow night, to see if
the legend of Kim's Hokkiem Mee is still alive, for it is now late
and I am tired , and we mere mortals must rest for tomorrow's back-breakin
task of earning a living. (Part II continues on Friday night)
Date: 21 Nov. 1995
Hokkien Mee - Part II
What a shock I had when I visited Kim at his new place. The eating-in-
the-garden concept was still there, but there was also a posh
air-conditioned area with bar counter and gleaming chrome furniture.
The parking lot so considerately provided at his old site was also
available, but now there was valet parking ! Along with the fake
Victorian gas-lamps, tanks filled with Australian lobsters, Japanese
flower crabs, some exotic fish that I had never seen before, garish
neon-lighting and lighted colour transparencies of his
famous dishes, the place exuded such an eclectic mix of incongruous
images as to stun the senses. He may be a good cook but definitely
has poor taste when it comes to interior decoration. And The
Man himself has changed too. Still dressed in his long-sleeved shirts;
but his shoes were shiny George boots and his hair was permed just
like all the Ah Bengs used to perm their hair just before Chinese
New Year. He was probably taking a break from the frying, wiping
his forehead with a "Good Morning" face towel. And then he sat down
with a group of people poring over some architectural plans,
occasionally jabbing his fingers at some plan detail or making broad
sweeping gestures with his hands as if explaining some grand business
vision to the other men, one long sleeve pulled back to reveal the
gold Rolex gleaming in the moonlight.
But enough of all this silly prattle. Now to the serious business
of eating. My mission was to see if the Hokkien Mee was still as good.
I ordered just one small plate of Hokkien Mee, seeing the smile
of the waitress changing into a frozen grin, and the dulcet tones of
her greeting wavering into a cracked false staccato. So much for
service! A glance at the people around me. Renovation subcontractor
types with huge antique handphones fresh from site in safety boots.
Their peers the contractor-developer type accompanied by mistressy-
looking companions; their fat fingers laden with huge jade rings,
drinking XO,shouting instructions to some subordinate on the handphone
while putting an arm around the lady companion.
A dozen mainland China types probably staying at one of the many
budget hotels in the neighbourhood. Eyes all agog, peering into the air-
conditioned Karaoke area with fascination.A group of tough looking young
men in BMWs that have extra-wide wheels and spoilers and side-skirts,
whose occupation I struggle to place. A Kojak-looking type surrounded by
3 women looking at the world through slitty eyes, making smoke rings with
his cigarette, and if looks could kill, this one would. I mean if you look
at him he could kill you.These then are the denizens that make Geylang
such an interesting place to eat and look.
I was doubtful as to how my Hokkien Mee would turn out when I saw
that it was being fried by a youth dressed in a tee-shirt emblazoned
with the words "Kiss My Converse" whatever that means. But my fears
were unfounded. The dish was just as good , the fumes redolent with the
smell of garlic reaching your table first. And unlike some other Hokkien
Mee stalls, Kim's gravy was not a pale clear broth, but a rich dark gooey
liguid, good solid Hokkien Mee as cooked by good solid Hokkiens
of peasant stock. Garnished with chives and crispy pieces of lard, eaten
with fresh cut chillies or sambal belachan, and lime, this is the sort of
dish you would make a beeline for the moment you step off the plane
after an overseas trip.On other occasions I have tried the Hokkien Mee
with other dishes like the chilli crab, the home-made otak , the Wine
Chicken ,the Yew Char Kway with Squid Paste, or the barbequed Sting-
Ray with sambal sauce served on banana leaf. At Kim's they dunk
Chinese man-tou (deep fried bread) instead of French loaves into the
Chilli Crab gravy, and I find this even more delicious, as the man-tou
were freshly deep-fried piping hot. I would also recommend that you
take home some otak-otak which either comes with crab or prawn
meat. Eaten with white bread and hot coffee it makes a good breakfast.
The Wine Chicken filled with Chinese herbs and wrapped in foil to
be steamed is also quite good though rather pricey at S$25.00. The
oily gravy tastes just like those double-boiled chicken soups with
herbs that Mother used to make.
All in all, the quality of the food is still consistent although
I prefer the old Kim's. It had more character.
Date: 23 Nov 95
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