Text and Images by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra
JB Ah Meng in Geylang Lor 23
“Who in Geylang is not afraid of being photographed?” The coffeeshop assistant remarked.
We were snapping away at one of our favourite cze char eateries, JB Ah Meng, in the area, and it drew howls of protests from some customers. In this red light district, people you bump into may likely be buyers or sellers of the flesh trade and they do not wish to be captured – in any sense of the word. Unfortunately, flashing out the camera is inevitable, since Geylang is also known to be a food capital in Singapore.
So we eased their discomfort by drawing attention to the food and asked, “ho jiak bo? (delicious or not). It worked, and they ended up bragging about how they came to know of this place before us (that’s what they thought). Suddenly, this lot of distant-looking folks entertained us with their comical “oohs” and “ahhhs” as they devoured their crab bee hoon.
Claypot crab bee hoon at JB Meng
Forgive them for their dining faux pas, but JB Ah Meng actually does a very good rendition of the dish – full of wok hei, moist bee hoon that is laden with the sweetness and flavours of the crabs. He uses the smaller Sri Lankan crustaceans, which although are smaller, is meaty and fresh. A coriander detester among us that evening was moved to comment how the julienned herb “cuts through the rich noodles nicely”.
Such high standard can be expected here, as this is after all the place where Ferran Adria (the legendary exponent of molecular gastronomy and regarded best chef in the world) showed up in 2009 and asked to be pictured with the owner/chef, Ah Meng, after a meal there (such requests are usually made the other way round).
So what are the dishes that got the world’s most brilliant chef so mesmerised to volunteer his pictorial endorsement?
Salted egg prawns with corn kernels at JB Meng
One of them is the salted egg yolk tempura prawns – robust, gritty and has a nice crispy crunch. Ah Meng even countered the saltiness with kernels of battered fried corn. Then there’s san low mi fen – bee hoon stir-fried in stock and then pan-fried like a pancake until it’s charred and crispy outside, but still soft and moist inside. Last but not least the white pepper crab – sweetly done, juicy, and full of wok hei through and through.
Crispy brinjal stir-fried with capsicums and dried chilli
Speaking of wok hei, the chef, who came from JB, is very particular about the smokiness of his food. “Good wok fire technique is not good enough” he says, and then almost without a thought, he reveals his trick, “You need to cover the wok with a lid. It’s very strange. Once it’s covered, for just 10 or 20 seconds, you’ll notice a huge difference.”
As Ah Meng unguardedly shared his secret, the very intense smell of fire and smoke travelled from the open kitchen in the coffeeshop to the alleyway where the 10 or so tables sat. Every time a new set of ingredients enter the wok, the aroma they emanate made us felt that our meal was inadequate. But when it was clear that the stomachs had been over fed, we, as well as the many curious others, made a mental note of the food being dished out, so as to try them on our next return.
So even though they have way more gems than the few we’ve featured here (there’s about 28 items on his menu), we suggest you show up and let the curiosity and senses take over.
J.B. Ah Meng Kitchen No.2 Lor 23 Geylang 5pm – 3.50am