Text and images by KF Seetoh @ Makansutra.
At first glance, you’ll notice everything is right about these two stalls offering the same item at Blk 58 New Upper Changi Road, which is wrong at the same time.
The queues are both as long, and everyone seems to know why they in that queue. The stalls don’t seem to be on some competitive mode although they tout the same dish – mee rebus, that wondrous humble Malay noodle dish made yellow noodles drenched in a seafood or meat accented sauce spiced with a light sambal and thickened with starch or sweet potato mash.
Both queues are patient and both lead to two distinctly different styles of mee rebus.They don’t display signs claiming “we are original, beware imitation” with an arrow pointing to the next stall or “we are the best” or “we are the original recipe” war of words. In fact, I’ve seen both the owners chat with each other very casually at rest time when the lines are down. Out of respect, one stall only operates from Fridays (when the other closes) through Sundays (when there are enough customers to share the spoils with) only.
One is Selera Kita, a name that floods the blogosphere and food forums and associated with terms like “arguably the best”, “kampong authentic”, “cheap and good” and “long queues”. The other, Warong HJ Sukarjo, which hardly comes up and reluctantly appears in some aspirational food blog which simply cites “has more noodles than the other”.
The folk that live and work there definitely knows more and they show by action, like the fruit seller facing them who firmly shared that he now queues at the “other” stall. We dug in for a lowdown- queued for both simultaneously and did a double take on it.
Glorious and subtly seafood-accented, Selera Kita’s version comes unctuous with a full egg, but yet in portions …
Selera Kita, Stall 01-182, 8am-1pm, close on Fridays
They still humbly and righteously offer a $1.20 portion “for the kakaks and old folks who cannot afford more”. We tested the $1.50 verison and they generously placed a whole boiled egg over. The gravy is as we remember and know all these years- smooth with no particular heavy spicy characteristics except a rich seafood accent that came from the copious use of grago (dried krill). Like the worthy competitor next door, they sprinkle wonderfully fragrant crispy shallots, green chilli and chopped spring onions with a halved lime sitting atop. One obvious factor was the portion, a starch conscious offering for the starch wary foodies.
At similarly priced $1.50 portions, the Warung HJ Sukarjo version is more generous with noodles but only offers …
Warong HJ Sukarjo, stall 01-183, 730am-12pm close Monday to Thursday
One reason why the queue time takes a tad longer than at their neighbour is manpower- the auntie along with one assistant take orders, serves up and collect monies. At $1.50 (the cheapest portion), they offer half a boiled egg, and at least 50% more noodles than next door. One mouthful and the sauce show why they attract a different crowd. It comes just as smooth, with a light dried shrimp taste but layered with a fragrant chicken stock overtone and a faint whiff of masala (curry powder) and rempah. One other reason for the queue here- they also offer a hearty soto ayam, very rich and dense with rempah (which accounts for the chicken flavour in the mee rebus sauce).
So the human lines that divide here, clearly knows what it leads to and what they want from their mee rebus. It’s not quite a mee rebus war but a choice for consumers and both are highly rated in our upcoming Makansutra edition.