Text and images by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra
The Whampoa/Balestier precinct has long been associated with good food such as chicken rice, bak kut teh, tao sar piah, traditional baked breads… You get the point. While most of these are found along the shophouses, there are more hidden within the hawker centre, known as Whampoa Drive Makan Place. There are three blocks in total: Block 91 houses stalls that sell mostly breakfast food, hence many are closed after lunch, while stalls at Blk 90 are open largely for lunch and dinner with some up till midnight. (Block 92 is where the wet market is.) Here we feature our Favourite Five in block 91 (Block 90 has another set of our Favourite Five, but that’s another story for next week)
Blk 91 Whampoa Drive
China Whampoa Homemade Noodle Blk 91, 01-24, 7am-2pm (Closed on Mon)
The harried boss speaks in a very energetic, upbeat tone, and one can feel that he’s loving every moment of his customers’ demand for his freshly made noodles (you mian, ban mian and mian fen kueh). The soft but resilient, and slightly springy noodles come in a sweet and robust pork stock, with other ingredients like manis leaves, big fresh prawns with the mid section peeled, fried anchovies and pieces of lightly marinated minced pork that look like fluffy little clouds. The mushrooms, however, seems redundant has they hardly have any flavour. They also offer decadent toppings like abalone clams and fish maw.
Loy Kee Chicken Rice & Porridge Blk 91, 01-49/50, 7am-9pm (Closed on Mon)
Before the auntie places our order on the table, we could smell the minced ginger in the condiment container and the spring onions in the soup – promising little details of a good meal ahead. Loy Kee has been around since 1953, and is now run by a second generation, the elder son Mr Loy Sai Hong. Mr Loy claims he has not changed his father’s recipe, which is why the chillies still come in bigger chunks, whereas others’ are finely blended. He adds little garlic and lime juice in the concoction, so one can not only feel the zing, but also taste the chilli’s fruity taste. The tender and flavourful chicken is drench in a nicely balanced mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil. As for the rice, it looks and feels like plain grains but it packed full of the flavour of chicken oils.
Xin Heng Feng Guo Tiao Tan Blk 91, 01-14/15, 5pm-10pm (Closed on Tue)
Go to Block 91 pass 6pm and the light and crowd will guide you to this stall. While most of the other stalls are closed, they are open beyond the evenings to serve fish head steamboat. Everyone who orders from them sit around the stall, and the middle-aged bosses and helpers would push around dim sum trolleys look a like to up sell (but not pushy) with dishes like fish roe, preserved mustard green (robust with meat flavour and not too oily), braised boiled eggs and duck wings. Back to the soup, it is smoky, with the alluring flavour of teepo (dried flat sole fish) but not overly salty, even if you slurp to the very last drop. It is a little creamy, likely to be from the well-stewed fish bones. Be careful where you sit as the smoke can irritate your eyes.
Guang Dong Xiao Shi 01-21, 7am-1.30pm
Prefer something light in the morning? How about some really simple but appetising porridge? The one they have here is done Cantonese style, gooey but less so compared with the dim sum version. It has a sweet flavour that, according to the boss, comes from the fish paste and peanuts which he simmers until they dissolve. Before serving, he tops it up with standard sesame oil and pepper to up the yum quotient. You have a choice of minced pork and fish cake or century egg.
Whampoa Prawn Noodle 01-39, 5.30am-12pm (Closed on Sun)
People familiar with this food centre already know about them but for the benefit of the uninitiated – this, you must try. The sauce (for the dry version) is a wonderful blend of ketchup, sambal and blessed with some crushed pork lard. The flavour is sophisticated, not plain tomato-ey kind that makes you feel cheated. It comes with slices of halfed prawns and lean pork. The fried shallots are unusually crispy, robust and addictive. We managed to fish out from the owners that they stir the factory produced crisps shallots with lard oil. Finally, the soup tastes like there’s 100 prawn head in your mouth, slightly withheld by the flavour of pork stock.