1. Wen Wen Big Prawn Mee
#01-147, 51 Old Airport Rd, S390051. Tel: 9026-5983. Open daily noon-2pm; 5.30pm-10pm, except Mon. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/wenwenbigprawnmee
A week ago, this six-year-old prawn noodle business moved from a food centre in Geylang Bahru to Old Airport Road Food Centre. Which means it’s joining a serious prawn mee war: there are already three popular prawn mee stalls here: Albert Street Prawn Noodles, Whitley Road Big Prawn Noodles and Kallang Cantonese Prawn Noodle. But Wen Wen’s edge over the competition is its unique hotpotstyle prawn mee. It features a potful of prawn mee stock enriched with crab, jumbo prawns, clams and — if you’re willing to splurge — abalone. The best part? Free-flow soup and noodles to go along with it.
Unlike a regular quick prawn mee meal, friendly towkay Richard Sng, 59, wants customers to take their time with this prawn hotpot and eat till they’re bursting at the seams. Richard used to be in the printing business before he decided to pursue his passion for food. He picked prawn mee because it is his favourite hawker dish. He worked for a few months at a prawn mee stall at Adam Road (he won’t say which one) to pick up the tricks of the trade before venturing into his own business. The idea for hotpot prawn mee came about two years ago, when he decided he needed something to keep things fresh. Sadly, on our weekday visit at lunchtime, we’re his only patrons. Probably because his new stall is located at an obscure corner of the labyrinthine food centre, though the sight of the luxurious hotpot during our tasting draws envious stares from neighbouring tables.
ON THE MENU: Although the stall name says “big prawn mee,” the jumbo prawns, called Indian white prawns, about six inches long, are only available when you order the hotpot (call ahead to reserve). Other than the luxe hotpot, everything else is humble fare. The basic Prawn Mee comes with small crustaceans measuring about 1.5-inch each, served in a light brown broth. On top of that, you can get noodles topped with different pig parts, like Pig Tail. The Seafood Hotpot comes in two sizes: from $50 for up to two diners.
Prawn Mee ($4)
The entry-level offering of noodles with prawn broth, pork ribs and shrimp with a touch of fried shallots and shallot oil for flavour. We’re not entirely sold: the small local farmed shrimp are rather limp and the stock, boiled with prawn's heads and pork bones for several hours, is too light, though there’s a nice piquancy from the chilli powder.
Seafood Hotpot ($60; $120 with abalone, feeds 5-6 pax)
A whole South African freshwater crab sits in a steaming pool of the same prawn mee broth from the basic bowl. The pot is also studded with bits of small intestine and pork ribs. Served on the side: four jumbo prawns, Lala clams (local Venus clams) and for our extra decadent version, eight whole Aussie abalone, fresh from the can. Loaded with these fancier ingredients, the original stock magically transforms into a full-bodied and umami brew, with a richer mouthfeel. The jumbo prawns are delish with toothsome flesh and the springy abalone lovely. Our favourite item, though, is the humble pig’s offal: the small intestines in the soup are clean-tasting and tender. Meanwhile, the crab is succulent and sweet, with plenty of creamy roe. Free-flow bowls of tasty dry yellow mee tossed in fragrant chilli sauce, shallot oil and dried shallots are served alongside. Do not ladle the soup onto your noodles as the chilli ruins the briny flavours of the soup. If you like, ask for plain noodles on the side to turn your hotpot into a giant bowl of prawn mee. According to Richard, the $50 hotpot offers the same ingredients, except the South African crab is replaced by less premium local farmed crab. And of course, there’s no abalone.
BOTTOM LINE: Not strictly prawn mee, since the hotpot seems to get most of its flavour from the crab. But it’s got everything we love about the dish: robust broth, spicy noodles and yummy seafood. And the customisable, communal experience is fun. Skip the pricey abalone for a more economical, if not very glamorous hotpot feast. $$
2. Sumo Big Prawn Mee
#01-72, Ang Mo Kio Ave 4 Blk 628, S560628. Tel: 9299-2621. Open daily 9am-9pm, except Mon. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/sumobigprawnnoodle
We’re at Sumo Big Prawn Mee bright and early on a weekday, and a queue about 15 people deep has already formed. And it grows longer throughout our meal. People are flocking to this Ang Mo Kio stall for the extra luxurious noodles which feature premium seafood like jumbo prawns, crayfish and lobster. It looks like any other hawker stall, except a $3,000 sashimi-style chiller displays rows of lobsters and crayfish on ice.
The Ang Mo Kio stall is owned by fresh-faced Desmond Neo, 27, who cooks up the “sumo” prawn mee, and business partner, Jerry Neo, 26, who assists him. “We both cannot study lah, that’s why we became hawkers,” quips Desmond. In fact, he has been working at this hawker centre for more than a decade. Before opening Sumo last September, he worked at his dad’s hokkien mee stall just a few rows away (the stall is still operating), but he wanted to strike out on his own and try something more adventurous in the kitchen.
"Lobsters are often sold for a high price in Singapore. So I want to make lobsters more affordable for people," says Desmond. He adds that the soup for his noodles is based on the prawn stock recipe his dad uses for his Hokkien mee. He also leverages the relationship with his dad’s seafood supplier, who now supplies him with wild Malaysian sea prawns, Asian crayfish and lobsters, and more premium lobster varieties from Colombia. Desmond has his seafood delivered twice daily, and says he orders just enough each day to ensure freshness. Check the stall’s Facebook page before you visit for updates on stocks.
ON THE MENU: There are usually four types of seafood available, but only three were on offer during our visit. The base for the light, sweet broth here features clams, pork bones and lots of prawn heads boiled for several hours. Upon each order, the selected crustacean as well as a handful of fresh, tender Lala clams are quickly boiled in a saucepan of the stock with a glug of Chinese rice wine. Cooking the extra seafood in the broth results in a noticeable difference in flavour with each serving. The broth and seafood are then ladled into a bowl of noodles, before being topped with a spoonful of lard, chilli powder and blanched beansprouts. Only soup noodles are offered here.
Colombian Lobster Bee Hoon Soup (From $24.90)
While you can choose between yellow egg mee or fine bee hoon, we recommend the bee hoon. The egg mee imparts an unpleasant starchiness to the soup. The broth here is stellar: fairly rich but not cloyingly thick, with a pleasant sweetness and heady seafood aroma. This lobster-spiked soup, enriched with the juices of the umami crustacean, is the most delicious and sweetest of all the three options we sample. The rock lobster itself, a whole bug cut into half, is a little less impressive. Its tail meat clings stubbornly to the shell, which suggests slight undercooking, and part of the flesh is a little mealy. Not quite worth the price, though it also comes with a couple of big prawns. There’s a cheaper Asian rock lobster at $18.90, but it was sold out.
Crayfish Bee Hoon Soup (From $13)
This is the real gem here. A lot more affordable than the lobster, but still offering an umami, if slightly less sweet broth. The flesh on these crustaceans are bouncy, flavourful and falls from the shell more easily. Each bowl comes with two whole crayfish. Pretty good value.
Big Prawn Noodle ($8)
We wanted to order the mega-sized Jumbo Big Prawn Noodle Set ($16.90) which features grilled giant tiger prawns, but it was unavailable during our tasting. So we settle for this bowl instead, featuring three run-of-the-mill three-inch sized tiger prawns that are more medium than “big”. They’re fresh and firm, if a little bit bland. The soup here is the lightest and least flavourful among those we sampled, but still quite good, if not as delicious as the more famous stalls offering the dish out there.
BOTTOM LINE: The prawn soup here tastes the most umami if you order lobster or crayfish to go with it. But the latter gives you more bang for your buck. Avoid lunchtime and go in the morning for a shorter wait. $