1. PRAWN VILLAGE
#01-97 Golden Mile Food Centre, 505 Beach Rd, S199583. Open daily except Sat, 9am-5pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/pg/prawnvillage
This six-month-old Penang prawn noodle specialist is run by Anson Loo, 38, a former nurse at the National University Hospital. But it wasn’t a serendipitous decision that led Anson to became a hawker.
“My grandparents were kway chap hawkers for over 40 years and my younger brother runs Tom’s Citizoom Mee Pok Tar at Ghim Moh. Maybe I was influenced by them,” Anson tells us.
He decided to serve Penang-style prawn mee after a trip to Penang where he fell in love with a hawker stall’s prawn noodles and convinced the hawker to show him the ropes. Anson personally cooks at his stall with a part-time stall assistant.
The main difference between prawn mee found locally and the Penang rendition is that the latter is made with prawn heads and shells blitzed in a blender to form the base of the thicker soup. Sometimes, a dash of belacan or sambal is added to the brew, too.
A basic bowl of Prawn Noodles here starts from only $3, and you get two grey or glass prawns, fish cake and a slice of hard-boiled egg. There are $4 and $5 options too, which scores you more prawns.
Anson shares, “My profit margin is narrow, but I want the elderly around the area to be able to enjoy affordable prawn noodles.”
Interestingly, he has taken on two university fresh graduates as his apprentices — his way of giving back to the hawker trade as he had learnt the ropes from another hawker for free. “I don’t know if [the graduates] can sustain being [in the hawker line] or not. I won’t sugarcoat things for them!” he laughs.
But come July, Anson is standardising prices at a flat $4 per bowl of prawn noodles. "I'm taking out the $3 and $5 options as my two interns won't be able to cope with preparing the different portions," he tells us.
Prawn Noodles (Soup), $3, $4 or $5
We got the $4 bowl, with three fresh glass prawns, three pieces of tender, tasty house-made leek fishcakes, rather tough sliced pork, kang kong and a slice of hard-boiled egg floating atop the prized soup. The broth, brewed with pork and chicken bones and ground prawn heads, star anise and mixed with a dash of sambal, is not as heavy as we expected. It is light yet robust, and only mildly spicy. Penang natives may call this a cop-out, but Anson's broth packs quite a bit of flavour.
Prawn Noodles (Dry), $4
Go for this if you love fiery nosh. The thick coat of sweet sambal slicked on the yellow noodles and sinfully crunchy bits of deep fried pork lard is yum.
Bottom line: Affordable and tasty prawn noodle soup with a slightly spicy twist. $
2. LOBSTER TIME
#01-67 BS120 Makan Hub Coffeeshop, 120 Bishan St 12, S570120. Open daily 10am-9pm. Last orders 30 mins before closing. www.facebook.com/lobstertime120
This new kid on the block opened just last month. It hawks Penang-style prawn noodles with a twist: it offers large lobsters and crayfish on top of the usual prawns. It’s owned by a father-and-son duo, Chan Yoong Yuan, 47, and Chan Jun Jie, 23.
The senior Chan also owns Yu Cun Claypot Curry Fish Head at Upper Paya Lebar Road. He had roped in his eldest son Jun Jie to help out at this stall, a shy lad who toils conscientiously behind the stove.
“Being a hawker is hard work, and I’d prefer my children to take up [comfortable] office jobs. But my son is not very keen on academic studies. He told me he was interested in cooking, so I let him do that. I think children tend to follow in their parents' footsteps lah,” shares Yoong Yuan.
The duo decided to sell prawn noodles as there were no similar stalls in their Bishan vicinity. They got the recipe from one of Yoong Yuan's chefs and "right hand man" at Yu Cun, a Penang native and former prawn mee hawker who taught them the basics of cooking prawn noodles.
In addition to offering the usual wild-caught prawns, Lobster Time adds a luxurious twist to its noodles with lobsters and crayfish. "We must move with the times," laughs Yoong Yuan.
A basic bowl of glass Prawn Noodles here costs $4.50. But you can indulge in Big Prawn Noodles with Clams ($8.50), Lobster with Clams ($26.50) and the go-all-out Combo Noodles ($38.50; feeds two) with a Malaysian lobster, crayfish, wild-caught prawns, clams and half a hard-boiled egg. Kinda similar to the stall called Sumo Big Prawn Mee in Ang Mo Kio.
Combo Noodles, $38.50 (feeds two pax)
This massive bowl arrives heaving with a whole spiny lobster and a crayfish from Malaysia, two glass prawns, clams and fish cake. We ordered the soup version, but wish we had gone for the dry one tossed in sambal instead. The soup, simmered with prawn heads, prawn meat, pig and chicken bones, and spiked with house-made chilli paste, is disappointingly bland. It tastes more like a watered-down local version instead of Penang-style prawn mee. But we enjoyed the springy, briny seafood in it. Especially the fleshy 600g lobster (you get crustaceans weighing between 500g to 700g depending on the day's supply).
Crayfish Noodles, $16.50
There's no lobster in this slightly more modest bowl, but the two crayfish in it pack plenty of firm, sweet meat that go well with the al dente yellow noodles.
Bottom line: The giant bowls of lobster mee here are Instagram-friendly and a conversation starter. And the fresh seafood doesn’t disappoint. However, the prawn soup needs more work, so go for the dry noodle version instead. $-$$
PHOTOS: AIK CHEN