I will probably witness the loss of many good hawker recipes in my lifetime. And as i blog about these hawkers, it has become apparent that over the next 10 years, many of these posts can serve no more than as memories of these great legends.
There are a good number of hawkers in their 70s and 80s preparing to retire from the trade. Recently, i was at Chong Boon Food Centre and had a bowl of Mee Pok Tar prepared by 76 year-old Mr Lee. Mr Lee and his recipe has stuck together for 60 years. At a tender age of 16, he was already cooking Mee Pok Tar for a living at 20 cents a bowl along the roadside of Yio Chu Kang. This self taught hawker went through years of trial and error to create his bowl of noodles. In his early years, he self-taught himself on how to make fishballs, and for a man who still wakes up at 2 am everyday to prepare all his raw ingredients, one can only imagine the kind of drive that keeps Mr Lee going at his cooking station for 6 decades.
And this 60 year-old recipe isn’t to be trifled with. Granted, the toppings have changed over the years, but as a baseline, the ribbons of mee pok are blanched perfectly, resulting in springy noodles with a bite, and coupled with the handmade fishballs, tenderised pork slices and chilli sauce, you’ll come to realize that an old recipe doesn’t equate to extravagant and bold flavours. Instead, it has its roots in simple ingredients and flavours that’s comforting to the soul and palate.
But i must be contradicting myself when i introduceto you Mr Lee’s ultimate Mee Pok Tars. For those with a bigger appetite for seafood, at $5.50, you can get a bowl of noodles with additional prawns, and slices of abalone. Mind you, the abalone slices are surprisingly sweet and if a few slices are not enough, get the $7 bowl, and you’ll get a whole abalone. This little chinese golden ingot is not overly chewy and sweet to taste. Of course, without the noodles and chilli to fall back on, you might as well settle for a seafood platter else where. SO YES, don’t mess with this ancient recipe!
But like many good hawkers in Mr Lee’s age, retirement is always something left at the back of their minds, until either their health takes a toll on them, or their lease for the stall expires. As for Mr Lee, the latter will be taking place some time next year. Chong Boon Food Centre will undergo major revamps and it is likely that he will retire from this tiring trade when the lease expires too. Mr Lee’s children are all married with families and jobs, and the only hope of seeing his dish again is if his daughter chooses to take over. So for those of you eager to have a taste of Mr Lee’s Mee Pok Tar, do it soon, before he sells his last bowl.
Address: #01-11, Chong Boon Food Centre, 453A Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10
Opening Hours: 6am to 2pm
- Mee Pok Tar – $3.50, $5.50, $7