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Cheap & Good

Simple soul food from Whampoa Prawn Noodles at Tekka Centre

A pimped out bowl of prawn noodles is easy to find, if you are willing to pay for it.

There are stalls which throw in monster-sized crustaceans, sections of pig tail, pork ribs and even pig intestines. The prices, of course, swell with the additions.

I cannot lie. There are days when I relish a bowl of prawn noodles with a very rich broth, loaded with extras. But the prices, usually $8 and up, give me pause.

So when I want a good bowl of noodles without the frills, 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles in Tekka Centre fits the bill perfectly.

The noodles cost $3 or $4 a bowl and fuel me up properly for a shopping expedition in the wet market, where navigating those tight walkways filled with people can be a bit harrowing.


Prawn Noodles. ST PHOTO: TAN HSUEH YUN

  • 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles

    Tekka Centre, Block 665 Buffalo Road, 01-326, open: 6.30am to 2pm (Tuesday, Thursday and Friday), 6.30am to 1pm (Sunday and Monday), closed on Wednesday and Saturday

    Info: www.facebook.com/545WhampoaPrawnNoodles

    Rating: 3/5 stars

Such is the lure of these noodles that on my most recent visit there, I meet two foodie friends, spiffy in their office togs, who live nowhere close but have stopped by for a bowl before work.

You will be asked when you order if you want chilli and ketchup. Say yes to the chilli, no to the ketchup.

It will overwhelm the perky chilli sauce, which clings beautifully to the strands of beehoon, my choice for prawn mee because I am not fond of yellow noodles.

Compared to those Rococo bowls of prawn mee, these noodles seem almost plain, but all the necessary components are there: a decent number of halved prawns, sliced lean pork and the twin pleasures of crisp lard pieces and deep-fried shallots.

Somehow, the chilli, pork fat and shallots mingle to make magic on the palate. There is crunch, there is spice, there is lard, there is umami. There is nothing more that anyone needs.

The accompanying bowl of soup could have a deeper flavour, to be sure, and as the day goes on, it will concentrate as it simmers in the pot. But it is just rich enough at 7.30am.

I marvel at how a humble dish can be so nuanced. But that is the great triumph of our hawker food. Often, the dishes look like random ingredients chucked on a plate or bowl. One of my teachers in junior college once described char kway teow as a "road accident on a plate".

The class laughed raucously, but as I get older, I appreciate that the skill it takes to turn simple ingredients into food that connects with the soul is immense.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'Simple soul food'. Print Edition | Subscribe