Food Picks: Guan’s Mee Pok opens in Serangoon North, home-style vegetarian food

Guan’s Classic Mee Pok (left) and Vegetable fritters at Jia Le Vegetarian in Yishun. ST PHOTOS: HEDY KHOO

Handmade fish dumplings

Fans of Guan’s Mee Pok, which at its peak had 10 stalls, will be delighted to know it is back with a standalone eatery at Serangoon North Avenue 1.

A large collage of photos and newspaper articles about the brand adorning the left wall is a big hint that it is no newcomer to the food scene.

The brand is named after owner Yap Peng Guan, 52, who picked up cooking from his father and started his own brand of noodles at Maxwell Food Centre in 1995. He closed the stall in 2016, when he embarked on a rapid expansion plan and set up shop in foodcourts. The last of the outlets closed in 2022.

For new patrons, do not expect old-school Teochew-style noodles. Mr Yap, who is Hokkien, has adapted the noodles – served in clay bowls which retain heat well – to suit his own taste as well as keep up with the times.

Go for Guan’s Classic Mee Pok ($6.50), which comes with half a ramen egg. I am not a big fan of ramen egg with mee pok, but the egg you get here is tastier than the factory-made ones at some ramen shops.

The secret lies in Mr Yap’s use of sake in the soya-based marinade, which results in immense depth of flavour.

No mee kia (thin noodles) is offered – only the signature mee pok or kway teow. Mr Yap says he has yet to find a mee kia supplier that can meet his standards. 

The mee pok is broad, springy and holds up well. My noodles do not clump up even after sitting in a takeaway container for 20 minutes.

Guan’s Classic Mee Pok. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

Mr Yap is particularly proud of his housemade chilli and pork lard – the two main seasoning stars in the bowl of noodles.

The chilli delivers a fiery kick and the slow-fried pork lard is crispy and saturated with flavour. But I prefer a heavier hand with soya sauce and vinegar.

The winning dish has to be the fish dumplings, painstakingly handmade by Mr Yap. The skin is made using yellowtail fish and it takes six hours of kneading to achieve the perfectly bouncy texture. The filling is made with pork and flatfish.

Order the Watercress Yellow Tail Fish Dumpling Soup ($5.50), which comes with five dumplings. The soup is too salty, though the fresh watercress does impart a bright peppery flavour to it. When watercress is not available, lettuce is used.

Watercress Yellow Tail Fish Dumpling Soup. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

The stall does a decent rendition of Braised Pork Knuckle with Mushroom ($5.50). Mr Yap recommends ordering plain kway teow ($1.50) and pouring the braised pork knuckle gravy over it.

I try it and agree wholeheartedly with his suggestion. The stall carries a limited quantity of kway teow, so go early.

Braised Pork Knuckle with Mushroom and kway teow. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

Also worth trying is the Pig Liver ($5), seasoned with an appetising housemade garlic sauce.

The pig liver is seasoned with a housemade garlic sauce. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

For drinks, go for the Iced Kopi-O Kosong ($1.40), which is brewed by Mr Yap himself. The coffee is smooth and earthy, and has no bitter aftertaste.

Where: Guan’s Mee Pok, 01-354, Block 152 Serangoon North Avenue 1
MRT: Kovan
Open: 7am to 4.30pm daily, closed on alternate Mondays (it will be closed on Feb 13)

Cheap and tasty vegetarian dishes

(Clockwise from left) Brown rice porridge; olive vegetable rice; vegetable fritter; brown rice with egg tofu, winged beans and fried yam; and hor fun at Jia Le Vegetarian in Yishun. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

For tasty and affordable vegetarian food, head to Jia Le Vegetarian, a coffee-shop stall tucked away in a corner of Yishun. 

The stall, which opened in September 2022, serves Chinese vegetarian food presented in the style of economy rice, with a selection of cooked-to-order zi char items. 

Portions are generous. Go with at least one other person so you can order a few items to share.

The stall caters only to the breakfast and lunch crowd and closes at 2.30pm due to a lack of manpower.

Head chef Anthony Low, 23, fries up a mean plate of hor fun ($4). The white rice noodles, tinted with caramelised soya sauce, have a distinct smoky wok aroma and are served in an eggy gravy that is flavoursome and slurp-worthy.

The dish comes with two bouncy mock prawns and generous servings of fresh cai xin, wood-ear mushroom and sliced carrot. The seasoning is well-balanced and in the style of home-cooking, which is lighter on salt.

Though meat-free, the hor fun is better than the seafood hor fun at some zi char stalls.

Hor fun at Jia Le Vegetarian in Yishun. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

Another popular item is the olive vegetable fried rice ($4), which is cooked to order. Preserved olive vegetable imparts savoury flavour to the rice, which is peppered with mock char siew and mixed vegetables like sweet corn kernels, carrot and peas.

The fried rice has egg, which can be omitted on request, and comes with a serving of crispy mock goose.

Olive vegetable rice at Jia Le Vegetarian in Yishun. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

The brown rice porridge ($2.80) offers the most value for money. The hefty bowl comes packed with ingredients such as wood-ear mushroom, wolfberries, cashew nuts, fresh shiitake mushroom, braised nuts, carrot and ginger strips.

The brown rice is mixed with a small amount of white rice and they are cooked for two hours to achieve a thick, sticky texture. The porridge is lightly seasoned, allowing the natural sweetness of the wolfberries and carrot to shine.

Brown rice porridge at Jia Le Vegetarian in Yishun. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

For a meal of economy rice, the stall offers more than 20 dishes.

I recommend ordering brown rice ($1.50) with stir-fried winged beans (80 cents), egg tofu (80 cents) and fried yam ($1). The filling meal costs $4.10. 

Brown rice with egg tofu, winged beans and fried yam at Jia Le Vegetarian in Yishun. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

The stir-fried winged beans are fresh and crisp, and the egg tofu is expertly deep-fried with a tender interior and drenched in a tasty gravy. The fried yam, one of the signature dishes, has a crispy batter and is coated in a savoury sweet sauce. 

For a snack, go for the vegetable fritter ($1.30 a piece) – a crunchy medley of fresh spinach, carrot and bean sprouts held together by a crispy batter. The fritter stays crispy even when it loses heat.

Vegetable fritter at Jia Le Vegetarian in Yishun. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

Where: Jia Le Vegetarian, 01-173 Gold 186 Foodcourt, 333C Yishun Street 31
MRT: Yishun
Open: 6am to 2.30pm daily, closed on alternate Tuesdays (it will be closed on Feb 14)

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