Premium economy: 10 cheap and good eats in Ang Mo Kio

(Clockwise from top left) Pork rib soup at Rong Cheng Rou Gu Cha, Banh Mi Saigon's "special great", char siew and roast pork rice at Char Siu Lang and Shanghai Renjia’s sheng jian bao. ST PHOTOS: WONG AH YOKE

SINGAPORE – Many people say good food abounds in Ang Mo Kio. But, after living there for more than a decade, I will say that while there is certainly good food to be found, it is not as plentiful as some make it out to be. This is, after all, a large estate which stretches from Upper Thomson Road to the Central Expressway.

From my experience, reputations based on rave online reviews are often unwarranted. Long queues may just mean the hawker is slow, not that the food is good. After months of scouring for gems, here are 10 reasons to return to Ang Mo Kio.

Char Siu Lang

Char Siu Lang by hawker couple Ivan Leong and Stephanie Ng is one of the new stalls in Ang Mo Kio worth a special trip for its Malaysian-style char siew. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

01-1697 Maxim Stars Coffee Shop, 340 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1

Open: 11am to 6pm, Thursdays to Tuesdays; closed on Wednesdays

Mr Ivan Leong, 35, a former insurance financial adviser, ventured into the food business only five years ago, but whips up a mean char siew. He was planning to start his own business at the time and his wife Stephanie Ng, 32, suggested he pick up some cooking skills.

As luck would have it, his friend was hiring for a char siew stall and Mr Leong took the opportunity to learn to make the Cantonese BBQ pork. The stall was an erstwhile franchisee of Roast Paradise, which specialises in Kuala Lumpur-style char siew made with pork belly covered in maltose.

Mr Leong tweaked the recipe to make it his own, then opened Char Siu Lang in a Bukit Merah coffee shop in 2020, but was forced to close in February due to manpower issues. He opened his Ang Mo Kio stall in October 2022.

A plate of char siew and roast pork rice at Char Siu Lang costs $5.50. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

Ms Ng, who also used to work in insurance, helps to take orders and handles back-end operations such as purchasing.

Char Siu Lang offers three cuts of char siew – lean, half fat and fatty. A plate of char siew rice or noodles costs $4.50.

The fatty cut is all melt-in-the-mouth tenderness with charred crisp edges. It is also rather sweet, to balance out the lumps of fat. I recommend asking for the half fat cut, if available, for those who are turned off by too much fat.

The stall also sells roast pork, which boasts a nicely crisp crackling, though the meat is a little too soft. There is roast chicken as well, which I find a tad dry.

The best combination is roast meat and char siew rice ($5.50), but if you want to try all three meats, get the trio for $7.50. The stall accepts CDC vouchers.

Ah Five Hainanese Chicken Rice

Ah Five Hainanese Chicken Rice serves only the more expensive kampung chicken. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

158 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4

Open: 8.30am to 3.30pm daily

Opened two years ago by 31-year-old hawker Natalie Lee, this stall quickly drew long queues for its delicious chicken rice. Ms Lee’s father Lee Tai Keng, now in his 70s, is the founder of the popular Five Star Chicken Rice, which he sold when he retired more than 10 years ago.

It uses kampung or free-range chicken, which has yellow skin and firmer flesh than the pale broiler chickens used by many hawkers. It has better flavour too, with a nice bite and a thick, gelatinous skin. A plate of chicken rice costs $5.50 and the stall accepts CDC vouchers.

The kampung chicken at Ah Five Chicken Rice is flavourful with a nice bite. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

The rice is nice and fragrant too. If there is any fault to be found, it is that the soya sauce ladled over the chicken is a tad salty and does not do the dish justice.

Xi Xiang Feng Yong Tau Fu

Xi Xiang Feng Yong Tau Fu has been a stalwart in Ang Mo Kio for more than 30 years. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

01-23 Ang Mo Kio Central Market & Food Centre, 724 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6

Open: 7am to 6pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays; closed on Sundays and Mondays

This popular yong tau foo stall has been around for more than 30 years. One cannot talk about good chow in Ang Mo Kio without adding it to the list.

It draws snaking queues at all hours, so be prepared to wait at least 30 minutes for your bowl.

Two prominent signs exhort you to first pick your yong tau foo pieces and then place your order before standing in line.

The selection of ingredients is huge, ranging from the usual stuffed beancurd and ladies’ fingers to deep-fried pork balls and fish meat patties that are all housemade. There is also deep-fried pig skin, boiled pig intestines and cuttlefish.

Xi Xiang Feng’s yong tau foo comes with well-balanced sweet and chilli sauces. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

The pork balls here are a must-try, as they are well-seasoned and taste fresh. I like that all the deep-fried items are given a bath in hot oil to crisp them up before serving.

Prices range from 70 cents to $1 a piece and you need to buy at least six pieces – usually including noodles (70 cents) or chee cheong fun (80 cents) – so minimum spending here is $4.20. 

I usually find the sweet sauce at most yong tau foo stalls too sugary, but the one here is not and blends well with the chilli sauce, which is a little piquant and not fiery.

I used to find the beehoon here rather unique, with more bite and elasticity. However, it tastes just like the regular stuff these days.

Lao San Kway Chap

Lao San Kway Chap draws long queues at all hours. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

01-1222, Block 232 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3

Open: 8am to 8pm, Fridays to Wednesdays; closed on Thursdays

This is one of the island’s most popular kway chap stalls, judging from the epic queues every day. There is a good selection of stewed innards and meat, including big and small intestines and stomach, to go with the kway (flat rice sheets) in a soya sauce-flavoured soup.

But if you like variety at a modest price tag, the $5 single-person set is the way to go. The one I try comes with a selection of big intestine, pork belly, beancurd and fishcake.

A one-person Lao San kway chap set costs $5. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

Some days, I pick what I want. A plate of big intestines, pig skin and pork belly comes up to $6.50. You can pay with CDC vouchers here.

Everything is cooked to just right, with the intestines boasting a bit of spring and the meat not too soft. The gravy has an understated blend of spices that does not overpower the flavours. And the chilli sauce gets a thumbs up for its tanginess.

If the kway were thinner and smoother, the dish would be perfection itself.

Rong Cheng Rou Gu Cha

Rong Cheng Rou Gu Cha reopened in Ang Mo Kio when founder Lim Hai Chay came out of retirement in 2021. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

505 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8

Open: 10am to 8pm daily

Rong Cheng bak kut teh was started by Mr Lim Hai Chay in Sin Ming in 1976, but disappeared about seven years ago when the founder, who is in his 70s, called it a day.

Luckily for fans of his peppery pork rib soup, Mr Lim was coaxed out of retirement in 2021 by a disciple who partnered him to open Rong Cheng Rou Gu Cha in this Ang Mo Kio coffee shop. The brand has expanded to outlets in Yishun and Hougang, but this comeback stall is where I go for my fix.

Mr Lim is credited for being the first one to use what he calls “dragon ribs” – loin ribs with a long bone – for the dish. Called Signature Dragon Rib Soup ($9), limited orders are available daily and it is worth paying more for.

The ribs at Rong Cheng Rou Gu Cha are meaty and not too soft. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

But I am also happy with the shorter pieces in the Pork Rib Soup ($6.50). I get three very meaty ribs, plus a smaller piece cooked just right – with the pork tender but not so soft that the meat falls off the bone. There is still some bite, and the meat is juicy and full of flavour.

The broth is just the way I like it too – peppery enough to have punch without masking the sweetness of the pork.

The stall also sells pig innards in the same soup such as Pork Liver Soup ($5.50), Pig’s Intestine Soup ($5.50) and Pig Stomach Soup ($5.50). The Pork Trotters ($6.50), stewed in dark soya sauce, is worth ordering as well.

Yuan Wei Hand-made Soon Kueh

Yuan Wei Hand-made Soon Kueh does not have fixed days off and its soon kueh sells out early. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

226 Eating House, 226F Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1

Open: 8am to 12.30pm, Mondays to Fridays; 7.30am to 12.30pm, Saturdays and Sundays; no fixed days off

Not many people know that soon kueh is traditionally made with bamboo shoots (soon is the Chinese name for bamboo shoot) because most stalls replace it with cheaper bangkuang or jicama these days.

Yuan Wei is one of the rare places that does it the old-fashioned way.

It offers three kinds of fillings for the Teochew steamed dumpling: bamboo shoot ($1.70 each), bangkuang ($1.40 each) and chives ($1.30 each).

My favourite is bamboo shoot because it has more crunch and flavour than bangkuang. It is also less watery. The stall used to make the filling entirely with bamboo shoot in the past, but now it is half shoot and half bangkuang. It is still good, though. There is also dried shrimp to give the dumpling a slightly more robust flavour and aroma.

The soon kueh at Yuan Wei Hand-made Soon Kueh has a filling of bamboo shoot, bangkuang and dried shrimp. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

It is best enjoyed with the dark sauce, which is very moreish and not overly sweet or salty. The chilli sauce is searing hot but delicious.

The stall makes its dumplings in small batches, so you may need to wait for the next steamer-load to be ready if the shelf is bare. Go early because the bamboo shoot dumpling usually sells out first.

Yuan Wei does not have fixed days off. It may be shuttered three or four days in a row or open daily for weeks at a stretch. For the rest of May, it is closed only on May 16.

It marks its closures on a calendar at the front of the stall. Take a photo of it to keep track of No Kueh Days.

Shanghai Renjia

Shanghai Renjia is owned by Mr and Mrs Zhang Jing Shan, who moved to Singapore from the Chinese city more than 30 years ago. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

01-3046, 151 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, tel: 6368-6927

Open: 11am to 3pm, 6 to 10pm, Tuesdays to Sundays; closed on Mondays

The first time I ate at Shanghai Renjia was more than 10 years ago when it was in Sembawang Road. I fell headlong in love with its shengjianbao, pillowy pan-fried buns filled with a juicy meat patty and a crisp base.

But it was a small space and the wait was long because there were only two people running the show – Mr Zhang Jing Shan, who ran the front of house, while Mrs Zhang did the cooking.

The eatery moved to a bigger space in an HDB block in Ang Mo Kio in 2012 and hired some help. But there are only seven tables, so it is best to make a reservation, especially on weekends.

Besides pan-fried buns ($8 for four), you should order the xiaolongbao or soup dumplings ($8 for four), which boasts a thin skin and a delicious soup-drenched minced pork filling.

Shanghai Renjia’s sheng jian bao is one of the best in Singapore. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

I usually order the ultra-crispy Shanghai spring rolls ($7 for five), which boast an amazingly juicy vegetable filling.

The eatery accepts CDC vouchers.

Mr and Mrs Zhang, both 64, were schoolmates and grew up in Shanghai, where they were also neighbours. They moved to Singapore with their son, who was just 10 at the time, more than 30 years ago when Mr Zhang got a job here as an engineer with a Japanese-owned flour mill.

When the mill moved to Ipoh, the couple decided to start Shanghai Renjia, which translates to Shanghai People, in a foodcourt in the Ubi industrial area in 2002. They remained there for five years before moving to Sembawang.

The Zhangs say they are happy to serve Singaporeans their hometown dishes. And, judging from the packed tables most days, the feeling is mutual.

Poh Hua Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle

Poh Hua Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle moved to Ang Mo Kio eight years ago. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

01-23 Chong Boon Market & Food Centre, 453A Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10

Open: 6am to 2pm, Saturdays to Thursdays; closed on Fridays

There are three bak chor mee stalls at this hawker centre in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10, with two of them drawing persistently long queues starting in the morning. Poh Hua is the third, drawing a more modest line of two to three people at most times.

But this is where I head to whenever I feel the urge for a bowl of minced pork noodles. While each stall has its merits – the other two have pork liver as a topping – Poh Hua stands out with its umami-packed chilli sauce that stall owner Huang Chaihua, 58, makes each afternoon after closing hours.

The blend of chilli paste, dried shrimp, garlic, shallots and ginger is fried until fragrant, then tossed with a spoonful each of lard and black vinegar, to produce a beautifully balanced seasoning for the noodles.

Also noteworthy is the topping of braised minced pork and sliced mushrooms, also cooked by Madam Huang.

Poh Hua Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle has a lot of character because of its housemade chilli sauce. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

She learnt to prepare bak chor mee when she was working at the Fei Siong stall at the Takashimaya basement foodcourt 18 years ago.

After spending three years there, she left to open her own stall in Sembawang, coming up with her own chilli sauce recipe. She moved to her current location eight years ago.

What tops her noodles are freshly cooked lean pork, as well as fishball and pork ball. But there is no liver.

I usually order the dry version with mee kia or thin egg noodles ($4), which have a smooth and springy texture. And I love that Madam Huang always adds extra crispy lard bits, after I made the request the first time I ate at her stall.

Penang Delights

Penang Delights serves the most authentic Penang prawn mee soup this writer has found in a Singapore hawker centre. ST PHOTOS: WONG AH YOKE

01-08 S11 Food Court, 711 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8

Open: 9am to 9pm daily

This stall sells the most authentic Penang-style prawn mee soup that I have found in a hawker centre here. It costs a decent $5 for a bowl of noodles topped with two mid-sized prawns, pork slices, fishcake, beansprouts and kangkong.

What really gives the dish the unmistakable Penang flavour is the broth. It is robust with flavours of prawn and pork, and a punch of chilli heat you do not get from Singapore-style prawn mee soup.

Spice fiends can add a dollop of chilli sauce – another Penang staple – which deepens the flavours even further. I prefer to use that as a dip for the meat and prawns.

Penang hawkers like to add sugar to the broth and I find the version here a tad syrupy – though the sweetness level has come down a bit since I first ate at the stall many years ago. Tone it down a bit more and the dish will not only get better, but also healthier.

Banh Mi Saigon

Banh Mi Saigon is a takeaway stall that shares space with a Vietnamese grocery. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

01-2668, 505 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8

Open: 9am to 9pm daily

Banh Mi Saigon is quite an oddity as it shares space with a Vietnamese grocer at the corner of an HDB block. So do not make the mistake of looking for it, as many have done, inside the coffee shop at the other end of the same block.

This stall has probably the biggest selection of banh mi fillings in Singapore, with 14 types to choose from, packed within a stubby Vietnamese baguette. They include roast pork ($9.90), mixed pork intestine and ear ($9.90), salt-baked roast chicken ($8.90) and fried fish cake ($8.90).

The best value item – also my favourite – is called “special great” on the menu and costs $7.90. It has three types of cured meats, each with a different texture and flavour, including one that is spicy. There is pork pate and a bit of pork floss. Vegetables like coriander, tomatoes, cucumber, chilli and pickles freshen up the sandwich and cut the fat. Every bite gives you a different taste.

Ban Mi Saigon’s “special great” comes with different kinds of cured pork and a pate inside a stubby baguette. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

The banh mi is prepared only upon order, so you have to wait for about five minutes for the baguette to be toasted to a crisp, and longer if there are other customers. And it is best eaten within 15 minutes, a notice at the stall states, or it goes soft.

The problem is that this is a takeaway stall – save for a few low tables and chairs that you can huddle at, which are often filled. So get cracking as you depart.

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