Cheap & Good

Cheap & Good: Old-school wonton mee at Hougang Hainanese Village Centre

Wang Jiao Shu Shi’s wonton noodles with dumplings and braised chicken feet are flavourful.
Wang Jiao Shu Shi’s wonton noodles with dumplings and braised chicken feet are flavourful. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

Forget short cuts if you want good food. If you have a soft spot for oldschool hawkers who stubbornly abide by this principle, you will appreciate the wonton noodles at Wang Jiao Shu Shi at Hougang Hainanese Village Centre.

For a start, the charcoal-roasted char siew that adorns each plate is freshly prepared at the stall daily. Nothing much has changed in terms of food preparation and cooking methods at the stall since it opened for business at the food centre in 1983.

Stall owner Leng Chee San, 65, and his three siblings, aged 56 to 67, learnt to prepare Cantonese-style wonton noodles from their mother, who used to sell the dish at a stall at the former Kampong San Teng (now Bishan). His sister-in-law also helps out at the stall.

Prices start at $3 for a plate of wonton mee. The woman who took my order suggested I go for the $5 version, which has add-ons of sui kow (dumplings) and braised chicken feet. Her recommendation is spot on.

The springy egg noodles are tossed in an addictively spicy sauce. The six slices of char siew with slightly charred edges are lean and have no visible fat, so I brace myself for some serious chewing. Instead, I find them tender and tasty. The braised chicken feet are fall-offthe- bone tender and intensely flavourful.

The soup is a tad bland and nothing to shout about, compared with that of another wonton noodle stall at the same food centre. That is about the only aspect I find wanting. The filling in the dumpling has the aromatic flavour of tee poh (dried flatfish) and chunky bits of water chestnut.

  • WANG JIAO SHU SHI

  • 02-41 Hougang Hainanese Village Centre, Block 105 Hougang Avenue 1, open: 8am to 4pm (Mondays to Saturdays); closed on Sundays 

    Rating: 3.5 stars

I would have liked the filling more well-seasoned, but the regulars who patronise the stall – many of whom are seniors – don’t seem to have any complaints.

While most hawkers baulk at making Sunday their rest day, Mr Leng chooses to close his stall on Sundays.

He says in Mandarin: “We cannot cope with the Sunday crowd. We would rather sell fewer plates and avoid compromising on quality.”

But there is a lunchtime queue even on Mondays, when those in the know head for the stall.

Mr Leng, who used to take on the main duty of preparing the noodles, has since handed this over to his younger 56-year-old brother, Mr Leng Kah Whye.

The senior Mr Leng now focuses on preparing the char siew, wontons and dumplings. Each day, the stall prepares 12kg to 13kg of char siew.

Mr Leng orders chilled Indonesian pork which he marinates overnight in a special blend of ingredients, including sugar and soya sauce. He is particular about the cut of meat used, opting for pork shoulder that is less fatty.

The roasting process is critical and heat control is important to ensure the char siew is slightly charred but not overcooked, he explains.“ It is like grilling satay over charcoal. Once the meat is done, you must remove it from the heat immediately.”

He also marinates minced pork collar for the filling in the wontons and dumplings.

Every alternate day, he painstakingly peels and chops 3kg of water chestnuts to add to the dumpling filling.

Mr Leng says: “My siblings and I are getting on in age, but for as long as we are able to, we want to continue making wonton mee with that traditional taste for our customers to enjoy. When our generation is gone, it will be difficult for people to get a taste of traditional food.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 23, 2018, with the headline 'Old-school wonton mee'. Print Edition | Subscribe