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Spicy, sour noodles worth the burn

The Sunday Times ranks eight hot and sour cup noodles popular in Singapore

Suan la fen, or hot and sour noodles, are the latest instant noodle trend. The Straits Times food critics review eight popular brands.
(Clockwise from top right) The Sunday Times food correspondent Eunice Quek on Zoom with Wild Rocket Group chef-owner Willin Low, ST food critic Wong Ah Yoke and ST food editor Tan Hsueh Yun, with their unanimous winner - Haichijia's suan la fen.
(Clockwise from top right) The Sunday Times food correspondent Eunice Quek on Zoom with Wild Rocket Group chef-owner Willin Low, ST food critic Wong Ah Yoke and ST food editor Tan Hsueh Yun, with their unanimous winner - Haichijia's suan la fen.ST PHOTOS: EUNICE QUEK

If instant noodles are among your work-from-home comfort foods, try suan la fen or sour and spicy noodles, the hottest cup-noodle trend from China to sweep Singapore.

Each cup - printed with cute cartoons and catch-phrases - is filled with individually packed ingredients. More fancy options include vacuum-sealed clams, scallops and mushrooms - along with seasoning powders, vinegar and mala sauce.

A popular flavour is Hei Ren Bu Luo's mala oden, comprising fishballs and a striped fishcake with roe filling.

And unlike typical cup noodles that come with a flimsy aluminium-foil lid, the suan la fen cup has a cover that can be properly secured to ensure no heat escapes and your noodles are properly cooked.

The average cooking time is five minutes and the portion is good enough for a light meal or satisfying supper.

Supermarket chain Sheng Siong carries a few brands. You can also find a wider range on e-commerce platforms such as Shopee, Lazada, Qoo10 and Carousell, but preorders are usually required and prices and delivery charges vary.

The Sunday Times did a taste test of eight types of spicy cup noodles via video-conferencing app Zoom. The judges were ST food editor Tan Hsueh Yun, ST food critic Wong Ah Yoke and chef-owner Willin Low of the Wild Rocket Group.

Each noodle could get up to 30 points - 10 each for taste, texture and ingredients.

The top two cups came from the Haichijia brand, which bears the face of Hong Kong actor Bobby Yip on its packaging.

The suan la fen winner had the best noodle texture, with a good dose of spice, while the runner-up, hua jia fen (spicy clam noodles), had a lighter broth.

Ms Tan said: "The top noodles didn't paralyse my taste buds. The ones that failed had no nuance and no subtlety in the flavours. I desperately wanted to love the oden, but the spice just kept hammering at my palate."

Chef Low added: "The winner ticks the boxes of ma (numbing) and la (spicy). For the spicy clam noodles, I wanted to keep drinking the soup. It didn't taste like instant noodles, but like someone had cooked it."

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Score: 66/90

Price: $19.90 for a carton of six on Shopee (about $3.30 a cup)

Verdict: The unanimous winner for noodles with the best texture and a well-balanced spicy and fragrant soup.

Mr Wong Ah Yoke says: "The noodles are just right - very smooth and they have a good bite. Others were either too soggy or too hard."

Ms Tan Hsueh Yun liked the inclusion of peanuts, which retained their crunch even after soaking in the hot soup. She said: "I love the mala flavour, where you still get that numbing feel without the intense heat."

Mr Willin Low, who thought the soup looked "very scary", said he would jazz up the noodles by adding pork slices.

No. 2


Score: 65/90

Price:$18 for a carton of six on Carousell ($3 a cup)

Verdict: A standout for its light and flavourful broth, which the judges happily lapped up.

Mr Low said: "This soup is not too salty and very drinkable. I don't want to stop."

Mr Wong, who liked the addition of mushrooms, agreed that because it was less spicy than the rest, the soup was "drinkable till the last drop".

No. 3 (tie)


Score: 64/90

Price: $3.30 from Sheng Siong

Verdict: Ms Tan liked that the noodles offered plenty of ingredients, including scallops.

Mr Wong and Mr Low agreed that the scallops were tasty, and enjoyed the sweet and slightly salty soup.

Like the second-place hua jia fen, this broth was also less spicy and easier for the judges to drink.

No. 3 (tie)


Score: 64/90 Price: $3 from Sheng Siong Verdict: The spiciest of all the noodles tasted here, with a good punch of vinegar.

Ms Tan pointed out that there were many ingredients such as cubed beancurd, peas and rolls of beancurd skin. "What sets this apart is that everything has a distinctive taste and texture. The ingredients are superb. I love this, except for the spiciness."

As he slurped the noodles, Mr Low said he felt like he was in China. "Eating this in winter will be so shiok."

No. 5


Score: 61/90

Price: $3.30 from Sheng Siong

Verdict: The only cup that sent all the judges into a coughing frenzy with its spicy and sour soup.

Mr Wong said: "It's not that spicy because my lips are not burning. But there's something that really hits your throat."

The soup was on the sour side for Mr Low, while Ms Tan found it way too spicy.

Like the third-place Lao Minnan Vermicelli with Scallop, there were also scallops, but their flavour was lost in the heat.

No. 6


Score: 59/90

Price: From $25 for six cups on Carousell (about $4.20 a cup)

Verdict: Ms Tan gave this top marks for the oden ingredients, but found everything else disappointing.

For a perfect combination, she said: "I'll take the ingredients from this and eat it with the Haichijia suan la fen."

The spicy soup fell flat for Mr Wong, who noted it was not as fragrant or tasty as the rest.

Mr Low enjoyed the texture of the noodles and the striped fishcake with roe filling. "The soup reminds me of what you get at some hot pot places, where you can't drink the oily soup that is used to just boil ingredients."

No. 7


Score: 42/90

Price: $2.50 from Sheng Siong

Verdict: Ms Tan was disturbed by what she called an "oil slick" on the noodles. But without the thick layer of oil, the soup and noodles lacked flavour.

Agreeing, Mr Low added: "It smells good, but doesn't taste good."

Mr Wong noted that the beancurd skin rolls were dry and the soya beans had gone soft in the soup.

No. 8


Score: 37/90

Price: $2.50 from Sheng Siong

Verdict: Oily and unpleasant soup with mushy noodles.

Mr Low said: "This tastes more like the instant noodles we used to get - one flavour and that's it."

The judges joked that the packaging did specify an "artificial clam flavour", which is exactly what they got.

Ms Tan added: "The spice is too overpowering, just a big punch of chilli with no nuances and no clam flavour."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 31, 2020, with the headline 'Spicy, sour noodles worth the burn'. Subscribe