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Put off by its speckled appearance, this prawn noodle seller was ready to dislike wholegrain noodles. To his surprise, he fell in love with it at first taste.
Now, Mr Tan Kim Leng, 49, who runs Min Nan Pork Ribs Prawn Noodle, offers wholegrain noodles as an option and recommends it to his regular customers.
He says in Mandarin: "I knew they would find it palatable because I made my fussy teenage sons try the wholegrain noodles and they asked me for more."
Those who want healthier hawker food without sacrificing flavour can get their fix at his stall on the second storey of the Tiong Bahru Market. His menu includes Prawn Noodle Dry ($3) and Prawn Noodle Soup ($3) which carry the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Choice Symbol and Lower In Calories label.
To qualify for the Lower In Calories label, a dish has to contain 500kcal or less. A typical dine-out meal contains 700 to 800kcal, while the recommended daily energy intake is 2,200kcal on average for men and 1,800kcal for women.
At $3, the portion of noodles and accompanying ingredients in both the dry and soup versions give reasonable value for money. You get two prawns, shelled and halved, succulent slices of fishcake, two meatballs and a generous serving of beansprouts and kangkong. The vegetables are carefully blanched to a perfect crunchiness.
Granted, the prawns are a little smaller than expected, but they are firm and saturated with the sweet, briny and savoury flavours of fresh seafood. In the dry version, the wholemeal yellow noodles come coated in a thin layer of thoroughly tasty chilli paste.
Unless you look closely, it is hard to tell the noodles are not the standard yellow egg noodles. Yellow egg noodles derive their chewiness from the use of an alkaline agent such as food-grade lye water, but they usually have a sharp jarring taste which not everyone can stomach.
With wholemeal yellow noodles, you get superb springiness without an overpowering aftertaste.
Mr Tan uses whole wild-caught sua lor (sand prawns) for the flavourful prawn broth. The prawns are first fried with garlic and shallots to draw out their aroma and stave off fishy odours, then put to boil.
Prawns for serving with the noodles are boiled separately and shelled.
The cooking liquid, along with prawn shells and fresh pork ribs, is added to the sand prawn stock for full-on sweetness.
Mr Tan arrives at the stall at 6.30am every morning as it takes about 11/2 hours to prepare the broth.
He learnt to make prawn noodles from his father, who started off as a street hawker in the 1960s before setting up a permanent stall at the Lim Liak Street Hawker Centre - the old name of Tiong Bahru Market.
Mr Tan added wholegrain noodles to his menu two weeks ago.
"Tradition is important, but I realise that we should keep an open mind and adapt to changes in the food business," he says.
"I used to avoid healthier food because I believed it did not taste good.
"But technology in food production has come a long way and it is possible to cook with healthier ingredients without giving up flavour."
MIN NAN PORK RIBS PRAWN NOODLE
Where: 02-31 Tiong Bahru Market, 30 Seng Poh Road
Open: 8.30am to 8.30pm (Tuesdays to Sundays). Closed on Mondays