$6 Bak Chor Mee Pok, with an extra $4 bowl of meat balls

The first time I tasted the Tai Wah minced por noodles or Bak Chor Mee (BCM) was in the early 80’s when my father brought me to their stall at the corner of Hill Street and New Bridge Road. Tai Wah then occupied a little stall within a coffee shop right next to the Singapore River (yes, the old smelly one with gezillion bumboats carry goods, and not the current sterile one with duck boats carrying camera toting tourists). Even then in the 80’s, there was a queue of at least 20-30 mins for a bowl of noodles. Yet, people still wait patiently for their turn. After all, isn’t it the old saying that goes, “the longer you have to wait for something, the more you will appreciate it!”

So what makes the Tai Wah BCM so special. Many people have their take on it, but to me, one word…..”Vinegar”. Sure the noodles are fresh and firm, the minced pork prepared perfectly, and the mix of ingredients just right. Yet, the vinegar used in the preparation of the gravy is the thing that just stands out for me. The vinegar simply brings out all the flavors of the mix. Apparently in the old days, the Boss would shop for the freshest ingredients each morning to endure only the best tastes reaches the mouth and palates of ready customers. The piece of deep fried fish or ‘Tee Por” and some deep fired lard or “chee yow zhar” adds the delightful crispiness you get in a bowl of dry noodles. All natural healthy fats here, none of the trans-fat rubbish. In the 80’s, you could still sample a slice of pork kidney in the mix. According to the boss today, they took that out in the late 90’s, because pork kidneys were getting increasingly hard to obtain, difficult preparation to remove the smell notwithstanding. Apart from that, the quality has remained fairly constant, which is  a great tribute to the management, though prices, like everything else in Singapore, has gone progressively northwards.

Back in the 80’s when Tai Wah was at Hill Street, an interesting tidbit that sticks to my mind was the store next to Tai Hwa. The store then was manned by a gentleman who sold Duck Rice. The interesting thing was that he did not have a thumb in his left hand. The rumor was that he lost it while chopping his ducks. Hmmm, wonder who was the lucky one who had an extra digit on his plate.

In the 90’s, with the urban renewal in the boat quay area, Tai Wah was forced to move a few times. They first moved from Hill Street to the Hill Street Hawker Centre (now defunct). From the Hill Street Hawker Centre, they then moved to the Marina Square Hawker Centre. It was not uncommon to see long lines snaking from the Tai Wah stall in Marina, with many of their neighbours complaining that Tai Wah’s customers were obstructing their business. When the management at Marina Square decided to raise their rental to an all time high, Tai Wah decided enough was enough. They bought over a coffee shop along Crawford Lane in the mid 2000’s, and have been there ever since.

These days, 2 of my sons, J and I share my love for the BCM. Each time we go overseas, the first makan stop when we get home is either Tai Wah or the Lorong 29 Swee Guan Hokkien Noodles, the latter is another story for another day. One of us will queue up and reinforcements will come to carry the food off when it is ready. The mixing of the noodles and the ingredients must be mixed gently to ensure the sauce is well mixed in. When we tuck in and savor the multitude of flavors bursting in our mouths, I and myself will always look at each other, nodding in delight with I always quipping, “Daddy, still the best, ya?” So true, I! The best things in life need not be that expensive. It’s whom you get to share them with which make them the way they are.