Local members of the food industry also see JB Ah Meng as a place to relax after a hard day's work. You might find Singapore's most internationally known chef Justin Quek there, as well as Jason Tan, head of the Michelin-starred Corner House, CEO of Jumbo Group Ang Kiam Meng, Executive Chairman of Tung Lok Restaurants Andrew Tjioe.
Experience makes dreams come true
The restaurant's name ‘JB Ah Meng’ is rather enigmatic. Its owner Wang Feng, 53, hails from Ipoh, Malaysia, not Johor Bahru (JB) as you might think. He became an apprentice in Kuala Lumpur at the age of 14, and now has over 30 years of culinary experience under his belt.
Wang had tried operating a zi char stall in a café, but it wasn't until 2013, when he opened JB Ah Meng in Lorong 23 Geylang, that he came into public attention. His Malaysian zi char was evidently a novelty to the area, proved by the long line of crowded tables in the alleys outside the little restaurant, even in the middle of the night.
“Like many businesses, it took us around 2 years to stabilise”. Johor Bahru is a general term for Malaysian zi char and Ah Meng is my nickname.” Wang explains.
The restaurant moved to a better location at 534 Geylang Road in November 2016, where there is air-conditioned seating.
Many foodies go to JB Ah Meng for its famous White Pepper Crab. Wang stir-fries top quality Sarawak white pepper, ginger and spring onions with meaty Sri Lankan crabs on high heat to create a sublime experience for customers. The white pepper is spicy but not overly fiery, which complements the crab perfectly without overwhelming the taste.
San Lou Bee Hoon is another signature dish. Rice vermicelli mixed with dried shrimps, shredded squid and soy sauce is fried like a pancake until crisp on the sides. The crunchiness leaves a satisfying flavour in the mouth, astounding many customers. ‘San Lou’, Wang explains, is named after a renowned restaurant in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, where they cook bee hoon in the same way. The dish, brought over by Wang, subsequently became an unexpected hit in Singapore.
He is also especially proud of his Garlic Chilli Lala. Lala is a type of plump Filipino clam, which, under Wang’s superb skills, becomes an outstanding dish.
Don’t worry if you’re vegetarian – there are also plenty of extraordinary items in that department. Snap beans with Lotus and Stir-fried Chinese Chives are popular dishes in JB Ah Meng that you won’t see in normal zi char restaurants.
American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain publicly declared in 2016 that he would like to incorporate four Singaporean dishes into his new food market in New York, one of which is JB Ah Meng’s White Pepper Crab.
Wang feels proud and honoured that his dish is being considered on the same level as chilli crabs and black pepper crabs, but he ultimately refused Bourdain’s invitation. It is his wish to focus on his little restaurant in Geylang and serve the locals.
"Our menu is slightly different from other zi chars. It only contains 35 options, as we prefer quality to quantity. After 30 years in the field, I concluded that the very essence of my cooking could be condensed into these dishes. That customers choose to eat here is the biggest stamp of approval for us."
JB Ah Meng Restaurant
534 Geylang Rd