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Dining Out 2 minutes 16 November 2018

Behind The Bib: Outram Park Fried Kway Teow

Frying up each 20-portion batch of char kway teow is no “wok” in the park, requiring strength and dexterity.

Singapore Hawker Behind The Bib Noodles

Where
Outram Park Fried Kway Teow
Blk 531A, Upper Cross Street
#02-17 Hong Lim Market & Food Centre

Every day, 66-year-old Ng Chin Chye and his wife wake up at 2am to get ready for work. By 3.30am, they arrive at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, where their hawker stall is. Ng is the proprietor of the popular Outram Park Fried Kway Teow, and for the last two decades, he’s been dishing out plates of sweet, smoky char kway teow to customers at Chinatown’s first and most iconic hawker centre.
The queue forms early at Outram Park Fried Kway Teow (Pic: MICHELIN Guide Digital)
The queue forms early at Outram Park Fried Kway Teow (Pic: MICHELIN Guide Digital)
The first order of the day is deep-frying the pork lard, all 18kg of it, in a process that takes about an hour and a half. Next, Ng prepares the most important ingredient: the umami soya sauce mixture that gives his char kway teow its signature sweet-salty flavour. Then, the couple slice fish cakes and wash the fresh cockles when they are delivered to the stall.

The first customers start to arrive at about 7.30am, ready for a breakfast of wok-kissed, eggy noodles studded with plump cockles, bean sprouts and crunchy, fragrant chunks of pork lard.
Deep-fried pork lard is an essential ingredient of Ng's char kway teow (Pic: MICHELIN Guide Digital)
Deep-fried pork lard is an essential ingredient of Ng's char kway teow (Pic: MICHELIN Guide Digital)
The history of the stall stretches back to 1939, when Ng’s father first began hawking char kway teow by the street in Tanjong Pagar before moving into a hawker centre in Outram Park in 1973. There was no recipe to follow and no explicit instructions from his father. Ng learnt the trade by watching and practising. Ng says that there’s no secret to his fried noodles and over the years, he’s taught his recipe and technique to anyone who wants to learn. “My char kway teow doesn’t taste like my father’s and yours will never taste exactly like mine. It’s like learning to write, you can watch and learn, but your handwriting will never be exactly the same as your teacher’s.”

Frying up each batch of noodles in his large, blackened wok takes skill and strength. While his wife can manage the frying of individual plates, once the line starts to form at lunch hour, Ng takes over to fry up big batches of about 20 plates at one go. “The important part is to control the fire and to fry the noodles evenly, scraping right to the bottom of the wok so you get the wok hei,” he says, referring to the elusive smoky, charred aroma that cloaks his noodles.
Ng fries up to 20 plates of noodles at once (Pic: MICHELIN Guide Digital)
Ng fries up to 20 plates of noodles at once (Pic: MICHELIN Guide Digital)
Each day, Ng fries about 70kg of noodles, selling out approximately 300 plates of char kway teow before the day is over. Ng is not sure how long more he can continue at this strenuous work. “The hawker life is not challenging, but it is hard work. I’m getting old and the more I fry, the more I am starting to feel the strain on my arms. When I feel I am getting slower, then maybe it’s time to retire,” he says.

Ng’s retirement will probably spell the end of Outram Park Fried Kway Teow. He doubts his two sons will be interested to take over the business. With Hong Lim Market closed for renovations till the turn of the new year, Ng and his wife will be taking a long overdue vacation to Taiwan, along with some neighbouring hawkers. “I haven’t had a holiday in eight years, the last time was in 2009 when the market was also closed for renovations,” he chuckles. “Now it’s time to rest, go out and see the world for a bit.”

In July, Outram Park Fried Kway Teow received the Bib Gourmand award in the MICHELIN Guide Singapore 2018 selection. For Ng, it was an encouragement and acknowledgement of his work. “Just seeing my customers finish their plate of char kway teow makes me happy,” he says. “But I get a real sense of satisfaction when someone tells me they enjoyed their food. Getting this recognition from Michelin is a big encouragement for us.”
Each smoky plate of char kway teow is covered with beaten egg and studded with beansprouts, cockles and pork lard (Pic: MICHELIN Guide Digital)
Each smoky plate of char kway teow is covered with beaten egg and studded with beansprouts, cockles and pork lard (Pic: MICHELIN Guide Digital)
What To Order
There’s only one dish on this hawker’s menu, but every customer has their favourite variation. A plate of char kway teow with egg, cockles, beansprouts and crispy pork lard costs $4, with the option of adding more cockles for $2 or an extra beaten egg for 50 cents. You can have your noodles spicy or non-spicy, though Ng strongly recommends the version with chilli for the extra fiery kick that goes so well with the smoky aroma and cuts through the sweetness of the sauce.

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