Monday, 4 June 2012

Pairing Hawker Food And Wine: Bak Chor Mee at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles

During a recent dinner at Les Amis, I made a throwaway remark that a certain pasta dish reminded me of bak chor mee.  S, one of our local friends at the table, got so worked up that he promised to show me a real Singaporean bak chor mee.



Which is how we ended up here.  A stone’s throw away from Lavender MRT station, I was a little bit embarrassed that I had never been here before, given I commute from Lavender to the CBD and back every day.  We assembled a cast of wines which we thought might work on some level or another with the food:

(a)                NV Ulysse Collin Champagne Extra Brut Blanc de Noirs “Les Maillons”;
(b)               2001 Louis Jadot Santenay “Clos de Malte”; and
(c)                2008 Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum.

But first the food.  S, ever the solicitous host, arrived well before the rendezvous at 1300 hours to negotiate the queues on our behalf, but we still ended up waiting until 1.40 pm for our food.  Thank heavens that it was indeed very, very good.

Pork Heaven in a bowl

Because there was so much wine to go around, S added two large orders of wanton and meat balls to soak up the alcohol:

Additional meatballs and wantons, and more of that great soup.

I felt the need to apologise to S after my first mouthful.  With all respect to the now sadly-missed Armin Leitgeb and the Les Amis kitchen crew, this was a masterpiece.  Noodles (mee kia) were nice and springy, sauce was nicely balanced and not too greasy and with just the right amount of vinegar adding a hint of acid.  The pork balls (frozen, I was amazed to hear) and soup were nothing short of awesomely meaty umami-packed goodness, no doubt helped by chunks of dried saltfish and clumps of seaweed.  Even the wantons played their part, their flowing off-white robes billowing carelessly on the surface of the stock and adding a soft, comforting texture.  Mince and liver were cooked without being overdone.  I couldn't stop drinking the soup.  In a word: marvellous.

But how did it work with the wines? 

(L to R) - Collin's Blanc de Noirs, Jadot's Clos de Malte, Weinbach's Gewurz Furstentum

(a)         I thought the champagne was the best match of the day - a light blush of colour reflecting its 100% pinot base, yeasty with roses on the nose (again due to pinot influence), with more flowers and subtle red fruit on the palate.  Fine mousse helped to cleanse the palate of the slight grease and vinegar in the sauce.

(b)        The Santenay had a rich-golden colour, paraffin-y bouquet, with grapefruit and citrus on the palate and hints of mineral and salt on the finish.  It had enough texture and sturdiness to match the robust flavours of the various dishes, which surprised me. 

(c)         I brought this particular gewurz (the Weinbach house style has higher residual sugar than Hugel or Trimbach) expecting more spice and heat in the noodles.  S’s bowl had extra chilli so he may have had the better end of that deal, so while the wine ended up being a little too sweet to match the noodles, it paired nicely with the meatballs and savoury, toasted notes of the salted fish.  Every bit as good as I remembered on our visit to the domaine; light pale straw-yellow, white pepper on the nose with exuberant flavours of tropical fruit and hints of honey.  We drank most of it to end our repast, a wonderful sweet finish.

The Stars of the Show

As I told S, I should rile him up more often if the outcome is always this good!  Food was excellent and it was great to try to pair it with three wines which were so different and work out which aspects of the wine showed the best.  I will definitely be back, if only to try it with the thicker mee pok which I generally prefer, and a little more chilli.  Very glad I had the opportunity to try this Singapore hawker institution, and good to see for once that the hype is well and truly deserved.

Postscript: I saw a stall at an adjacent HDB food court (perhaps it was 465 Crawford Lane?) calling itself Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.  I don't know if it is a branch of the famous establishment, but the branding and signboards were so similar to the original to suggest that it was; the only thing missing this balmy Sunday lunchtime was the massive queue you typically find at a Tian Tian outlet.  This "outlet" is not on Tian Tian's website but if anyone knows any better, I would be grateful for a little enlightenment.

TAI HWA PORK NOODLE
Block 466, Crawford Lane #01-12
Singapore 190465
For reservations...what, are you being serious?

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