Mala kolo mee. Was I reading that right? Is there really such a thing? It turns out there is, and this seemingly unusual combination of flavours is making waves, too. 165 Pork Rib Prawn Noodles is the brainchild of Alan Woo, 35, an ex-Navy regular who has been tinkering with the recipe for mala kolo mee for many years now.
“It’s only 50% my recipe,” he admits, “My late mum was the best cook in the world; she could cook or bake anything. This recipe is inspired by her and I fine-tuned it over the years with a lot of trial and error.”
Alan’s stall, 165 Pork Rib Prawn Noodles, located at the newly-renovated kopitiam Man Lin F&B at Bukit Merah Central, is hardly 3 months old, though. In that time, he has developed a sizeable fanbase and a crowd of regular customers from the nearby housing estates. They account for a part of the 250 bowls that Alan sells daily.
What I tried at 165 Pork Rib Prawn Noodles
The top seller here is Prawn with Pork Ribs Noodle (S$6 small, S$9 large). You can have it either dry or with soup, and can ask for a mix of noodles. I went for kway teow and yellow noodles, with soup.
My first thought was that the pork ribs were extremely tender. The prawn soup was intense almost to the point of overwhelming all the other ingredients. I mean that in the best way possible because I love prawns, and the dish accounted for my daily nutritional intake of the succulent wonders.
The toppings of shallots and fried onions were visually pleasant and taste-wise even more so. I can see why this dish is so popular.
It was then time to try the dish that drew me here: Mala Prawn with Pork Ribs Kolo Noodle (S$8 small, S$11 large).
I love Sarawakian kolo mee but this was certainly unique for the mala element. Knowing my dainty palette, my colleagues, Dean and Matthew tried the numbing soup first and gave me scary looks. However, I threw caution to the wind. Well, sort of. I stuffed my mouth with a ‘buffer zone’ of kolo before adding the mala.
It was wonderful.
Texture-wise, there is nothing to fault here at all. The soup was a revelation— I’ve never had anything like it. It is a pork broth with a prawn base, given an invigorating touch with herbal bak ku teh.
The traditional kolo noodles were better and much more flavourful than the standard ones that you get at hawker centres. I quickly understood what Alan had been saying. Each element is too strong on its own but they pair up like adjacent pieces on a jigsaw puzzle when put together. Brilliant.
Alan claims that this is the first time that mala and Sarawakian kolo mee have been combined and sold commercially in Singapore. When I asked him what inspired the union, he explained that mala is becoming increasingly popular but he did not want to do something that everyone else has already done.
“The traditional way of doing things won’t attract the younger crowd. They are eager for new dining experiences and even new ways of savouring familiar dishes. I give them that, approaching it as you would a pairing, say, of steak and wine.”
“Mala has a savoury base and my kolo soup has sweet undertones. I like strong flavours and realised that, on their own, each can be a bit much for the average diner. On the other hand, they balance each other out perfectly when combined.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Despite my misgivings about how spicy the mala would be, I decided to try Mala Prawn with Pork Ribs Kolo Noodle because I had heard such good things about it. I believe that part of the reason I enjoyed it so much was that the ingredients are so fresh— Alan does not use anything frozen to create his masterpieces.
It’s a tedious affair. Every day begins at 6 am when he reaches the stall and begins preparing the soup. You can imagine how exhausted he must be when the shutters come down at 8 pm. It’s the passion for food that drives this ex-navy regular who rediscovered that love while sailing during the pandemic.
165 Pork Rib Prawn Noodles is a one man show for now but the response has inspired Alan to think big. Don’t be surprised if you see a stall near you soon. I, for one, will be very relieved that I don’t have to go all the way to Bukit Merah so I can proudly proclaim that I, too, can eat mala.
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