If Singaporean comfort food has a face, it’s undoubtedly ban mian. Devoid of quiddities, it is a bowl of honest, homespun goodness that I love on rainy days. A melange of flat egg noodles, messy egg bits, meatballs, leafy vegetables and ikan bilis swimming in flavourful soup that’s neither cloying with oil nor painfully bland—I believe a bowl of ban mian keeps the day’s blues away. While the highly coveted top of the hawker food pedestal remains as a reach for ban mian, I’ll never turn away from one. So when a friend recommended A1 Handmade Ban Mian, nestled in the heart of Macpherson, I had no qualms in heading down for an expected, familiar taste—yet I hoped its offerings went beyond the cocoon of comfort most ban mian stalls have no problem providing. Will this bowl revolutionise ban mian?
The stall of A1 Handmade Ban Mian sits in Eng Hwa Coffeeshop, seated in a serene neighbourhood where footfall comes from the office workers nearby. I was almost too quick to dismiss this stall as a mere fuss-free option for them, till I spotted a Certificate of Excellent Culinary Skill plastered on its signboard—a revered claim which perhaps lies in the stall uncle’s seasoned ways of handling noodles.
What I tried
Its signboard paints a delicious picture of its Seafood Mee Hoon Kway Soup (S$7.50), with bulbous prawns and thick fish slices. Upon first sip, I was pleasantly greeted with an umami broth that’s packed with seafood flavours without being oversalted. Wasting no time, I tucked into the silky slices of Mee Hoon Kway, thick and uneven—trappings of the homemade dish we love. These silky slices were incredibly chewy and addictive, releasing hearty infused broth in every bite.
The prawns checked all my boxes—all of the good heft with natural sweetness—like the stall uncle’s gestures of pre-peeling them for easy consumption. Also, thick fish slices and crunchy rings of fish maw served as contrasting textures that I surprisingly enjoyed, because, textural brilliance in ban mian? Well, I’d never.
While there’s no crescendo to be reached for this bowl, the process of eating it felt like a lingering gentle piano tune: a gratifying mix of mellow seafood soup and robust Mee Hoon Kway.
Next on my feast was the Fish Maw Hong Kong Noodle Soup (S$5), since the popular Abalone Ban Mian Soup, an A1 Handmade Ban Mian represent, was sold out, and to satisfy my curiosity of how fish maw steps up to become the main lead in this bowl. But I was thoroughly disappointed with this.
Instead of being textural complements, the thin strands of Hong Kong noodles tossed in thick and ominous soya sauce did the contrary. It’s one of the times where al dente doesn’t work quite well because the noodles were way too springy and delicate to function as a sauce absorber. Each bite felt like eating separate components, and can you imagine slurping up soya sauce? It’s not the best. Even pairing it with the crunchy ikan bilis did nothing to salvage the texture, and only added to its saltiness.
As for the main ingredient, the same fish maw in the seafood soup, it blended in with the other condiments and did nothing to affirm its presence. The soup rests on the lighter side, a little too comfortable, veering into blandness. This bowl felt like the spin-off series of the seafood soup, imbued with a flat storyline and a central character who lives its past glory in the main series.
Elsewhere, the Normal You Mian Soup (S$3.50) hit the spot, tasting like its moniker: normal. But after some heavy-handed soya sauce noodles, I’m more than thankful for this piquant bowl. Supple strands of eggy noodles are coated evenly in an adequate dose of soya sauce, which adds flavour, and not just saltiness, to the former. I’m all for honest dishes, and this stayed true to its name.
Along the lines of ban mian, nothing at A1 Handmade Ban Mian falls too far off, though I’d skip the Hong Kong noodles. You won’t be singing paeans over their noodles, but it comforts and leaves you with a satisfied sigh when you’re done. The ban mian offered here somehow has a heartiness that comes through in their mellow tastes, teetering over the edge of nostalgia of home-cooked food.
I mean, need I say more about their Seafood Mee Hoon Kway Soup? I’d definitely down a bowl of it to chase away the day’s lull and dullness. But other than that, it’s a bowl of comfort noodles that’s perfectly average.
Expected damage: S$5 – S$8 per pax
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