Curry chicken noodles showdown: Ah Heng vs Da Po vs Hock Hai

·11-min read

Singapore has plenty of well-loved dishes, and curry chicken noodles is arguably one of them.

In fact, curry chicken made the news in Feb 2022 when The New York Times butchered (ha ha, get it?) a “Singaporean chicken curry” recipe. Local netizens quickly took umbrage at the travesty, and the publication ended up removing the recipe from its site entirely.

Let me just state for the record that I absolutely love curry chicken noodles. Aromatic, rich and fragrant curry, coupled with silky noodles and tender chicken— what’s there not to love? It’s comforting and indulgent, and depending on the stall’s rendition of this popular hawker dish, is spicy enough to leave you tingling.

Photo of curry noodles
Photo of curry noodles

For this showdown, I had the tough job of picking three curry chicken noodle places that were equally popular and established, while having their own time-honoured recipe that distinguishes it from the other stalls.

I ended up picking these three contenders, all of which are from different hawker centres: Ah Heng Chicken Curry Noodles, Da Po Hainanese Chicken Rice & Curry Noodles, and lastly, Hock Hai Curry Chicken Noodles.

For the purposes of this article, I identified several components of the dish that were used as comparison points. These include the curry, chicken, noodles, the rest of the ingredients, chilli, as well as any other factors such as price, ambience or location.

Da Po Hainanese Chicken Rice & Curry Noodles

Photo of storefront
Photo of storefront

Located in the basement of Golden Mile Food Complex, Da Po Hainanese Chicken Rice & Curry Noodles has been dishing out its iconic curry chicken noodles since 1987.

It’s clearly well-loved. When I dropped by on a weekday, I noticed a constant stream of customers queuing up for its curry chicken noodles (and the occasional chicken rice). Plus, its storefront is littered with plenty of accolades and it even states where the stall has been featured before, which is practically everywhere, mind you— all the print and online newspapers, some TV channels, and numerous online websites.

A bowl of Curry Chicken Noodles comes in three sizes– Small (S$5), Medium (S$6), and Large (S$7/S$8), but for fairness, I decided to stick with Medium (S$6) and asked for bee hoon mee.

Photo of curry noodles
Photo of curry noodles

Hungrily, I sat down with my plate of curry chicken noodles and was eager to dig in, but not before I took note of the vibrant orange hue of the curry and the thick layer of oil on the top.

Close up of curry gravy
Close up of curry gravy

Let me start out with Da Po’s curry. Was it fragrant, lemak, or rich?

Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of Da Po’s curry. While the flavours of the earthy curry came through quite well and I could taste the curry leaves, it lacked the savoury full-bodied richness that could only come from a good stock base. Plus, even though every spoonful of curry was decently creamy, it was a little oiler than I’d like.

After each sip, my mouth felt oddly clean. There was none of that fragrance from the coconut cream or curry, nor was there a lingering spice.

Close up of noodles
Close up of noodles

For S$6, Da Po gave a pretty decent amount of noodles, which were cooked perfectly well and soaked up the creamy curry gravy.

When it comes to noodle dishes, my biggest fear would be that I’d run out of gravy before I finished my noodles. Thankfully, that didn’t happen here as there was a good ratio of curry to noodles.

Close up of chicken
Close up of chicken

Da Po serves Chicken Rice (from S$3.50) as well, so I had high hopes for the chicken.

My bowl of curry chicken noodles had a generous amount of chicken meat, which came with the bone. The large chunks of chicken meat were tender and satisfying to bite into, given its size and that you could gnaw it off the bone directly.

Frankly, I prefer boneless chicken, but if you enjoy taking your time to pry the meat off the bones, you’ll love this.

Close up of taupok
Close up of taupok

The taupok was firm and soaked up the curry gravy well. It came in large chunks that were thoroughly enjoyable, and even after being drenched in gravy, it still remained springy.

Close up of chilli
Close up of chilli

Last but not least, the homemade chilli. This was your classic sambal— salty and full-bodied, with a good umami-ness that just makes you want to dunk your chicken slices in it.

It’s not the most mind blowing sambal out there, but it’s still pretty decent and reliable.

505 Beach Rd, Golden Mile Food Centre, #B1-53, Singapore 199583
+65 8139 9000
Tue to Sun: 11.30am – 6.30pm
Closed on Mon
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Ah Heng Curry Chicken Bee Hoon Mee

Photo of storefront
Photo of storefront

Our second contender is Ah Heng Curry Chicken Bee Hoon Mee, a well-known curry chicken noodles stall with three outlets in Singapore.

This famous stall was founded by Ah Heng in 1967, and even though Ah Heng has since retired, his legendary recipe was passed to his son, who currently runs the business with his family. This stall even bagged itself a spot on the 2021 MICHELIN Guide Singapore, as well as the MICHELIN Bib Gourmand list in 2016.

I decided to visit its Hong Lim Market & Food Centre outlet, which is located on the second floor, but you can check out its other two outlets at Market Street Hawker Centre or at 269B Queen Street.

Photo of curry chicken noodles
Photo of curry chicken noodles

Ah Heng’s Curry Chicken Noodles come in three sizes: Small (S$5.50), Medium (S$6.50) and Large (S$6.50).

As with the criteria for this showdown, I went with Medium (S$6.50) and asked for bee hoon mee.

Close up of curry gravy
Close up of curry gravy

While the texture of the curry looked slightly watery, the taste was anything but that.

This was a fantastic bowl of curry— it was lemak, aromatic and rich, with a sharp spice that hit me as soon as I took my first sip. It was well-balanced and full-bodied, and I could taste the fragrant coconut milk while also tasting the earthiness from the curry.

The spice hit me harder than I predicted and halfway through the meal, I was left scrambling for a packet of tissue paper because my nose had started to run! Despite that, like a moth to a flame, I found myself going back for more of the delicious curry gravy.

I found the spice almost strangely similar to that of mala xiang guo’s xiao la— it warmed my stomach and left it pleasantly tingling. Fair warning though: if you can’t handle spice, then this bowl of curry noodles isn’t for you.

Close up of chicken
Close up of chicken

To my delight, Ah Heng’s chicken meat came deboned. It looked like it had been flattened by the side of a chopping knife, which made me worry about its texture and flavour, but I was proved wrong the minute I picked up a piece and popped it into my mouth.

The chicken meat was super tender and juicy, with a silky texture that allowed it to be torn off from large pieces in neat strips. Unfortunately, I found the chicken’s taste to be lacking in flavour— it was slightly bland, but I solved it by dunking it in that yummy curry gravy.

Close up of taupok
Close up of taupok

While the noodles came in pretty large portions, Ah Heng’s star ingredient had to be its taupok. I have no idea how they made it so soft, but it was incredibly soft and melted in my mouth in a way that’s eerily similar to tofu.

Close up of chicken in chilli
Close up of chicken in chilli

Ah Heng’s chilli is also made in-house, so I grabbed a few saucers that had already been portioned out at the storefront and proceeded to have a taste.

This was one of the best chillis that I’ve had in a long time. It was smokey and I could taste the richness from the dried shrimp, and it had been fried till it was crispy and gritty. It reminded me of Lao Gan Ma’s chilli oil— addictive and filled with umami.

This is the type of chilli that I’ll gladly eat off the saucer (which my dining companion and I proceeded to do), and if you had to ask me to identify one drawback, it’d be that there simply wasn’t enough chilli.

531A Upper Cross Street, Hong Lim Food Centre, #02-58/59
Daily: 6.30am – 9pm
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Hock Hai (Hong Lim) Curry Chicken Noodle

Photo of storefront
Photo of storefront

Moving on to the last contender of this showdown: Hock Hai (Hong Lim) Curry Chicken Noodle, which is located at Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre.

This stall has a rich history, dating back more than 20 years. The original stall was first set up near Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre, but the business was handed over to its current owner in 2016.

Similar to Ah Heng, Hock Hai has also earned itself a spot in the 2021 MICHELIN Guide Singapore, and it also made the MICHELIN Bib Gourmand list in 2019.

Photo of curry chicken noodles
Photo of curry chicken noodles

Its Curry Chicken Noodles came in three sizes as well: Small (S$4), Medium (S$5) and Large (S$6).

By far, this was the stall with the lowest priced curry noodles— the other two stalls had their curry noodles priced between S$5 and S$8!

Like the other bowls of curry noodles, I went with the Medium (S$5) and requested for bee hoon mee.

Close up of curry gravy
Close up of curry gravy

My first impression: this was a really milky bowl of curry.

Light and slightly sweet, Hock Hai’s curry was very drinkable and comforting. To a certain extent, it reminded me of Penang white curry noodles. However, it was only after a few sips that I started identifying earthy notes and a mild spiciness from the curry, which I felt could’ve been much stronger, given that this was a curry dish.

My dining companion was slightly disappointed with the lack of richness from the curry noodles, which she felt tasted more like spicy coconut milk rather than curry.

Close up of chicken
Close up of chicken

For S$5, I was quite stunned with the generous amount of chicken. I spotted boneless and boned pieces of chicken in my bowl of noodles, the majority of which came with the skin intact— something that both the other stalls didn’t have.

This was the best chicken I’d had for the day. The chicken meat was sweet on its own, and I loved how soft and gelatinous its skin was— a true sign that this chicken had been poached and plunged in an ice bath. This chicken could’ve easily been served with chicken rice and I’d still gladly polish off the entire plate.

Close up of tau pok
Close up of tau pok

As for the taupok, I found it similar to Da Po’s version— firm and springy. It soaked up the light curry gravy and as expected, burst in my mouth the minute I bit into it. This is ideal for diners who prefer more texture to their taupok, as opposed to those who prefer their taupok to melt in their mouth.

Photo of chilli
Photo of chilli

Hock Hai serves its homemade sambal in a metal tin container at its storefront, so it’s up to you to dish out how much chilli you want. By the time it reached my turn, I was slightly disappointed to find that there was barely any chilli left, but I gingerly scooped out three or four spoonfuls, which was enough to fill up a single saucer.

Oddly enough, Hock Hai’s chilli had elements from both Da Po and Ah Heng’s chilli. I tasted a smokiness that quickly became quite rich, as well as a salty and savoury belacan base. I thoroughly enjoyed Hock Hai’s chilli and ended up mixing it directly into the light curry gravy for a spicier kick.

208B New Upper Changi Road, Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre, #01-58, Singapore 462208
+65 9786 8624
Daily: 9.30am – 11pm
Facebook

Verdict

Photo of curry
Photo of curry

My dining companion and I both agreed that Da Po’s curry chicken was too oily for our liking and fell flat in terms of flavour, despite the fact that its texture was the creamiest and the closest to actual curry. We quickly eliminated Da Po from the race and focused on the remaining two stalls.

While Hock Hai’s chicken was truly one of the better ones I’ve tried, its gravy was way too light and milky, so it’s of no surprise that my dining companion and I unanimously picked Ah Heng Curry Chicken Bee Hoon as the winner of this showdown.

Its curry gravy was rich and well-balanced, and it’s the kind of curry that I’d travel all the way down and brave the lunch crowds for, no matter rain or shine. The curry’s lingering spice definitely distinguished it from the rest, and its silky, soft and tender chicken was something that my dining companion and I unabashedly fought over. Perhaps next time, I’ll ask for more of that gritty and smokey chilli, which was absolutely addictive, down to the very last bit.

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The post Curry chicken noodles showdown: Ah Heng vs Da Po vs Hock Hai appeared first on SETHLUI.com.

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