With close to 70 years of history, Hai Nan Xing Zhou Beef Noodle certainly deserves its newly minted spot in the Michelin Bib Gourmand.
This humble yet well-loved hawker stall can be found in Kim Keat Palm Market & Food Centre in Toa Payoh, dishing out bowls of old-school Hainanese beef noodles from just S$5!
Hai Nan Xing Zhou Beef Noodle first started out in Cuppage Centre and moved to Toa Payoh in the late 1990s. It specialises in one thing: beef noodles. You can get it in both dry and soup variations, and the price will depend on which combination of toppings (beef balls, sliced beef, beef stomach, beef tendon) you’d like to go for.
In a bid to beat the lunchtime queue, I visited Hai Nan Xing Zhou Beef Noodle on a sunny weekday morning, with the intention of having a bowl of its famed beef noodles for breakfast. Yet, despite reaching at 10am, there was already a short queue in front of me!
Regardless, I waited patiently in line. The queue moved slowly as there was only one elderly uncle manning the stove, while there were several stall attendants assisting with taking orders.
What I tried at Hai Nan Xing Zhou Beef Noodle
I started the ball rolling with a bowl of Sliced Beef + Beef Ball + Stomach + Tendon (Dry, S$7), and asked for thick bee hoon with my noodles.
Admittedly, beef noodles (especially the dry versions) aren’t exactly the most glamorous or appealing. All I saw was a thick, goopy pile of black glossy sauce, with strands of noodles peeking out from underneath. Topping the gravy were sprinkles of diced salted vegetables, spring onions and white pepper, and two lone beef balls sitting in a corner.
All it took was one good stir for the dish to look entirely different. Before I dove in for my first mouthful of beef noodles, I was already impressed by the texture of the gravy— though it looked pretty viscous, it coated each strand of thick bee hoon perfectly in a glossy manner.
Some beef noodles tend to have a really strong beef stench, but Hai Nan Xing Zhou Beef Noodle had no hint of gaminess at all. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the beef gravy puzzled me on my first bite because the beefy flavour of the gravy was pretty subtle.
Yet, as I continued to slurp up the noodles, the deep and savoury beef flavours continued to build and it came through slowly but surely. Comforting and satisfying, the hearty notes were balanced out by a mild sweetness, which I thoroughly appreciated.
Though I was left wishing that the beef flavours had been more prominent in this bowl of beef noodles, I still enjoyed it very much because of the gravy’s wonderfully silky texture, which was not jelak at all.
For S$7, I was surprised to see so many pieces of beef tendon in my bowl of noodles.
These thick, huge chunks of beef tendon were easily the highlight of my entire meal, as they were soft and tender. While they weren’t melt-in-your-mouth worthy, I loved how they retained just the right amount of bite to create a superbly satisfying texture, while still being slightly gelatinous.
I was looking forward to the beef slices, as several online reviews had raved about how tender they were.
Though each beef slice was sliced thinly and were pretty soft, they still required a fair amount of effort to chew. It reminded me of beef sukiyaki slices that had either too much connective tissue or were cooked for too long.
Despite not being as tender as I expected, I’d still commend Hai Nan Xing Zhou Beef Noodle’s beef slices for their softness, and would definitely come back and try it again.
Each bowl of dry beef noodles came with a bowl of soup. Now, this is where the flavour was. Every sip was packed with salty, mildly sweet and rich flavours, and I ended up alternating this between each mouthful of beef noodles for a really shiok experience at Hai Nan Xing Zhou Beef Noodle.
I also tried Hai Nan Xing Zhou Beef Noodle’s cheapest option, Sliced Beef + Beef Ball (Soup, S$5), and asked for kway teow noodles.
The soup was a little thicker than expected and its texture reminded me of collagen soup— slightly viscous, as if it had been boiled with plenty of bones to create that gelatinous consistency.
In terms of flavour, it was lighter than the one given with the dry version, but it still retained that savoury sweetness from the beef broth, resulting in a comforting and satisfying bowl of noodle soup that I’d utterly enjoy on a rainy day.
Was this worth the trip to Toa Payoh on a bright and early weekday morning? It’s hard to say. Hai Nan Xing Zhou Beef Noodle’s dry beef noodles had its ups and downs— I absolutely loved the soft beef tendon, while the highly raved beef slices left me slightly disappointed as it wasn’t as tender as I’d hoped for. I was left wishing that the glossy and thick gravy had more prominent savoury flavours, but its texture was spot on, leaving me satisfied without being too overwhelming.
Despite all that, I’d definitely come back to Hai Nan Xing Zhou Beef Noodle for a bowl of old-school Hainanese beef noodles if I was ever in the area and craving something hearty.
Expected damage: S$5 – S$8 per pax
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