As I approached Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle in Bukit Merah, the first thing I noticed was that each item on its menu didn’t come with an accompanying price. Suddenly, my eyes spotted a large text in red in the corner: “$3.50”.
Turns out, everything in this stall costs a mere S$3.50— and I’m writing this as Singapore’s inflation rate edges towards a 14-year high!
Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle is located within a Kim San Leng coffee shop at 116 Bukit Merah View. It was the stall with easily the longest queue, with over a dozen people queuing up for a bowl of affordable bak chor mee or laksa. The stall also sells char kway teow, though I noted that it was unavailable on the day I visited.
Despite being alarmed by the long queue, I noticed with a pleasant surprise that the orders are taken way in advance, with a single elderly aunty taking orders for 7 to 8 people at one go, reciting their orders at the top of her head once they reach the top of the queue. Impressive!
Apart from the shockingly cheap prices, Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle has a pretty rich family history.
It’s run by a husband-and-wife team— Mr Goh and Mdm Keo— who have been in the business for 37 years. Their bak chor mee recipe comes from Mr Goh’s father, who allegedly spent 50 years perfecting it ever since he made a living selling Teochew-style bak chor mee near the Singapore River. Once he retired, he decided to pass on his recipe to his son.
This means that the bak chor mee recipe is 87 years old!
Not to mention, Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle has two stoves and chefs to prepare its bak chor mee and laksa, meaning that they could serve customers with twice the efficiency.
It took me less than 7 minutes before it was my turn to receive my food. And I was the 12th person in line!
What I tried at Sheng Ji Fishball Noodles
Already impressed by Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle’s history and quick efficiency, I got down to business and ordered a bowl of Bak Chor Mee (Dry) (S$3.50). I asked for mee pok, and was pleased to see that it came with plenty of ingredients— pork slices, fishballs, sliced fish cake, lard and spring onions.
Upon my first toss, I could already smell the telltale signs of a classic bak chor mee. There was that alluring, sharp scent of black vinegar, as well as a smoky fatty scent from the crispy lard.
Would this Bak Chor Mee’s 87-year-old recipe live up to its hype?
My first taste was unfortunately quite disappointing. Though I could taste a biting spiciness from the chilli and a smokiness from the lard oil, the noodles were close to tasteless, as if the aunty behind the stove had forgotten to add soy sauce or salt to my dish.
Thinking that perhaps I hadn’t mixed the bak chor mee well enough and that all the savoury sauces had sunk to the bottom of the bowl, I decided to give my noodles another thorough mix, but found my second mouthful to encounter the same fate of plain noodles.
Frankly, I was left confused— where was that sharp vinegar that I had smelt while tossing the noodles? Why were so many people queuing for this bowl of plain Bak Chor Mee? Or could it really be that the aunty had forgotten to add soy sauce to my bowl?
Despite the lack of flavour, I’ve got to say that Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle got its mee pok texture just right. The noodles were bouncy yet silky, and retained a slightly gritty texture from being tossed in the chilli sauce to create a very satisfying mouthfeel.
Deciding to give Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle the benefit of the doubt of having an “off” day, I moved on to the rest of the ingredients.
The ingredients turned out to be the saving grace of the dish. The pork slices were marinated well and remained tender and springy, while the fishballs and fish cake slices were supple and added that QQ bite to the entire dish. In particular, I enjoyed Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle’s lard bits, which had been given in a generous amount, and were perfectly crispy and sinful.
Though its colour was close to transparent, Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle’s soup was surprisingly sweet and comforting, with plenty of tiny minced pork meat floating around in the bowl.
In order to save the noodles, I ended up pouring in some soup and soy sauce from my chilli sauce saucer. Together with the fresh ingredients, I considered this bowl of Bak Chor Mee relatively redeemed from its initial fate. But still, for S$3.50, this was an incredibly generous bowl of Bak Chor Mee, and I’d certainly consider it if I was on a budget.
Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle’s Laksa (S$3.50) fared much better than the Bak Chor Mee. Swimming in a bowl of lemak laksa gravy were thick bee hoon noodles, sliced fish cake, strips of tau pok, beansprouts, cockles (which are optional, if you don’t like them), and a dollop of homemade chilli.
The Laksa broth was creamy and spicy, and the one thing I absolutely loved was that it wasn’t overly milky. Instead, I could taste the gritty texture of the rempah and the light coconut milk at the same time. This was a bowl of well-balanced Laksa, and despite the overwhelming amount of popularity for its Bak Chor Mee, I found myself gravitating towards Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle’s Laska instead!
For S$3.50, I was surprised to see around 5 cockles. Albeit small— I’d say they were the size of a thumbnail— they were briny, like the ocean, and tasted like oysters. For the price of a bowl of Laksa, I’d say you’re really getting your money’s worth with the generous amount of ingredients in this bowl of Laksa!
Regardless of whether or not it was an “off” day when it came to my disappointing bowl of Bak Chor Mee, it’s pretty impressive for Sheng Ji Fishball Noodle to offer it at such an affordable price, especially with rising costs nowadays. And just for that alone, I’d say it’s definitely commendable and worth giving them a shot, especially if you’re in the area.
But if the Bak Chor Mee does end up disappointing you like it did for me, then try the Laksa instead— you won’t regret it!
Expected damage: S$3.50 per pax
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