I’ve always had this fantasy of being this intrepid, adventurous journalist who would go to the ends of the earth to hunt for the best eats. You know, very Anthony Bourdain or Samantha Brown of me, getting down and dirty while having a camera crew follow my food exploits. Okay, so Shoon Kou Cafe along Bugis Street is not like eating balut in Vietnam or interviewing the sole heir of a black pudding factory, but it kind of felt like it.
It all starts with a Facebook post proclaiming a relatively hidden spot peddling banh mi that will take you back to the streets of Ho Chi Minh. When it comes to sandwiches, banh mi ranks pretty high for me, right under the ever satisfying Cubano—both, perfect sandwiches in my eyes.
Like most sandwiches, it’s all about that careful construction. The banh mi is an irresistible combination of sliced pork, luncheon meat, a generous slather of pork pate, topped with pickled vegetables and fresh cilantro. It’s rich, meaty, spicy, and everything you’ll want in a sandwich.
With all that in mind, I was pretty excited to find this hole-in-a-wall place that might have the best banh mi yet. Well, I have to find it first. There was not much available on the internet, just that it’s located in the famous Bugis Street.
Bugis Street’s flashing lights amidst tourist goods with trendy dresses at student-friendly prices in the maze-like alleys have undoubtedly left an indelible mark on me. To return to the belly of the beast that is Bugis Street is laced with nostalgia and tinged with excitement.
What I tried
Unlike most restaurants or hawker stalls, Shoon Kou Cafe proved a little more challenging to find. A little more guidance from the lone Facebook post, and I realise that Shoon Kou Cafe is located on the other end of Bugis Street, on the side facing Albert Food Centre. In a lone corner was where Shoon Kou Cafe and my banh mi awaits.
I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little apprehensive about the place. It’s a little rough around the edges, but we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, do we? It appears that Shoon Kou Cafe also offers other Vietnamese dishes, but I was here for one thing and one thing only their Banh Mi (S$6).
Seeing as there are only two Vietnamese baguettes left, I was in the nick of time. The lady at the stall pops the baguette in the oven to toast while she slices a thick slab of pork. She works silently and quickly, only pausing to ask me if I want chilli in my Banh Mi.
I stand there and watch the rain come down and people scrambling for shelter. She hands me my Banh Mi, and I take a couple of snaps before I chow down on this sandwich.
In all honesty, given Shoon Kou Cafe’s rustic setting, I was afraid this would end terribly with me over the toilet. Luckily, this Banh Mi was nothing of the sort. The tender slices of pork and ham were slathered with a reasonable amount of mayonnaise and were of good flavour. So far, so good. I take another bite and realise that we have a diva in our midst. The meats, though fairly decent, were overshadowed by a dollop of too-fiery chilli.
As anyone who loves their spice would tell you, chilli helps transform boring dishes into slightly more interesting ones. Here, it does its job a little too well. All I could taste was those chillies, in which you lose the freshness of the cucumbers, cilantro and carrots.
Perhaps, a little more generous stuffing of meat would have helped balance this Banh Mi a little more. Plus, I was missing the ever-so indulgent richness of pate. It was no life-changing banh mi, but I appreciated the experience nonetheless.
There is a certain thrill to traverse the winding back alleys of Singapore to find some grub. Just think; only a couple more of these to follow in the footsteps of the late Anthony Bourdain. I kid; by now, you should know I have a flair for hyperbole and an active imagination.
Still, if you’d like some excitement served with your banh mi, you can have a go at Shoon Kou Cafe. Otherwise, you’re not missing out on much.
Expected damage: S$6 for one banh mi
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