There's no doubt that my favourite Singaporean dish is bak chor mee (bcm) or minced pork noodles. I'm always impressed by the strong memory of these bcm sellers in remembering each customer's order because, as simple as a serving may look, the combination of ingredients is endless - from the types of noodles to the optional liver to the addition of chilli paste to a choice of either dry-tossed or soup, etc. Oh, and eat-in or takeaway ar?
I was rather contemplative that morning, deeply affected and concerned about the chaos that would take place in my hometown later in the afternoon. As trifling as it may seem, I related the bowls of bcm in front of me to life itself. You see, the Chinese believe that life is a combination of tastes, more specifically (and in no particular order) - sweet, sour, bitter and spicy. I can't think of many dishes that represent this philosophy. BCM is one of the very few. Sour comes from the black vinegar that, to me, gives the dressing it's distinctive character. Spicy is the dollop of chilli paste coating the noodles. Slivers of liver provide a tinge of bitterness while sweetness is in the broth simmered with pork bones, among other flavourful ingredients. Let's not forget the savoury taste of braised shitake slices and a piece of flatfish crisp. Of course, there's the quintessential, aromatic, crunchy fried lard bits. Imagine mixing all the above. Then imagine taking a bite. Now that's a taste of good life there. I had two bowls that morning but this pleasurable calm before the storm was not that much of a comfort, that's for sure.
I come to Hong Lim Complex whenever I can, to savour Ah Kow's (#02-42) version of bcm, which to me, is a complete bcm experience. Complete means a combination of springy noodles, optimal tang and appetizing aroma of the black vinegar, immensely soaked, soft shitake, sizable serving of minced pork, unlimited offering of fried crunchy fried lard cubes, a dumpling filled with pork, chives and flatfish powder (it's a very simple but thoughtful touch, it is) and a bowl of broth topped with seaweed and coriander. Surmounting all the accolades and respectable ratings that Ah Kow has garnered over the decades, it is this package, the complete, delectable bcm experience, that had me (and many others) returning over and over again.
As mentioned earlier, I had two bowls of bcm. One was Ah Kow's and the other was Tai Wah's (#02-42), from High Street. I had failed to notice this stall until now, thanks to a noticeable queue. And the buzzing Outram Park Char Kway Teow located just opposite Tai Wah. Initially, I thought it was a branch of my other favourite bcm stall, Tai Hwa from Hill Street, now residing at Crawford Lane. Apparently, they are somehow related, as I'd read from some websites. Their dressing was sweeter and lighter as compared to Ah Kow's while the noodles were skillfully cooked to a springy texture. The taste and choice of toppings (pork balls included) did remind me of Tai Hwa's, so that's good.
Approximately two hours after I'd left Chinatown, a group of fellow countrymen were having a picnic at the nearby Hong Lim Park. A much quieter affair compared to the other cities that joined in the call for a fair and clean election back home. I don't believe that it's an impetuous act, but one that is rational, responsible and noble. Had I been informed, I would have dropped by to say hi, at least. Seriously, to oppress, in the most distasteful way, the articulation of national issues and reformation for the better is utterly foolish.