All young trees look the same; all old trees grow old in their own way. The same holds for housing estates too, the new ones all plagued by the dreary sameness of the mall, of chains upon chains – republics wherein food is had, for example, or boxes wherein toast is contained. Far better are the old neighbourhoods, especially the ones with shop space downstairs where some of my favourite places have sprung, like Tachinomiya in Kovan or Percolate in Bedok.
And Block 151 in Ang Mo Kio has got two such places. Shanghai Renjia I will leave to a later review, mostly because it wasn’t open when I dropped by. Meanwhile Soi 19 is not just open but quiet, almost brooding in the grey light of morning before the lunch crowd descends upon it. All is as it should be – a stack of pig’s trotters neatly arrayed, still soaking in the dark red broth. The options for seasoning your own food Thai-style – pickled chillis, the devil’s own chilli dust, fish sauce – also laid out. Oh, and the lardons. Can’t forget the lardons.
I know lump isn’t the best descriptor for noodles, but Soi 19’s noodles come as just that – a lump, clinging to each other, needing chopsticks to tease them apart. It’s a good sign though, for the noodles are al dente, clinging just faintly to the teeth with each bite.
But the noodles are just a part of a whole medley of good stuff, from choy sum blanched just right, crunchy and jade-coloured, to slightly chewy char siew and meaty, mildly sweet sausages, and even in the wantons done both ways. The boiled ones satin-smooth, the fried ones crisp and airy, both stuffed full of meat with the added punch of dried sole flakes. And of course the rendered lardons, rich but not greasy, full of all the goodness the Maillard effect produces.
Against the ringing contrasts in the bowl of wanton noodles, the pig’s trotter is a lot more mellow and subtle, bound together by the braising broth which has soaked into everything. The broth has taken some steps from its Chinese roots – sweeter, relying on caramel rather than dark soy for its redder colouring, and leaning more on caoguo (false cardamom) and a stronger hint of pepper for its flavour base.
The real star is the texture of the trotter itself, though. The meat is barely holding together, so thoroughly braised, while skin and fat alike have an enticing wobble without any of the gumminess that often happens when skin is braised, releasing collagens. How do they even handle it? I don’t know. But I’ll make it a point to ask after I become a regular, which – despite the required MRT and bus ride – I think I will. Some things are just worth it.
Block 151, Ang Mo Kio Ave 5
Contact no.: 9138 8881
Daily, 7.30am – 3.30pm
Closed on Tuesdays