Wednesday, 19 April 2017

An enchanted tale of wanton mee

Does anyone know where one can have a plate of wanton
noodles that would take one back to the 60s or 70s? Even the
 80s would be good.  
IT'S Qing Ming. This festival is not like the 7th month or what is commonly known as the Month of the Hungry Ghosts. However, there is still a bit of "enchantment" associated with the season -- it is the Chinese "All Souls Day" after all. So here's a short ghost story, or rather, a little tale of "enchantment":

A VERY hot day though April was supposed to be rainy and full of thunderstorms. Yunji was on her way to Jurong Point for lunch. Looking out of the bus window as was her habit since she was a kid, she saw a coffee shop at the corner of an old block of flats. Strange that she had never noticed this place before.

On impulse, she decided to try out this nice little coffee shop -- instead of the noisy and crowded food court at Jurong Point. She quickly pressed the buzzer and alighted at the next bus stop. She was glad that there was an overhead bridge to the other side of the road where the quaint, out-of-place coffee shop was beckoning.

Strange that I never saw this overhead bridge before, Yunji muttered to herself as she climbed up the steps.

There wasn't a soul on this side of the road. That is so strange, Yunji thought to herself. Usually, at this time, there would be housewives dragging their shopping on those ubiquitous tiny trolleys, or students rushing home from schools. Today, not a soul!

There was a certain stillness at the coffee shop -- just the gentle clink-clink of dishes being washed that sounded kind of distant. Only two old men were tucking in their food quietly. An old fashioned signboard said "Tian Tian Kopi Diam".  To her delight, one of the stalls was selling jiaozi and another, wanton mee. 

Actually, there were just these two stalls, and a drink stall. Jiaozi or wanton mee? It took her a while to decide because both were her favourite food. In the end, wanton mee won.

"Korn lo," she told the stall seller, a smiley woman with short permed hair -- clad in samfoo. The samfoo was the sweetest Yunji had seen -- white with small pink and blue roses.

Strange again. Normally she would have ordered "wanton mee, da". But she had automatically said "korn lo" instead, which is the Cantonese for "dry mix". This means having your noodles mixed in chili sauce and ketchup.

As she sat down on the wooden chair at the marble-topped table, she saw that the floor was covered with mosaic from end to end -- sparkling clean! Where to find, Yunji muttered to herself.

Yunji gobbled down her noodles with gusto, all the while suppressing a desire to whisk out her handphone to take a picture of the seller. Where in Singapore can you find a wanton mee seller in samfoo these days? Not even in Chinatown.

The samfoo-clad woman even came to her table and snipped the noodles on her plate with a pair of scissors so that the strands were easier to slurp down. Right out of my childhood, Yunji thought, as she thanked the woman. The noodles were right out of her childhood too -- with the old school taste of chili sauce and ketchup. The char siew was roasted just right -- tender, with tiny crispy corners. The soup with the tiny dumplings was served separately in a small little bowl.

Yunji ordered a cup of kopi-o from the drink stall to round up her lunch. Much to her surprise, she saw bottles of Green Spot and Sinalco on the shelves. Wow! But the guy behind the counter was a no-nonsense fat man with white singlet and draw-string pyjama pants, so Yunji had second thoughts about asking him why he was still selling those drinks that had disappeared since a long, long time ago.

The next day, Yunji thought she would bring her lunch kakis to the quaint coffee shop. Looking out for the overhead bridge which was where they were supposed to alight, Yunji was puzzled that there wasn't one.

"Why, it was just after this turning," Yunji told her two colleagues. In the end, they had lunch -- the usual -- at Jurong Point.

The day after, Yunji thought she would give the coffee shop a try again. Once again, she couldn't find the overhead bridge. But she alighted anyway, where she thought the bridge would be. Crossing at a pedestrian crossing at the road junction ahead, she made her way across the road.

There was no sight of Tian Tian Kopi Diam at all -- though Yunji walked for almost an hour up and down the road, with her umbrella holding up against strong winds -- and a slight drizzle. A thunderstorm was threatening to break out.