I called it first – this stall deserves a Michelin star.
These few weeks have been really difficult. You’d think that a somewhat experienced lifestyle and fashion writer would be welcomed with open arms, but the truth is, it’s where you’ve worked, rather than the experience you have, that matters. I don’t want to ride the bulls**t train about how I’d fare had I known better, and I won’t, but it does get increasingly more demoralizing with each interview I fail to nail. It’s a rude awakening, you know, to know that hard work doesn’t necessarily pay off. Distracted, I struggled to make a decision on where I should lunch at. I do try to make an effort to lead a very regular lifestyle because I know I’ll eventually go for a dip in the pool or hit the gym not out of a need to keep fit, but out of sheer boredom. So, I decided to let fate take me wherever it wanted, and boarded the first bus that arrived. The red and white vehicle took me to Woodlands. Just as well, actually, since I really needed the time to just clear my head of negative thoughts. As I approached Woodlands, I thought to myself, “Since I’m here, why don’t I check out the fish soup Keidi’s always raving about, would like to take me, but in my heart I know she never will?” I Googled it, but apparently, Woodlands Centre is just filled with so much recommended food, it was difficult to pinpoint which was the one Keidi was referring to – nothing a simple What’s App couldn’t solve.
Located near the checkpoint with neighboring Malaysia and spared from the constant urban renewal, Woodlands Centre still retains an old world charm of a sleepy border town that even frontier town Johor Bahru on the other side of the border has since emerged from. Daily commutes by both sides between the two cities has shaped the district into an area that reflects the meeting of two very similar but different cultures, and where else do we see this colorful hubris colliding than hawker centres and coffee shops. Having visited the district over three consecutive days back in 2009 as part of a previous employment, I can say the Muslim-run establishments are generally better than average (just go by the queue during meal times). Returning today was a little like homecoming, but this time, I was exploring a different facet of it.
Yan Ji Wei Wei Food Stall at Blk 4A Woodlands Centre Road, unit 11, ought to be pretty familiar with food aficionados in Singapore. It is revered for their odd combination of seafood soup and black sauce pigs trotters, whose consistent quality has certainly been appreciated by the throngs who come by their stall every day for a taste of heaven. Rather appalled by the prices they were charging, I decided to just order a seafood soup (small) at SGD 5.50, and forgo the pigs trotters, particularly since Keidi has never mentioned a thing about it. I spotted the nearby drink stall selling Sour Plum Juice, a great thirst quencher but is becoming a rarity, which was absolutely refreshing in the hot, sunny weather.
Good Lord. I can’t remember when was the last time I was blown away by food served in a hawker centre. The broth is an extremely complex infrastructure of different flavors, and you’d expect such complex layers to tumble upon itself, but it actually holds up – each individual flavor never empowers the other, and in fact, elevates it to a higher level. The minced meat (clearly had more than just meat) was rich yet liberating at the same time. The Pomfret fillets are evidently, the foundation of the dish and the soup, and when you dip it in the chili-vinegar mix, it balances smoothly. Prawns – surprisingly well done – places like this tend to overcook it and the meat sticks to the shell and it becomes very hard to peel. Here, it comes out like it was born to. People tend to complain that a “small” gets you broth that’s half the bowl, but to me, it made it the more attractive. It’s like, “the less you show, the more I want”, and it was exquisite – I wiped the bowl clean. My only pet peeve is that the rice grains are a tad drier than I’d prefer, but it’s a trivial matter, really.