Michelin stars satisfies egos. Good food satisfies the soul.
One thing that has always captivated me about Singapore, particularly in the suburbs, are the pockets of low-rise shophouses of commercial activity that appear to punctuate the planned, urban (and sometimes, natural) scenery along the road. I don’t drive, but having ridden on the public buses which pass through these places, I can thoroughly appreciate the charm and allure of what I see, as the local equivalent of a highway rest stop. However you look at it, the Modern Age of roads has had an impact on communities in the suburbs and the country. Just imagine: a single decision by an urban planner—to create a new bypass or to simply move the road to shorten traveling times—can either skyrocket a community into prosperity, or damn it into obscurity.
I know what you’re thinking, “What are you talking about?”
Let’s put it into the Singapore context, shall we? As part of the plans to develop the northeast frontiers of Sengkang, Punggol and Seletar, the entire economic, urban, social landscape of the region is being transformed. Some of the changes, such as the opening of the Punggol Waterway, a beautified canal straddling across the state-of-the-art residential town, has been well received. Punggol North, a planned new residential district, will afford waterfront living to the public never before seen since the creation of Marine Parade almost two decades ago. The immediate vicinity around Seletar Airport is being transformed into a hive of aviation industry-related activities which will create jobs for everybody – Rolls Royce will erect a plant to build some of the engines destined for the ultra-modern and ultra-successful Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350, which has gained an order backlog of more than 1,500 aircraft so far.
It’s not a win-win situation, though. The British colonial houses, recognized for their black-and-white exteriors and revered for their heritage and design, is being completely erased from history despite the state’s promise to keep them standing. The flora and fauna of the region – preserved in time due to the halting of development caused by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, and protected within the boundaries of military camps – is now once again on track for complete annihilation while the state champions the all-new, natural, artificial Lorong Halus Wetlands. Even more recently, Jalan Kayu, the gateway into the now demilitarized camps and well-known for its roti prata, will be sacrificed in favor of a six-lane boulevard, the Sengkang West Road. Running just a few hundred metres west of Jalan Kayu, it will see this legendary food street bypassed, shortened, and absorbed into the inevitable glacier that is the public apartments inching ever closer, every day.
For now though, many of these commercial pockets such as Simpang Bedok, Upper Thomson, Hillview and many others remain unscathed, but for how long? With a government hell-bent on progress and to serve the ever-growing population needs for affordable housing, more efficient commercial services, many of these places don’t stand a chance against gentrification.
One of the spots which I don’t think will disappear anytime soon is a place that’s generically termed as “Sembawang”. Not being sarcastic here, but it really doesn’t have a more specific name considering that it’s located along the extensive Sembawang Road, is located south of Sembawang new town, and is rooted by the generically named Sembawang Shopping Centre.
Anyways, after spaghetti and ramen, rice vermicelli (or as we call it in Singapore, beehoon or mihun meaning “rice flour”) is probably my favorite form of noodles. Often regarded locally as the anti-thesis, or complement (depending on who you ask) to the egg noodles, rice vermicelli is often thinner, blander and more porous than its blond cousin. Thus, it often works best in soup, or served Cantonese style across many of Singapore’s zhi char (meaning “stir-fry” and refers to family friendly restaurants serving Singapore-style Chinese cuisine) stalls – served in a thick gravy. So, when I read that Sembawang White Beehoon in Sembawang allegedly serves the best variant of this beloved version, I had to check it out.
At first glance, this place might appear inconvenient to get to, but in reality, this is actually a mere 4 bus-stop ride from Sembawang MRT station. Frequent and complimentary shuttle services operated by Sembawang Shopping Centre, right in the heart of “Sembawang”, are available from Sembawang and Yishun MRT stations. From the city, SMRT bus services 167 and 980 take you directly from Raffles Place, Orchard Road and Bugis right through this lovely county. The restaurant is just opposite Sembawang Shopping Centre, among the small cluster of low-rise eateries.
When I arrived, it was between lunch and dinner so the crowds and queues that are known to plague this restaurant were non-existent. I floundered around, but to the amused lady who took my order, she knew what exactly was on my mind, the Seafood White Beehoon.
I’ll just dive straight into it and say…I fuckin’ loved it. I had read so many reviews, I had high expectations, and the Seafood White Beehoon exceeded them. I’ve eaten many variants of this dish, and never had I tried one that was mildly as good as this. The dish was perfectly cooked, with what’s known to the locals as a rich wok-hei flavor, which literally, gives the dish its soul – it’s stir-fried on a wok over a flame so intense, that during the cooking process of stirring and frying, flames engulf the wok, giving it a smoked characteristic to the dish yet it never drags it down. The result is in its taste – it’s rich in flavor, hearty, and healthy even. But it’s also soft, light and delicious. What looks like a very bland looking dish is in fact, teeming with layers. Paired with generous, fresh and perfectly cooked prawns, squids, vegetables and shredded fried egg.
If you’re one for spice, drizzle a little of the sambal belacan chili sauce over the dish. It’s has a burst of lime, and spicy, and really helps get the adrenaline pumping.