I’ve never seen this in Bangkok.
I first heard about Thai boat noodles from my colleagues, who mentioned it was the latest food trend in Kuala Lumpur. Despite some Googling, it didn’t seem of particular interest to me – the dish didn’t look particularly tantalising. Yet a week later, I saw it being discussed on Daniel Food Diary. Apparently, the trend that had been sweeping the Malaysian capital had finally arrived in Singapore, so needless to say, I decided to check it out.
Called boat noodles or ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ (kuai tiao ruea, “ruea” is Thai for boat), this Bangkok street dish tastes remarkably similar to Thai beef noodles bar a few differences. Unlike beef noodles, the original dish contains cuts of pork and beef. Much of the flavor stems from the seasoning, a mix of *gasp* pig’s blood (oh please, don’t judge if you like black pudding) and salt. To neutralize the fishy smell because, you know, being served from boats traversing Bangkok’s disappearing khlongs, the water comes from, yeah, pork crackling (also known as fried pork lard) and basil are added. Its defining feature is probably its small portions.
Contrary to popular misconception, Noodle Cafe is actually not the first place in Singapore to sell boat noodles. Its SGD 1.90 for the original portion isn’t even the cheapest. That honor goes to the aptly named Thai Boat Noodles at Bedok Point. However, Noodle Cafe at Golden Mile will somehow feel more original in a large part due to the location but who knows. Locate the staircase leading to Diva Disco and it’ll be to your right.
The Thai-Singaporean staff go around the cramped stall with their high-tech mobile ordering system but it’s frankly a little clumsy, in my opinion. The menu boasts a few other noodle items as well as the Platinum Mall favourite, pork trotters rice but you’ll probably ignore that and turn the menu around for the boat noodles.
It’s a 5-step menu where you can choose your meat, size (SGD 1.90 for small, and SGD 5 for large), noodles, taste (special soup, dry, soup, clear or tom yam) and level of spiciness. It’s all part of the fun for the dining experience. However, it doesn’t work as well as it should be because firstly, the meat is overcooked enough that there’s no discernible difference between pork or beef, and secondly, there’s no discernible difference between the soup bases – it still tastes the same. The only difference you’ll find are the spice level and noodles, really.
Overall, it was a unique-ish experience. It was great to try an alien sounding but delectably familiar dish, but on the other hand, it just didn’t have the edge that Singaporeans have come to expect from dining at Golden Mile. At Golden Mile, things are a little more greasy, a little fattier and we hold off those inhibitions we usually have in the quest for something foreign. Noodle Cafe just didn’t have it, to be honest. I’d love to come here again if only to try the pork trotter rice. For boat noodles though, maybe not.