Over a decade ago, I asked David Lim, grandson of the late Tan Chin Siah, founder of the Hock Lam Beef Noodle empire, why not offer a dry version at his Empress Place beef noodle stall. Proudly and loudly he delivered a “I am Teochew this is what we sold all along and my grandfather would never allow me to sell it nor did he!”, so it was off to Hainan a few years later for a makan expedition to Sanya. I had Hainan Fen, so similar to and at once I knew the origins of our gooey style beef noodle. It came with a very soft and slurpy beehoon with a thick meat sauce that was enlivened with sour vegetables, peanuts and bamboo shoots with some meat. So it was a pleasant surprise when I came across this unassuming little stall that offered Hainan Fen (or noodles) from 2 petite Hainanese ladies with the same modern migrant food story “for the longest time, we could not find authentic Hainan fen here, so we made the decision and here we are”, owner Ms Zhang Yan tells me why. She operates the stall with her sister Zhang Ya. Both who now calls Singapore home.
The signature Hainanese Fun ($3.50 for pork and $4 for beef) is like I remembered in Sanya. It was not overly beefy, with a touch of sweetness from the vegetables used in the stock, yet was infused with some prawn paste for that umami back taste in the stock base. The bamboo shoots and peanuts gave it extra texture and flavour. Great for folks who find the usual beef noodles too.. beefy!. My only beef was that she should’ve place more salted vegetables on to sharpen the flavours, and a “just ask next time” was her reply. She uses the thinner laksa beehoon and tasted like but was not as slurpy soft like in Sanya. “It’ll be too expensive for the old folks heartland crowd if I imported it.” Zhang Yan laments. The cold or room temperature Hainan Pickle Fun (from $3.50) came “drier” with less sauce and a “wheatier” noodle. The sauce and toppings was basically similar but when I folded a spoon of the freshly blended garlic chilli over, whoaah, the skies opened. The spiciness spiked down and lent such a nice touch to the meaty sauce. She uses the thinner laksa beehoon and tasted like but was not as slurpy soft like in her hometown, “It’ll be too expensive for the older budget customers if I imported it.” Zhang Yan laments. My third bowl was the Beef Brisket and Pickle Cabbage rendition and this came a notch beefier (using a different stock base). It again came with the gooey sauce and was topped with beef tripe, pickle cabbage, brisket and bamboo shoots. The two sourish vegetables atop gave this a very refreshing touch to the usual same old Hainan beef noodle.
I think, despite the budget conscious, there will be folks who are willing to pay that bit extra to have it with the real Hainan beehoon. There are those who eat and those who appreciate and both should be catered to.
Hometown Hainan Fen
01-1100, People’s Park Hawker Centre (next to OG emporium)
10am-7pm, closed ad-hoc, twice a month