A recent viral post about the legendary Hock Lam Beef Noodle announcing their closure made its rounds online. The brand had been in the business for close to a century and that post was about a stall headed by Anthony, the retired elder son of the founder Mr Tan Chin Sia who once plied his famous “gubak kway teow” along the old Chin Nam Street back in the day. But fact is, his younger brother Francis, still carries the mantle with an outlet at Old Airport Road food centre under the same brand name. And yet, there is still another stall operating in the family Hock Lam Beef Noodle tradition and had been thriving since 1972.
Founder Mr Tan’s eldest daughter, the late Mdm Tan Sok Eng had branched out with her husband under their own Empress Place name but this fruit did not fall far off the family tree tradition. They operated a stall in the defunct Empress Place hawker centre. This one stuck to the old ways- they sold only the beef soup version and I remember wolfing down a couple of bowls back in the late 70s, as my teen bones needed those kind of nourishment then. I had the works, from beef balls, to brisket, tendons to medium rare slices top above and once I was challenged to tear into “gu piang’ slices (go ask your Teochew pal what this one is). I loved it too as my makan companion was the son of Mdm Tan, and my old childhood football kaki, David Lim, already in his early sixties today and helming the stall. I remember how stubborn David he was. “ I only sell the original Teochew soup version like my grandfather did, no starchy dry version hor!” as he knew that was a Hainanese rendition. If you had David’s version, you’ll realise there was a nice citrusy edge to their insanely tangy and spicy chilli sauce – own made with pineapples blended in. Their all-important beef stock, is vintage Teochew style and robust but calmed with pandan leaves in the brew- very easy to slurp it all in. The type of kway teow he uses is the thin slurpy smooth and soft version and in the words of another foodie, “it’s like how a good Vietnamese Pho should be”. Their arsenal of toppings include beef balls, brisket (melting soft), medium rare beef slices (the hot soup will cook it through in your bowl) and chewy soft tendons, and “no gu piang anymore” he laughs it off. That spoonful of salted vegetables he plops atop each soupy bowl of noodles, is heaven sent- it contains the beefiness without burying it.
So with that uber piquant and air-punching spicy chilli, I was delighted he came up with a dry version some moons ago. Today, that version is equally popular. Order a dry bowl of kway teow and it comes with a little ladle of the chilli sauce, a splash of soy sauce and sesame oil. I like this one with the works- brisket, medium slices, beef balls and tendons. Now, his daughter Melissa, 5,had left her teaching job to join the family trade as “ i had known I wanted to do this since my school days” and together , at this new outlet in town, they continue family’s Empress Place stall and “in the Hock Lam tradition”. In so many ways, this century old beef noodle legacy lives on. Gambate!
Empress Place Teochew Beef Kway Teow
Stall 43, Maxwell Hawker Centre
10.30am-8pm daily (for now)
Prices from $4.