A baby-faced woman seen donning an apron and slaving away behind the hot stove to whip up bowl after bowl of prawn noodles is one refreshing anomaly in Singapore's sputtering hawker scene fraught by now all too familiar grievances - seasoned hands holding down the fort often fading away due to age while their sheltered, well educated progeny feel less inclined to take over in kitchens. Enter Li Ruifang, an attractive young mum in her 30s who decided to forgo her cushy corporate career five years ago in exchange for the opportunity to further her family's culinary legacy. Today she helms 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles alongside her parents at Tekka Centre, dishing out a taste of the good ol' times thanks to an intergenerational recipe which originated from Ruifang's grandfather. (Note that her aunts operate a separate stall at Whampoa Market.)

Sampling and thoughts:

Dropping by one early Friday afternoon for a spot of lunch, we inserted ourselves at the back of an insane queue stretching past several tables. Both kway teow and bee hoon versions were already sold out by then, thus it was yellow noodles or nothing. Thumbs up as far as efficiency is concerned; we were attended to in under 15 minutes. Went for the $4 dry tossed in chili option ($5/$6 portions also available) - an invitingly fiery affair topped with lean pork slivers and fried shallots plus bowl of piping hot soup.

Dry Prawn Noodles With Chili ($4.00)

On occasion our tummies yearn for uncomplicated heartiness, and this serving of prawn noodles gave us exactly that. Tender prawns, sambal infused noodles prickling the tongue (regretfully unwanted hints of alkalinity lingered) and fragrant lard pieces conspired to invoke memories of them school days long gone, when all it took for faces to beam with joy was slurping warm strands between mouthfuls of freshly peeled seafood and blanched meat. Sipping the dark colored broth astounded equally: intense sweetness washed over owing to a meticulously formulated stock derived from wild sea prawns and pork bones.

As we eventually came to learn, 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles isn't just feted by legions of Singaporeans, it even earned a mention on famed American chef Anthony Bourdain's travel and food show “Parts Unknown”. Behind such sensational success enjoyed however lies hidden an extraordinary tale involving much grit and personal sacrifices: for 5 days a week Ruifang and her parents would rise at 1.30am, trudge over to Tekka Centre by 2.30am and then spend hours readying themselves for business at 6.30am - peeling enormous quantities of prawns, endless slicing of chilies, boiling one big pot of broth.....the list goes on. Upon shuttering around 2pm, another hour or so is spent washing up before they can actually head home. Family time together and securing some serious rest are luxuries they can look forward to only on weekends. Jaws dropping in utmost respect yet? Ours surely did.

Note: Prices subject to change without prior notice. Kindly clarify with stall before visiting or ordering.


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Score: 8.1/10

Location

Tekka Centre
665 Buffalo Road,
#01-326
Singapore 210665