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拉面 La Mian World

the quest for the perfect noodle

Tag Archives: xiao long bao

When I was a little boy, I saw the Columbia sitting on the ramp in Cape Canaveral. After that I wanted to become an astronaut for many years. Though I did not become one, I managed to make NASA send me a number of nice space shuttle mission photographs from the US all the way to my home in Europe.

Discovery is the name of NASA’s second space shuttles. It also was my motto for last weekend’s food choices. Well, maybe not in terms of the kind of food, but in terms of location. I am still working on trying out all the La Mian places, that the Epicure magazine considers the ten best in Singapore. This time I ventured to Tanjong Pagar’s Kampong Bahru Road.

Along a stretch of shop houses are the usual sleazy-bars next to cheap eateries and, to my surprise, two amazingly trendy looking cafes. However, the actual target for discovery was the Savor Rey La Mian Xiao Long Bao Restaurant off Epicure’s list in one of these shop houses.

It starts to dawn on me that my understanding of the best La Mian and that of the guys of Epicure may significantly differ. I asked the friendly waiter at Savor Rey whether the noodles would be freshly hand pulled and he said, they are ‘home made’. What does that mean?

It is time to get serious about things! What are the La Mian World criteria for any eatery to be considered in the best La Mian category?

1. Freshness: The noodles have to be hand pulled freshly for every dish served,

2. Craftsmanship: When you look at the noodles you must utter: ‘wow, that is amazing how evenly sized they are, although he just pulled them in front of my eyes’ (bonus points for front-of-the-eye-open-kitchen-la-mian-expert-chef-pulling),

3. Experience: In your mouth the La Mian are blowing you away with their balanced composition of texture, al-dente-ness and flavour of the dough,

4. Composition: Neither the sauce, soup, meat or whatever it is the dish consists of, can dominate over the noodle. The La Mian speak for themself but are complemented with superior sides.

Ticking through the list, Savor Rey does not fall into the best La Mian category. Not that I did not like the noodles that I ate here, and for sure nothing can beat their prices, but I would not put them on my favorite La Mian list. Since this is not a sell-out food blog, like… some others in Singapore, I don’t have to rave about every place I go to.

Walking back, I entered into Stranger’s Reunion Cafe attracted by its raw wooden door as well as accumulation of funny vintage chairs and table arrangements inside. Great coffee, cool ambience and good cake – this is what I rave about!

Let’s pull it together and forget about the Epicure list. I continue to go out to discover on my own the world’s best La Mian!

Savor Rey La Mian Xiao Long Bao Restaurant, 3 Kampong Bahru Road, Singapore

Stranger’s Reunion, 37 Kampong Bahru Road, Singapore

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Some trace back the history of modern-day shopping centers to the grand bazaars of the Orient. Through the retail evolution from downtown via main street shopping to mega malls, the concept has taken over the entire globe. Asia replaced the USA as the location with the largest, craziest and especially most fancy shopping temples. Today the world’s most gigantic malls are found in communist China. Asia loves luxury brands, brands in general and chain stores especially. This is not only true for the consumer’s love for cars, clothes or watches. It is also true for food.

Fine dining restaurants of celebrity chefs evolve into global chains like Wolfgang Puck’s Cut or Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne, which touched down in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands’ The Shoppes. The Shoppes are themself a gigantic mall with a collection of high-profile names’ restaurants and sporting the Pangea night club. The latter reportedly serves Asia’s most expensive cocktail at 32,000 Singapore Dollar per glass.

La Mian World is dedicated to the quest for the perfect hand-made noodle. This quest started with the hole in the wall noodle stalls in China. This simple shops for fast food in its literally meaning never fail to impress with the quality of their food, amazing flavours and perfectly hand crafted noodles. Even in Singapore nowadays, a city hailed for its cleanliness and organisation you can find these simplest of places of Northern Chinese influence in and around the Pearl Center in Singapore. The next step towards commercialisation is the Hawker Centre. Ultimately the search will bring you to one of the malls. The Shoppes own food court has a La Mian outlet with a chef pulling the dough. However, the most common evolution of the La Mian stall is the restaurant or of the the chain restaurants serving the Shanghainese cuisine with a string of La Mian incorporated.  Din Tai Fung, Crystal Jade, Imperial Treasure and others have outlets across Asia(‘s malls).

Kuala Lumpur is mostly underestimated when talking about Asian mega cities while Hong Kong, Manila or Jakarta jump into mind immediately. As  any Asian city with some self-respect, Kuala Lumpur has a mind-boggling concentration of mega malls just within walking distance of its center: KL City Center, Berjaya Times Square and Pavillion Kuala Lumpur to name just a few.

No wonder a quick internet search for a place to have some La Mian for lunch brought me to a MALL. Not the usual candidate like Crystal Jade, a restaurant by the name of dragon-i caught my eye. As was to be suspected also this is not a single-outlet-only place. With a very similar menu to Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao it throws in some Sizchuan and Beijing dishes. The interior of the dragon-i in Pavillion Kuala Lumpur feartures some interesting red plastic brick walls and  Xian soldier sculptures standing around. Overall it looks a lot more fancy than Crystal Jade and they seem to have sense for special effect and drama as can be witnessed in their La Mian pulling video: dragon-i la mian drama

I tried their seafood La Mian and the Xiao Long Bao. Although the presentation, juicyness and looks of the XLB were not entirely convincing, the taste was very good. The La Mian were pulled in the open kitchen by a seemingly very experienced chef. I felt that it took him only nano-seconds to produce my noodles. I enjoyed my bowl of freshly made fare and dreamt of some hole in the wall noodle shop in China….

Dragon-i, Pavillion Kuala Lumpur, Lot 1 .13, Level 1, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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After settling down in a city, one seems to stick to going to the same familiar places, sometimes even not leaving the close-by neighborhoods.  Now, one sunny day I took to the adventure of taking the MRT aaaaaaall the way out to Singapore’s East coast and went to Parkway Parade Mall.

It is not like there are no shopping centers all over the place in Singapore, but this one houses the Koo Kee Dumpling & Ramen House. The name is a bit misleading since it does not serve Japanese Ramen. In fact it features a La Mian chef pulling nice and fresh noodles. However, all their La Mian dishes are called Ramen. So I had the Seafood Fried Ramen which were very tasty, only I realised, that I am not a big fan of fried noodles any more. The only type of fried noodles that I love nowadays are the fried beef  dao xiao mian from Formosa Delight.

The second part of the name of this restaurant was also tried and tested. The Xiao Long Bao of Koo Kee are excellently juicy and tasty. More for the eye than the palate are the Four Season Dumplings, which come in a square steam basket, are square themself and feature four different toppings on a minced pork filling. Very nice to look at but a bit disappointing taste-wise.

The absolute highlight of my meal was the Spinach Beancurd with Mushrooms. It obviously did neither contain La Mian nor Dumplings but was just simply magnificently good! All in all its worth a visit to this basement eatery out in the wild East.

Koo Kee Dumpling & Ramen House, 80 Marine Parade Road, #B1-125 Parkway Parade, Singapore

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After being closed for quite a while I was happy to find out that the great Qun Zhon Eating House in Neil Road in Singapore’s Chinatown had reopened. Passing by after a day of sightseeing with visitors I was ready for a re-fill of dumplings and noodles!

The name in Chinese changed to Jing Hua Xiao Chi I was told and they expanded to two shop house ground floors. As it used to be, the menu is not very extensive but what they serve is excellent. The xiao long bao (usually called soup dumplings in English) live up to their English name and are quite sizable, very juicy and with loads of soup inside. The pot sticker dumplings (Guo Tie) or marvellous, the Chinese Pizza crispy and the Zha Jiang Mian (noodles with minced pork and soya bean paste) also not bad. The noodles are actually not the greatest, but well, in total everything is super tasty. For desert my favorite pancakes with red bean paste are delightful as ever.

In principle the same kind of menu plus some more options is served in Hua Yi Kitchen in Orchard Road. A small and affordable place amidst the cazyness of Orchard shopping I recommend it for repeat visits as much as the Qun Zhong Eating House.

Qun Zhong Eating House / Jing Hua Xiao Chi, 21 Neil Rd  Singapore 088814

Hua Yi Kitchen, 360 Orchard Road, #02-11 International Building, Singapore

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Singapore’s Orchard Road is hollow under ground and you can walk it. There is a huge long stretch of underworld, starting from Shaw House to Wheelock Place, through Ion to the Orchard MRT. Further below Wisma Atria into Ngee Ann City and Takashimaya Department Store. Here you have to resurface.

Not only is there one mall next to each other on the city’s glitzy shopping boulevard, but you will also find the world’s highest concentration of Apple i-something stores, Chanel and Hermès boutiques, Topshops and of course: food courts. There is food republic, food opera, food empire, kopitiam as well as countless stalls in the less fancy malls like Lucky Plaza or Orchard Towers.

Now I discovered a new tunnel that connects Orchard Central, at the east end of the main Orchard mall concentration, to The Centrepoint on the other side of the road. You end up in basement two of The Centrepoint and there is a koptiam food court and, coming to the essence of this story: A La Mian stall!

I was so happily surprised that, although not hungry, I decided to try it. The la mian chef studied me and said: “spicy minced pork noodles!”

Ok, if my face looked like that, than I should have exactly that, I figured and ordered. The noodles he pulled where not la mian but the broad belt style ones. When everything came together, the dish I was served was you po che mian. It had some pieces of meat in it, which to me did not look like minced pork and tasted like beef. Well, talking about taste: It was fantastic, but indeed SPICY. I enjoyed my new discovery and will come back for sure.

Chef Wang’s La Mian & Dumpling, 176 Orchard Road, B2 at The CentrePoint, Singapore

Edit Nov 2016: has since moved to Vivo City, Basement Kopitiam

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The Lao Beijing chain of restaurants in Singapore dishes up what you are craving for in terms of northern Chinese cuisine. To my excitement a long time favorite of mine, 京酱肉丝 Jing Jiang Rou Si, can be enjoyed here.

The small pork strips in a sweet bean sauce taste excellently authentic. The only difference to the original from Beijing is that you won’t be served the “wallpaper” tofu as a wrap but flour pancakes.

Lao Bejing’s dumpling and noodle dishes are also great. Recently I ordered their Dan Dan Mian.

担担面 Dan Dan Mian, to my knowledge up till then, is a quite spicy noodle dish originating from Sichuan province in western China. Minced meat nicely mixes with the very potent hot sauce and noodles.

In the case of Lao Beijing, Dan Dan Mian seemed to be a variation of this dish where the Sichuan sauce was replaced by a mild broth which contained sesame paste or peanut butter. According to wikipedia this is the Taiwanese or American version of Dan Dan Noodles. Still, I enjoyed it a lot also in this variation.

Lao Beijing, e.g. in Velocity@Novena Square, #02-11/12, 238 Thomson Road, Singapore 307683

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Recently I could not stop myself from committing a mid-sized crime:

I ignored the beauty of Thai cuisine and went straight into Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao in Bangkok. Located in the mall annexed to the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, I really enjoyed my bowl of freshly pulled La Mian.

While watching the chef stretching and working the dough you can try to read “La Mian” in Chinese and Japanese as well as the Thai alphabet.

Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao, Lower Ground Floor, Erawan Bangkok

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