Today, I paid my old friend a visit. As I walked towards Nam Seng in great anticipation, I tried to recall what my old friend was like. Frankly, I couldn't remember
Needless to say, the circumstances are completely different now. When we first meet, Nam Seng was a corner wanton mee stall at the small, dingy "food centre" under the cooling shade of a big tree just beside our National Library at Stamford Road. It was there since 1958, before I was born.
Today, Nam Seng is in a prettily dressed up pre-war shop lot under the shadow of glass towers in Singapore's Central Business District.
Nam Seng Wanton Mee SGD5
I couldn't really recognise this old friend of mine, when we reunited. My memory of things is bad, really. The last time we met must have been in the mid 1980s; that's at least 30 years ago. At that time, we just slurped and ate, and thankfully didn't have the modern bad habit of analysing our food.
The egg noodles were quite thick and heavy. It had a slight crunch but the type that lacked spring. My memory is bad (so don't take my word for it) but my impression was that Nam Seng's noodles of old were the lively, well oiled, slender, angel hair type.
The sauce was mainly soy, oil and chili plus others I don't know. There wasn't much of it and it crossed my mind to splash in some of the soup to moisten things up a little. I refrained as I wanted to taste the noodles as it was.
The chili seemed familiar, slightly tart and quite spicy; it's like a distinct birth mark I remember of my old friend. Mixed together, it was a blend of salty, sweet, tart and spicy. It lacked the aroma of lard and sesame oil.
The char siew looked like it had been sliced and left around for a bit of time. It's almost all lean meat. Quite dry and quite bland except for the sweet tasting marinade.
The soup had a slight anchovy flavour and was quite sweet, maybe sugary.
The wantons were stuffed with minced pork which was a blend of fats and meat. The wantons had the traditional sesame oil flavour which I liked. The wanton skin was thick though.
After my meal, I struck up polite conversation with a gentleman helping to run the shop. He told me that the lady boss is still at the shop.
I was thrilled and in awe to meet Mdm Leong, the grande madame of Singapore food heritage. (Mdm Leong prefers me to address her as Ah Po 啊婆, the respectful way to address a senior lady in Cantonese.)
Ah Po was friendly, sharp and alert. She had a charming, impish, cherubic smile. We chatted a while and Ah Po graciously offered me a drink. Of course, Ah Po don't know me personally. She laughed heartily when I joked that that is because she is famous and I am not :-D
But Ah Po remembered vividly the little school children from all around the Stamford Road area and the National Library, buzzing like bumble bees around her busy stall. Sometimes, when a child comes to the stall with insufficient or no pocket money, Ah Po will just let the boy or girl eat without paying. To Ah Po, I am just one of those children who later brought our own children to eat at her well loved stall. To this day, Ah Po still remembers us kids and our kids fondly. We are all, in a way, her kids too.
In the 2004, the little food centre where Ah Po's wanton mee stall was at was demolished along with the National Library to make way for a road. Ah Po moved her stall to a few places including to Joo Chiat and also stopped work for a while, before finally settling down here at China Street at the invitation of the developers of Far East Square.
Ah Po's three sons are all grown up and she has grand children, and great grandchildren. Ah Po said she enjoys the routine and life of selling wanton mee, and it was obvious that she did. Wanton Mee is her life and she is full of zest for life!
As today is the 5th day of Chinese New Year, I wished Ah Po Happy New Year and she in turn wished me and all her fans happiness, prosperity and good health.
To say Nam Seng has a special place in our hearts is not an empty cliche. Many Singaporeans had their first dates here. We don't know how many hearts melted or were given away over a plate of Nam Seng wanton mee under the shady big tree - it must have been more than quite a few.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you Madam Leong for all that you have done for us.
If you had been looking for Nam Seng wanton mee and wishes to say hello to Ah Po, you know where to find her.
Restaurant name: Nam Seng Wanton Mee 南生云吞面
Address: 25 China Street, #01-01 Far East Square, Singapore
Hours: Mon-Fri: 8:00 am-8:00 pm | Sat: 8:00 am-3:00 pm (Closed on Sunday)
Date visited: 23 Feb 2015
Return to Johor Kaki homepage.