Monday, June 15, 2009

Thaksin Beef Noodles - I

Truth be told, I'm getting a little bored of Singapore food. When I first came here, I was impressed with the variety every hawker-centre seemed to offer. After nearly two years here, I have come to a paradoxical conclusion - that mostly it's the same sort of variety they feature. Go to your first food court, you'll find at least ten different kinds of stalls. Very impressive. Go to the next one, you'll once again find ten different varieties of stalls, but at least six in common with the first one. Go to your third, fourth and fifth, and gradually the truth dawns on you - like an expert cardsharp the city's been dealing you the same set of outlets all along without you realising it!

Few hawker-centre stalls in Singapore rise above the average. Some exceptions have carved a niche for themselves through dint of sheer culinary excellence, and aided largely by word-of-mouth advertising. The legendary No-Signboard Seafood Restaurant has made a remarkable transformation into a chain of upscale restaurants. Some like Sin Huat Seafood Restaurant have remained true to their hawker-centre origins, though they charge heftily - a plate of Crab Bee Hoon sells for S$ 45, no less! Still others plod on with their old ways, charging reasonably, largely unknown beyond a select circle of foodie-loyalists. The beef kway teow shop on Lorong 9, Geylang still offers a near-ambrosial experience at five Dollars, but how many know about it?

These shops have all taken decades, literally, to achieve their present eminence. In contrast, Thaksin Beef Noodles is clearly in a hurry. The sheer outré cheekiness of the name is enough indication of this. Set up a Thai (to be precise, Thai Muslim) food stall and name it after the most controversial Thai around, what could be a more surefire way of attracting attention? The brazen note also finds reflection in the tagline, admittedly nowhere near so funny - "We are bullish about beefing you" (italics in original). Below the main signboard at the Seah Im branch lies a second, smaller one. This contains mention of the other branches (two others listed, and as far as I know at least one more not stated); and a gloat about press coverage ("5 Totally Independent & Unsolicited Editorials (sic) in 3 years").

Thaksin is situated in the eastern half, towards the adjoining Harbourfront MRT station. Very few Chinese outlets in this part; most seem to be Halal. Just a coincidence, or was it planned that way?

The Seah Im Food Centre is located next to Telok Blangah Road (and the elevated West Coast Highway running above it), right opposite the HarbourFront Centre.Thaksin offers a startlingly limited menu. It comprises all of two main items, listed as "Beef Noodle" and "Pad Thai Fried Kuey Teow". Both of these are available with a variety of trimmings and garnishes, but the only distinct side-dish on offer is rice! Perhaps this tightly focussed menu is part of their gameplan - targeting a (very) niche market. We can draw credence from the curious legend right where the bill of fare abruptly ends: "Traditional Thai Beef Noodle Soup served with succulent beef cooked with herbs & spices WITHOUT the use of tenderizer preservatives or added MSG." Informative, despite the idiosyncratic construction. Correction, not even very informative. Because the first time we went there we couldn't figure out which of the two items it referred to! This was of course in my days of relative ignorance.

[Continued in Part II]


Soumya said...

Interesting. Looking forward to part -2. I would be particularly curious to know how the Thai Muslim beef noodle soup is different from the usual (non-halaal) spicy street side variety available in Thailand.
Incidentally, a few times I have had Thai food at Singapore (mostly at hawker stalls in Lau Pa Sat), they certainly had a slight sweet tinge compared to the hotter and spicier ones at Pattaya/Bangkok. Just wondering whether this was plain and simple Malay influence or might have some other explanation.