Available in soup or dry versions, fishball noodles is a much-loved local dish that’s enjoyed anytime of the day. The dry-tossed version is especially tricky to master, as it relies on a careful blend of sambal and condiments, as well as skill in cooking the noodles.
There are various varieties of fishballs in the region. In Singapore, the most well-known is the Teochew version. Generally, fishballs are made from raw fish flesh that’s been finely minced and beaten to an airy, bouncy texture. The fish paste is shaped into balls, then boiled or fried.
With many relying on factory-made supplies, it’s increasingly rare to find vendors who make their own fishballs. inSing.com goes in search of this fast-disappearing group of dedicated hawkers to find out whether homemade fishballs are necessarily better.
Li Xin Chao Zhou Fishball NoodleEDITOR’S PICK!
2 Orchard Turn, Food Opera, B4 of ION Orchard
Opening hours: Sun-Thu: 10am-10pm, Fri-Sat: 10am-11pm
This outlet—operated by the son of the founder—is an offshoot of the original stall in Toa Payoh. Both boast perpetual long queues. Once you’ve tasted Li Xin’s fishballs, you’ll understand why.
Made with yellowtail fish, Li Xin’s handmade fishballs were close to perfection. Ignore the pockmarked appearance, because taste is what really matters. The large orbs of fish paste tasted supremely fresh, with an intensely sweet flavour of fish. They had an airy and juicy texture, and struck a fine balance between soft and bouncy. The soup was delightfully clear and refreshing.
We also enjoyed the dry-tossed noodles, which complemented the fishballs well. The sauce was ketchup-based, with a lovely balance of sweet and spicy flavours. Some of us felt the sauce could have been more fragrant, with a stronger dash of vinegar to cut through the heaviness. But on the whole, the sauce was very likeable.
Prices here are comparatively steeper, due to its upmarket location, ambience, and bone china tableware. To be fair, for the price difference, you get to dine in cool comfort and with elegant chinaware. In addition, portions are larger than hawker servings.
Xin Lu Fishball Noodles BEST VALUE
Blk 159 Mei Chin Road, #02-05 Meiling Market & Food Centre
Opening hours: 5.45am-3pm, closed on Mon
Price: from $2.50
Like Li Xin at Food Opera, Xin Lu is the second-generation of a family business. The original outlet is still in operation at Margaret Drive.
Xin Lu also makes their fishballs fresh on the premises. The fishballs here—nearly as big as golf balls—were a pristine snow-white hue. The texture was very smooth, with a tight and springy bite. We also enjoyed the soup immensely. It was very clear and light, with a pleasant, natural sweetness.
For the dry version, the noodles had a good al dente texture. Fried shallots gave a lovely fragrance and crunch, but the spicy-savoury sauce was a bit too subtle. The noodles were also a bit too dry.
Hui Ji Fish Ball Noodle Yong Tau FuBEST NOODLES
30 Seng Poh Road, #02-44 Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre
Opening hours: 7am-2pm, closed on Wed
Price: from $2.00
What really stood out here was the dry-tossed noodles. Cooked to the soft side of al dente, the noodles were tossed in a magical mix of chilli, vinegar, shallot oil, crispy lard cubes and fried hae bee (dried shrimp). They tasted tingly, sweet, and piquant all at once. What a multi-sensory symphony of flavours and textures!
The fishballs here were made by hand. These tiny balls looked very rustic with their irregular shape. While they tasted pleasant, we thought the texture was a bit too rough. They were also too small and could have been more succulent.
Toppings here were on the generous side. Besides fishballs, there were fishcake slices, fish dumpling, and fresh pork slices.
53 Upper East Coast Road
(From 5th Oct 2010 moving to: Blk 59 Marine Terrace #01-05, MP 59 Food House)
Opening hours: 7am-3.30pm; closed on Mon and 1st & 3rd Sun of the month
Price: from $3.00
The default version here comes with other toppings like pork and prawn in addition to fishball and fishcake. For fishball noodle purists, you could choose to have just fishballs. But the mixed toppings version is highly recommended.
We weren’t very impressed with the fishballs. Although they were freshly cooked, they had a processed quality and a slight floury texture. Hence, the mixed toppings version was more satisfying. The accompanying soup had great complexity and depth of flavour.
The noodles deserve special mention. They used a variety that was curlier and more translucent than the usual type. Lovely! While the chilli version was alluringly smoky, it was too spicy. Other flavours should have been added to balance out the heat.
Blk 6 Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-121 ABC Brickworks Market & Food Centre
Opening hours: Daily: 7am-1.30am
Price: from $3.00
Handmade fishballs don’t necessarily equate quality. Although Yong Kee continues to make their own fishballs, we were rather disappointed with their drop in standards.
While the fishballs were springy, they were too soft. They lacked that sweet, robust flavour of fish. They also didn’t taste very fresh. Comparatively, the fishcake was fresher and more flavourful.
Like the fishballs, the noodles were sorely lacking character. There was a lingering taste of alkaline on the noodles. The sauce mix failed to lift the noodles. It was spicy and savoury, but lacked vinegar and fragrance. The final straw was the soup, which had a strong fishy smell. We gave up after two sips.