There is good reason why foodies still flock to Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles after all these years. The eldest son of Wah Kee’s boss is one of them. “He comes by every morning without fail at 7:30am for breakfast. He refuses to eat the prawn noodles cooked by anyone else besides his papa!” says Mr Lau Hock Wah, a tanned sinewy man who has been dishing out the scrumptious noodle dish for over 40 years.
Tucked away in Pek Kio Market, Wah Kee’s set up is clean, modest and unassuming, much like Wah Kee’s owners. Mrs Lau, the other half who serves, might seem curt when taking orders, but you’ll understand why when you see the lunchtime hordes: office crowds, nearby residents, staff from Tan Tock Seng Hospital—even a celebrity or two. Combine springy noodles, crunchy lard bits, juicy prawns—and not least, a rich, flavourful broth—and you’ve got the answer for the noodles’ rave reviews. ‘Sometimes we get advance orders over the phone for bulk orders of 10 – 20 packets,’ says Mrs Lau. Little wonder the noodles sell out by 2pm.
Tell us about the history of Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles.
We started out selling prawn noodles in 1968 at Rangoon Road. We only came to Pek Kio in 1997. Before that we were at the old Farrer Park Hawker Centre—the older customers still remember us from then. The recipe was from my father, and we adapted it by adding the big prawns later on. We introduced the da sia (large prawns) in 1983. They were so much cheaper then. Now, because there are so many more stalls selling big prawn noodles, prices have gone up to $23 per kg. There are only eight pieces of these prawns per kilo, but even then they sometimes get sold out!
What is the secret for Wah Kee’s success?
There’s no secret, really. What’s important is that the noodles are fresh and cheap.
Are your customers less willing to buy the larger portions when times are bad?
We still get orders for the $10 prawn noodles, especially from the businessmen who come with their friends or clients. They must make an impression, so they will usually order the $10 portion which comes with the XL prawns (Mr Lau shows us the XL prawns that are the length of his palm) and is served in a mini wok. But the $3 bowl still sells the most because it is affordable.
Have you met any famous personalities at your stall?
We don’t know all their names but we’ve recognized celebrities from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. We’ve had some local celebrities like Channel 8 host Guo Liang, Gurmit Singh and Michelle Chia (the Laus’ prawn noodles were featured in the local series Our Makan Places in 2008) visit our stall. The last well known face we who came by our stall was ex-Taiwan president Chen Shui Bian’s lawyer.
What is the most expensive order you’ve taken?
We once served a customer a $40 bowl of prawn noodles that came with five large prawns.
What makes your soup so flavourful and fragrant?
The soup has to be boiled for two hours for it to get the full flavour—that’s why we start at 5am on days the stall is open. The prawn head is also important. We boil the soup with the prawn head for the flavour and the colour. The ingredients in the soup are worth over $60!
What are your plans for Wah Kee after you retire?
Most likely my sons will take over. I have two sons, one is 42 and the other is 39. Both of them know the recipe and how to cook the noodles. I’ve taught them over the years. But we won’t be retiring soon. My sons are still busy running their own businesses. The older son is running a successful car polishing business in Bukit Timah. Also, as long as we are still healthy and happy we will keep on running the business.
Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles
Pek Kio Market and Hawker Centre
Blk 41A Cambridge Road #01-15 Singapore 211041
Open 7:30am to 2pm daily, closed on Monday