I was fortunate to be the last customer for the armpit wanton noodles yesterday.
Though the owner refused to serve me the large portion ($3.50 a plate) and I had to settled for the $2.50 plate, the lady boss nevertheless gave me all the available wantons.
And it was a very large bowl of wanton soup with at least nine of them sitting in the bowl!
The $2.50 was well spent and I felt bad because it was really worth $3.50 or more.
Perhaps I was the last customer for the day and the usual no-nonsense, no smile, always gloomy lady boss was a little relaxed and cordial and she actually came and sat at the same table.
I never expected her to say anything and thought she just needed to rest her feet.
She started the conversation and I went Wow!
I not only got extra helpings of wantons, I also got some insights into how their famous arm pit wanton noodle came about.
It was a story about their dogged determination to eke out a living and the ability to adapt and innovate in the face of adversity.
As I was enjoying my once a week "die die" must have food, I asked Mrs lee curiously why I do not recalled eating this when I was growing up.
I remembered they were famous for their soy sauce chicken but I had never tasted their wanton noodles until they moved into the temporary market at Kim Pong Road about 3 years ago.
Was there a best kept secret dish that escaped me all these while?
Mrs Lee confirmed that they never had this dish until the bird flu epidemic hit Singapore and their business almost went belly up as people were staying away from chickens and there was also an acute shortage of FRESH chickens due to the mass culling.
That was probably the darkest time of their business as they were struggling for about a year with very dismal business.
Instead of caving in to the situation and remaining helpless about it, Mr Lee a.k.a Dennis, started experimenting and he came up with this winning dish.
A few of us accidentally discovered this gem when Mr Lee introduced it at the Kim Pong Road temporary market.
But as soon as the media caught wind of this new mouth watering dish in Tiong Bahru, we always have to queue up for it now!
The Lees never looked back ever since and this outsell the soy sauce chicken now.
And Mrs Lee was so proud of her husband and his culinary skill that she told me that even she has not mastered the way Mr Lee cooks the noodles.
Hers always comes out a little soft while Mr Lee's is springy.
And even if you "tah pao" some home and let it sit in the container for a few hours, the noodles won't turn soggy.
And if you do make a trip to this stall in Tiong Bahru, try to eat this without the chilli sauce for once.
You will be able to savour the unforgettable taste. (It was Mr Lee who asked me to go without chilli back in the Kim Pong days and I never eat this dish with chilli ever again!)
As I wrote this, I cannot help but went back for another go to satisfy my cravings....and I also ordered the soy sauce chicken....for old time sake.