In this day and age, we are automatically drawn to flamboyance – whether it be a rainbow bagel or a gold leaf-wrapped ice cream. All for the ‘gram, right?
But sometimes, we find ourselves yearning for familiar, hearty food with zero decoration and pretence.
On those days, head to Nam Kee Pau at The Grandstand along Turf Club Road, an existing snapshot of tradition and nostalgia.
Marble tables and wooden stools were strewn about, packed with working adults, families and the elderly lining up for an affordable yet filling meal.
Famous for their handmade paus and mee hoon kuay, the shop was brightly lit and enabled us to easily observe the painstaking process right in front of us, as the auntie tore the dough into sizeable pieces into boiling water and added in pork and leafy greens on the side.
We got up close and personal through the glass window overlooking the kitchen, where cooks were swiftly moving about, aptly moulding the mounds into the soon-to-be warm and fluffy buns.
It wasn’t long before we were served a hot bowl of Ke Kou Mian ($3.50) with minced and sliced pork, garnished with diced spring onions, crunchy ikan bilis, fried shallots and vegetables along with a soft-boiled egg.
At first, I was sceptical due to the use of instant noodles, but the broth enriched by pork liver soaked the noodles evenly without causing it to lose its springiness.
The pork liver was gritty and firm and coated my tongue with its distinct “liver-ness”. I don’t enjoy eating liver in general, but the flavour wasn’t too strong to my relief.
To those who steer clear of pork because of its smell, you can be rest assured; the minced and sliced pork weren’t overpowering at all and were thoroughly cooked and tender.
Likewise, the Mee Hoon Kuay ($3.50) also came with ikan bilis, fried shallots, greens and a soft-boiled egg. The highlight, however, was the accompanying stewed mushrooms as they deepened the fragrance of the soup.
I preferred the mee hoon kuay more than the ke kou mian not only for the mushrooms but for the hand-torn noodles. Maybe it’s the so-called “taste of the hands”, but the uneven shapes were chewier and gave the dish an authentic touch.
In fact, you can kindly ask the auntie to have your noodles thinner or thicker and smaller or bigger, depending on your preference.
We also tried one of their bestsellers, the Char Siew Bao ($0.90) encasing chunks of barbecued pork smeared in gooey, sweet sauce, which had a subtle smokiness to it.
The pieces of meat were moreish and not too oily, which prompted me to have one more bun.
If you’ve ever experienced the disappointment of a mouthful of siew mai casing with not much filling, the Siew Mai ($0.80) here has the dumpling skin stretched so thin that it’s almost ready to rupture and reveal the generous amount of minced meat, replacing that frown with a content smile.
The Amy Yip Pau ($4), its name in commemoration of the voluptuous figure of a Hong Kong actress, covered the entire plate, layered with a hard-boiled egg, pork, chicken, Chinese sausages, stir-fried with onions and jicama.
Once cut, the pau juices dribbled out and revealed the perfect balance between the bun and filling. This could have been a meal all on its own!
If you’re not up for the Amy Yip challenge, the Big Pau ($1.80) which is a smaller version minus the Chinese sausages might be lighter on your stomach.
As for the finale, we tried the Glutinous Rice ($2). Just when we thought we couldn’t eat more, the evenly steamed, sticky rice with tender chicken cubes won us over to make more room.
The herbal, woody fragrance from the steamer basket hit my nostrils to my pleasant surprise and the texture of the rice wasn’t too mushy or dry – making the cut of excellent glutinous rice.
Travelling to The Grandstand might be a hassle, but if you’re looking for somewhere to have a value-for-money and comforting meal in a nostalgic and homey atmosphere, it’s definitely worth the trip.
Expected Damage: $0.80 – $4 per pax